Shanghainese Showdown in San Gabriel Square

I knew something was up when I visited my usual Shanghainese spot, Mei Long Village on a weekday night and it was literally empty when I walked in.  A couple weeks later, I learned that yes, there was a new Shanghainese restaurant only a few blocks away.  Through some mis-communication about Shanghainese restaurants in San Gabriel Square (aka Focus Plaza), the BF and I ended up at the wrong restaurant one night, so we returned a few nights later to our originally intended restaurant.

Considering both restaurants served Shanghainese food, I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two. I don’t remember what the official English name of the first one is, but it says “Shanghai Restaurant” in bold red letters on top of the restaurant, so that’s what I’m going to call it.  The second place, which I believe is new is called Spring Wave in English, but in Chinese, it adopted the same name as a famous restaurant in Shanghai which has two claims to fame: delicious family-style food, and being a restaurant former president Bill Clinton frequently dined at.

Shanghainese Dinner @ Shanghai RestaurantShanghainese Dinner @ Spring Wave
kao fu at Shanghai Restaurant (left) and Spring Wave (right)

First off, the kao fu — our standard cold appetizer.  The version from Shanghai Restaurant was cut into large chunks, on the sweet side, but decent.  The  sweetness is well known in Shanghainese cuisine.  Spring Wave’s take on it has smaller pieces and was braised with a darker liquid.  It was also more simple with just wheat gluten and shiitake mushrooms whereas Shanghai Restaurant’s had lily and peanuts in it.  The dish at Spring Wave might have sat too long in the fridge because it was almost too chewy and hard. Of the two, I liked Shanghai Restaurant’s better.

Shanghainese Dinner @ Shanghai RestaurantShanghainese Dinner @ Spring Wave
nian gao from Shanghai Restaurant (left) and Spring Wave (right)

Our next dish was stir fried nian gao with ji cai. Both places had the same type of nian gao, which is notable because they’re slightly larger and irregularly oval — unlike that of other Shanghainese restaurants.  I’m guessing these are either bought in long sticks and then sliced at the restaurant, or just a different brand.  Shanghai Restaurant’s was perfectly chewy with just the right softness.  I had told the waitress to make it vegetarian (the usual version of this dish has pork) and while there were no pieces of pork, it was suspiciously flavorful. Maybe they used MSG, but man, was it good. The greens tasted flavorful, the dish was perfectly salted, and the nian gao was satisfying.  In contrast, the same dish at Spring Wave was just okay.  The nian gao was on the softer side and the ji cai didn’t have that same savory taste.

I can’t ever go to a Shanghainese restaurant without ordering xiao long bao, so of course I ordered it at both.  Shanghai Restaurant’s had a decent skin that wasn’t too thin nor too thick, and the meat inside was okay, but man the broth was salty!  If only the broth wasn’t so salty, the dumpling would have been pretty good.  You’d think that based on that alone, Spring Wave’s would win out, but it didn’t.  I took a bite of Spring Wave’s version and thought the skin was good — almost too good.  My dad immediately pointed out that Spring Wave didn’t make their own xiao long bao.  If you look carefully, each dumpling looks exactly the same, which is a sign that it’s not hand-made.  When we asked the waiter about it, he pretty much confirmed that they bought it.  That disqualified Spring Wave from participating in this round.

Based on just the two vegetarian dishes, the clear winner is Shanghai Restaurant. The food just tasted better and the prices at both were about the same.  It’s a larger space and the restaurant itself seems more impersonal because of that since I usually like smaller Chinese restaurants where the servers aren’t always in a rush, but the food has proven to be better here.

Shanghai Restaurant and Spring Wave
San Gabriel Square
140 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776-3760

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