216 East 6th St.
"Shut up and eat your noodles!"
This motto is the first inkling that Shanghai Mama's is not your typical Chinese restaurant. Instead of ho-hum black laquered chairs and kitchy prints, Shanghai Mama's offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of a sassy 1920's noodle shop. Heavy wooden tables and ornately carved chairs are packed in tightly and authentic kimonos, paintings and posters decorate the space. You don't need to ask for chopsticks here; look in the bamboo container next to the soy sauce on your table.
There are an impressive number of vegetarian dishes on the dinner menu. Go ahead and have a look. They make their noodles, tofu and soymilk from scratch, and are one of the few places around town with a good selection of seitan dishes. Surprisingly for the quality of the food, this place is very affordable, with all vegetarian entrées clocking in under a tenner.
Shanghai Mama's has a quick-serve lunch menu until 3 p.m. which is popular with downtown office workers, and the place is usually packed between noon and 2 p.m. Don't be offended when an older gentleman at the door shoves a menu in your hands and asks how many are in your party as soon as you step inside. While you're checking out the menu he's busy making room for you. There's no use requesting anyplace in particular - he's got a system and by the time you reach the counter he's across the room with a chair pulled out, gesturing for you to sit.
There are two hot vegetarian options on the lunch menu: Roasted Eggplant & Green Beans, and Happy Buddha Rice Bowl, which comes with seitan, crispy tofu, seasoned vegetables and ginger over steamed rice. There are also a couple of cold noodle dishes and side salads that are safe for vegetarians.
Night owls know that Shanghai Mama's is open 'til 3 a.m. on the weekends, when the joint is jumping with service industry staff, club kids and the late night theatre crowd. Now shut up and eat your noodles!