In 2004, chef Kelly Liken turned a dilapidated Chinese restaurant in Vail, Colorado, into Restaurant Kelly Liken, known for serving cuisine made with seasonal ingredients from the state. While Liken’s cooking speaks to the restaurant’s location at the base of the Rockies, she looks for inspiration abroad. Recently, Liken visited Shanghai and had no choice but to be an adventurous eater. “The English translation on some menus reads like Google translator gone wrong,” she says. Here are her most delicious discoveries.

OLD SHANGHAI TEAHOUSE
“You can’t visit China without experiencing a traditional tea ceremony. It is a fun way to immerse yourself in the local culture. This is one of the most famous teahouses in Shanghai. I was fascinated by how much the women working there knew about tea. We tried a few, including two custom mixtures that were herbal infusions without tea leaves. Each botanical in the infusions had a medicinal property, like anti-inflammation. Drinking tea in China is like having a good cocktail in the States—you take your time and enjoy your drink.” 385 Fangbang Zhong Rd., Old Town

shanghai kelly liken

DIN TAI FUNG
“Chains are such a big part of Asian culture. We went to this upscale global dumpling restaurant whose specialty is xiao long bao—steamed dumplings filled with soup. Din Tai Fung makes about 30 different types of dumplings, from crab to pork. When you enter the restaurant you see into the kitchen, where men and women carefully create dumplings with 18 folds—exactly enough to hold the soup properly.” Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing West Rd., Jing’an, 86/(0) 21-6289-9182, dintaifung.com.tw

XINGHUA LOU
“The government has run this Cantonese spot since 1851. It’s bigger and brighter now after a recent remodel, but the dim sum–style food hasn’t changed. The rice dumplings were so unusual; the skin of the dumpling is made of rice flour. It’s one of those weird textures: You’re unsure if you like it on the first bite, but by the second you’re into it. The dumplings were served with a beautiful vinegar dipping sauce. This place also has excellent scallion pancakes, or cong you bing, sort of like crepes made with minced scallions.” 343 Fuzhou Rd., 2F, Huangpu, 86/(0) 21-6355-3777

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EL WILLY
“Since Shanghai is one of the most international cities in the world, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary at a Spanish restaurant. The chef, Willy Trullas Moreno, wears patterned knee-high socks. His tapas menu is playful, too, illustrated with the Spanish comic characters Zipi y Zape. We loved the clams with garlic and chili, and a bowl of Iberian chorizo, onion, and potato topped with a sous-vide egg.” South Bund 22, 5F, 22 Zhongshan Dong Er Rd., Huangpu, 86/(0) 21-5404-5757, el-willy.com

Illustrations by Michael Hoeweler. This appeared in the March/April 2013 issue.