I’m picky about my Chinese food. Regional, more specific kinds of Chinese food is what interests me. No plain jane stirfries or chow mein for me.
Now, I love Shanghainese food but a lot of it can be rather heavy and greasy (it’s mostly dumplings and noodles, less rice). They say that the farther north you go in China, the less rice dishes you’ll see. The typical rice and stirfries are from the southern part of China (like the Canton or Szechuan regions).
That’s what makes Happy Cafe in San Mateo so…simple. The dishes are classic Shanghainese: pig’s kidneys (sooooo good here without any gamey flavor), cold noodles with spicy meat sauce and shredded cucumbers (refreshing with such bold flavor), and fried pork chop over rice and greens (the pork is perfectly flavored and fried without being too greasy). Their boiled chicken appetizer with a lightly spicy sauce is also perfection. The chicken is silky, juicy and tender, and that sauce is again, bold and the perfect partner for the chicken.
My only complaint here is the tiny space (not good for groups and long waits during peak times since they don’t take reservations) and their Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumplings), which is usually the mark of a great Shanghainese restaurant. The dough on them is too mushy, the meat filling doesn’t have the right flavor, and the soup inside the dumpling is bland. Just skip it.
This is a classic “hole in the wall” joint, but if you order well, you’ll be richly rewarded. I’ve never left unhappy.