Home » Restaurants


Posted by xor 10 Sep 2009 13 Comments

Shanghai (3433 Hillsborough Rd, Durham, 27705), established in West Durham in 1980, is one of Durham’s longest running Chinese restaurants, and a favorite of ours.  XOR first discovered it many years ago when helping a Chinese friend move.  As a reward, her dad said he was going to take us to the best Chinese place in town.  After a barrage of rapid-fire Chinese, we were soon surrounded by a bewildering array of fantastic food.   Years later, Shanghai is still there, and it’s still fantastic.


In a town with lots of cheap Chinese restaurants, Shanghai is a step up.  While somewhat more expensive than your typical cheap Chinese takeout, you get what you pay for.  It’s no Four Square, but the inside is nicely decorated once you get past the bleak, strip mall exterior – nice enough for a romantic night out or a business lunch.  Prices are moderate, with dinner entrees running mostly in the $8-15 range.  The menu is authentic and extensive, beginning with a lot of specialty alcoholic drinks, which we didn’t try, and followed by what seems to be a section with more exotic and traditional Chinese dishes, and then more standard fare, including tofu dishes, lamb and squid sections.  There is plenty to choose from for the vegetarian or pescatarian, and special diets and cooking requests are granted. Service is swift and could be a little more gentle, and the springs in the booth seats could stand replacing, but we really like the eats and the pretty dining room.  Tea  comes with dinner and portions are generous.


This time around we started with the Pu Pu Platter, which consisted of little fried shrimp cakes with sesame seeds, 2 small pork skewers, crab Rangoon, lots of tasty fried chicken wings, vegetable spring-roll and spare ribs, not to mention the flaming pot of… Sterno.  Well, it did look extra cool, in a kitschy Asian sort of way.  MNT’s fave was the chicken wings, with their thin, crispy coating, while XOR was partial to the shrimp cake.  XOR thought the platter was excellent as a whole while MNT found it pretty good.  Some hoisin-like dipping sauce would have been nice in addition to the mustard and duck sauces that were brought out with the platter.  We both loved the presentation, which looked straight out of a Survivor episode.

MNT opted for the interesting-sounding Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant, absolutely delicious with its braised, diagonally sliced Asian eggplant, stuffed variously with either actual shrimp or a salty shrimp cake.   It was tangy and light, in a brown and slightly spicy sauce that had a few black beans and scallions too.


XOR had the Beef Hot Pot, and the first thing we noticed was a prodigious star anise aroma wafting from the pot. This is basically a Chinese pot roast, very thick and wintry. There was some kind of black bark used for seasoning, and we couldn’t tell if it was cinnamon that turned black or something more mild.  The menu said this was cooked with Napa cabbage but they seem to have added some sturdy lettuce this time.


For dessert you have two choices, each banana-based. We had the Crispy Fried Banana, which was 3 inch banana pieces wrapped in a pancake and fried, then drenched in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds and stood on end in rows.  We both liked it a lot.


If you’re in the mood for some better than average Chinese in a nicer than usual setting, give Shanghai a go.
Mon-Fri 11:30am- 2:30pm
Mon-Thu 5:00pm- 9:30pm
Fri-Sat 5:00pm-10:30pm
Sat-Sun 12:00pm- 2:30pm
Sun 5:00pm- 9:30pm
Tel: (919) 383-7581
Fax: (919) 383-7581
Cash, Discover, Mastercard, Visa, AMEX


  • burgeoningfoodie said:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a hot pot where you cook your own food essentially? I’m curious as to what were some of the more authentic items and whether it was Szechuan or Cantonese.


    MEZ replies on September 16th, 2009 at 11:47 pm:

    I’m noticing a lot of restaurants are big on wrapping bananas in thin pastry dough and frying them up for dessert lately. I can’t complain, I love bananas, just wondering if it’s a new trend or I’m out of the loop!


    bming1 replies on September 18th, 2009 at 6:27 pm:

    Mez, the owner, like me, is Malaysian and the fried banana dessert appears to be a variation of a very popular treat in Malaysia called ‘pisang goreng’ (fried banana). I don’t know if you’re out of the loop, but that’s my speculation on the origins of this particular dessert.

    On a related note, if you love bananas, you HAVE to check out Mami Nora’s if you haven’t already. The sweet plantains there are proof positive that there is a greater force out there that loves humankind!


    metro305 replies on October 12th, 2009 at 4:38 pm:

    We used to like that joint but lets just say ice cold won tons in a hot won ton soup is unacceptable.


  • TSQ75 said:

    Burgeioning Foodie: click on the link and go through there *extensive* menu…alot of interesting things that one normally doesnt find on the typical chinese menu. Hot Pot is technically like chinese fondue…although alot of places will list “Hot-Pot” as something coming to you in some sort of clay vessel that its supposedly been cooked in. i dont know where that comes from…


  • durhamfood said:

    The shrimp-stuffed eggplant at Hong Kong is significantly better. I found Shanghai’s version quite bland.


  • Peter said:

    I’ve been there. Great value for money!



  • kwixote said:

    Shanghai is quite simply one of the top two or three Chinese restaurants in Durham. I first ate there over 20 years ago, when it wasn’t yet such a nice place, but when the food was already quite good. Over the years, they kept improving the interior until they created a truly pleasant, subdued yet inviting space.

    But the food itself would be wonderful even in a less inviting atmosphere. I have yet to try anything there that is not of consistently high quality. While you won’t find the latest food fads, you will find food of “foodie” quality. No corners are cut: the produce & meats are incredibly fresh; the sauces are tasty, authentic but not overly sweet; the food is delivered hot — and the vegetables are NEVER overcooked.

    Indeed, perhaps the best thing about Shanghai is the fact that so many entrees come with a large component of fresh, crisp stir-fried vegetables. (Which is why the entree choices in the review above — which do not feature such vegetables — while surely fine choices and obviously enjoyable, strike me as a bit unrepresentative.) They will also modify any recipe and will even make dishes that aren’t on the menu, if you ask.

    The food portions, by the way, are huge. Each entree is nearly enough for two hungry people. I generally buy 3 for 4 people.

    If you dine in, your water glasses will never have a chance to get more than an inch or two low.

    I really can’t say enough good things about this restaurant. I rarely gush like this, but this is truly one of those quality places that you only find every so often — and it has remained so for over 20 years, because they continually strive for improvement.


  • Foody McMoody said:

    As someone who lived in the far East for a while I have to say there is not a lot in Durham that comes close to what real Chinese people eat. However, Shanghai is my preferred restaurant if I am going to eat Chinese in Durham. The hot and sour soup is delicious, the kung pao is made with fresh peanut halves and whole red chili peppers, and they clean their shrimp -which means a lot to me.
    Good place. Wish they delivered further out.


  • Erica said:

    We are regulars at Shanghai. I have tried some dishes that are just *OK*, but I have high recommendations for the steamed dumplings, subgum wonton soup, house special fried rice (especially good with the dumpling sauce mixed in), the lamb in garlic sauce, and the Hawaiian Szechuan delight.

    Their quality is consistent and the people up front really get to know the regulars and if they have specific alterations/preferences for their food.

    We will keep going back for those reasons.


  • kowloonkid48 said:

    I seem to end up at Shanghai about once a year, and am always pleasantly surprised – again. Really like the fact that they drop a pot of tea on the table immediately, whether ordered or not, which is a very Chinese custom -(leave the lid open and it will be automatically refilled). Portions are generous (my friend took half his lunch home); the Kung Pao was excellent, and cooked ‘extra spicy’ as requested. It disappeared.


  • judas_escargot said:

    Since we’re on the subject, I checked out Shanghai for the first time a few weeks ago, food was alright, neat decor inside. But what I really liked was the music that was playing over the PA system–some 80′s-ish pop music with a kinda dark, synth-driven rock sound to it. I even asked the woman up front if she knew what it was… she didn’t and there wasn’t a CD-case or anything like that laying around nearby. Might be some generic “restaurant music” compilation.

    Free dinner there for anyone who can identify the music or find out what those discs in the CD changer are.


  • RobC said:

    This place is the gold standard for reliably solid Chinese food in the area. The hot & sour soup is by far my favorite of its kind here, just bursting with flavor. The steamed dumplings are excellent, with an agreeably thin dough.

    I am not super adventurous in terms of eating more traditional Chinese dishes, but their standards are all great. I’m really fond of their moo shu dishes–the pork is especially tasty.


Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.