5, 6, 7, ate/Matt Otto photo
5, 6, 7, ate/Matt Otto photo

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Don't eat alone at 369 SHANGHAI, where takeout cartons easily yield three lunches and a breakfast, and the dine-in meals are clearly for sharing. The semiotics of the place say it all: there are just two tables for solitary diners; the rest—some the diameter of an Aztec calendar—seat four and often host rambunctious, multigenerational, multicultural groups.

But big servings alone do not a great joint make. 369 is named not for the legendary Anaheim rock club of yore but for Shanghainese restaurants as common around the world as Ray's Pizza is in New York City. This one excels by alternating between the familiar and the esoteric. The culinary cowards in your dining circle can seek comfort in delicious versions of orange chicken, egg rolls and shrimp fried rice; everyone else can savor entrées usually available only in the Middle Kingdom—or maybe the San Gabriel Valley. The different meats available—whole fish, scallops, beef, shrimp, pork, chicken, eel—glisten with oyster sauce, reek of garlic, come spliced with scallions or accompanied by a hot bean sauce that looks like industrial-grade motor oil but is simultaneously salty, sweet and spicy. Noodles are crispy or soft but always plentiful: what are called Shanghai noodles weave around three types of meat soaked in soy sauce. Soups arrive in bowls large enough for five—the best looks like egg drop soup but is actually sweet corn in an unctuous broth with chicken minced so finely it looks like wet silk; it may be the original Campbell's Chicken Soup.

Weekends bring a limited dim sum menu of small medium-rare beef sandwiches and congee, lovely rice porridge you can purchase for 50 cents. But be courageous, man! Order the spice intestine in hot pot—cow guts as scorched as in a menudo eater's dream. Dive into the fish head casserole, a single head sticking out amongst a Sargasso Sea of noodles, with a flavor as sharp and pungent as its smell.

And only the gourmands among us should attempt the fried sesame roll. Fifteen minutes after you order it, a waitress will emerge with a loaf of bread fried to the color—and, come to think of it, the shape—of a gold brick; it seems dense enough to bend light. It isn't particularly sweet but a bit salty, terrific for sandwiches, for dunking into your strawberry boba drink, for that feeling of satiation you haven't experienced in the two weeks since the Christmas tamale season.

369 SHANGHAI, 613 N. EUCLID ST., ANAHEIM, (714) 635-8369.


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