Shanghai River, located at 2407 Westheimer, has been serving Szechuan and Hunan cuisine since 1970.
Located in a strip shopping center, the unassuming building doesn’t hint at the retro glamour inside.
The restaurant’s cool, dark dining room, with its glossy redwood finishes, lacquered artwork, buddhas, and giant foo dogs brings back childhood memories of many meals at Chinese restaurants n New York. There’s a hint of mystery in the air. My son and I visited Shanghai River on a whim, and have been back many times since. The recipes are what I think of as old school American Chinese food–tamed to suit what are perceived to be American tastes.
We first tried Shanghai River for lunch. With 40 choices on the special luncheon menu, we had no trouble finding dishes we liked. Each luncheon special comes with soup (hot and sour or egg drop corn) and choice of appetizer (spring roll, crab puff, or egg foo young). We chose the hot and sour soup, which was thick and suitably hot and sour, and came with fried wonton crisps and mustard and duck sauce for dipping:
Among the lunch specials we enjoyed were Shrimp in Hot Garlic Sauce, with a generous number of plump shrimp (although I would not call this dish spicy by any stretch of the imagination):
Chicken with Peanuts (made with all white meat on request):
Shredded Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce (again, not spicy):
And Chicken with Cashew Nut:
You’ll notice that the unifying characteristic of all of these specials is that they are varying shades of brown. It would be nice to throw in a veggie or two just to break up the monotony of the plate, but the lack of color didn’t distract from our enjoyment of the food.
There are many more choices on the expansive dinner menu. Just for fun, on one occasion I ordered the Pu Pu Platter with my son, which I hadn’t had, or even seen on a menu, since I was a kid. The Pu Pu Platter came with spring roll, bar-b-q rib, shrimp toast, crab puff, skewer beef, and tempura shrimp, one of each for each person. With its blue flame from the mini hibachi grill and giggle-inducing name (according to Wikipedia, the name has its origins in the Hawaiian language, where pū-pū signifies an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre), the Pu Pu Platter was a fun trip down memory lane.
At dinner, a complimentary dish of pickled vegetables is offered:
Dinner is served family style, accompanied by rice. Some of the dishes we liked were Chicken with Cashew Nuts (the veggie flower garnish was a nice touch):
Beef with Snow Peas:
And Mu Shu Pork
Neither the dining room nor the bar were ever crowded on any of the occasions we visited, although there was almost always something going on in the private room. If you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy a meal, Shanghai River fits the bill. I believe its longevity is likely attributable to its reasonably-priced menus, generous portions, satisfying–if not exciting–food, and brisk service.