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Shanghai River: Houston Classic Chinese Restaurant Since 1970

I live in Houston and love writing reviews of the local restaurants and stores I visit with family and friends.

Our fortune cookies from the Shanghai River in Houston

Our fortune cookies from the Shanghai River in Houston

An Oldie but a Goodie!

Shanghai River Restaurant has stood the test of time! This eating establishment has served Hunan and Szechuan cuisine in the same Houston location since 1970. People familiar with that part of town know it is in the River Oaks area. My husband and I used to eat there much more often when we lived closer to town.

Recently, when photographing the latest sculpture show on Heights Boulevard called the “Obstacle Art Path,” as well as doing some other chores not too far from Shanghai River, we scheduled our day so that we could dine there for lunch. We have done that several times recently, and I am happy to report that the food, decor, and relaxing ambiance are still the same, which is much to our liking.

Exterior of the Shanghai River

Exterior of the Shanghai River

Decor and Interior Spaces

The exterior of the restaurant is nondescript, but the interior is a lovely contrast. It hearkens back to the days of quiet elegance, unlike so many of the newer, hard-surfaced, and noisy eating establishments so popular today where quiet discussions tableside are all but impossible.

There are three distinct dining spaces within this restaurant. A bar area seats around 20 people. A wine room a few steps up from the main dining room can seat approximately 35, and then there is the main dining room where we have always been seated.

Tablecloths and napkins adorn all the tables. It is the same no matter what time of day one is eating there. Between the paneled walls, comfortable armchairs, and warm colors, this provides a welcoming, almost club-like atmosphere.

Some of the larger tables still have a built-in lazy Susan in the center, which makes sharing food easy for larger gatherings of people. That certainly hearkens back to earlier decorating styles in Asian restaurants. Sometimes, old ideas are still the best.

Family Recipes

The Shanghai River website has some interesting information about the chef-owner, David Wang. He learned to cook alongside his chef father, Yung-Lin Wang, who at one time prepared food for a former president of Taiwan. Many of the recipes come from cherished family ones.

Cover of the restaurant menu

Cover of the restaurant menu

Food Choices

My husband and I almost always choose hot and sour soup if given a choice, and we enjoy the one served here. Below you can see some of the entrees served at lunch. We usually also choose steamed rice instead of fried rice.

Are you hungry yet? In reading reviews of this restaurant, while most are favorable, some write that the food is Americanized. As an American, that is fine with me. They are happy to adjust the spiciness of dishes deemed to be hot per customer request.

Spice Levels of the Food

We have dined at Pepper Twins Restaurant. They are known for preparing authentic Sichuan foods using very spicy imported peppercorns from that region of the world. In one particular dish that my husband and I were sharing, we felt as though our tongues were on fire! We have learned our lesson. If dining there, we now ask as to the preparation of dishes and how incendiary they might be.

It is not necessary to do that at Shanghai River. We have yet to suffer that same fate of searing, thermogenic, hotness where no amount of water can extinguish that burning feeling. If you like your food that way, I am sure that the chef can accommodate your desire for it.

Photo on the wall of Marvin Zindler and his dog

Photo on the wall of Marvin Zindler and his dog

Marvin Zindler Was a Regular

Framed photos of Marvin Zindler hang on the walls of the Shanghai River. There is even a dish on the menu named after him.

Those of us who have been around a while remembered this spirited television news reporter on channel 13, which is the local ABC network. What you may not know is that his dad was the mayor of Bellaire for four terms. Marvin was a marine during World War II, was a Free Mason, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

What he is best known for were his reports on restaurants. Cleanliness in kitchens, or the lack thereof, was his focus.

Each Friday at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., many of those failing good inspections made the news. Rats, roaches, and slime in the ice machine were most often the cause of failed checks. His typical signoff is a hard one to forget: ”Marrrrrvin Zindler Eyeeeeeewitness News!”

Blue Ribbon Awards

He could not mention all of the restaurants that kept constant and outstandingly clean kitchens, so he gave out Blue Ribbon Awards. Shanghai River was one such restaurant that received numerous ones and was a favorite of Marvin Zindler's in which to dine.

When President George H.W. Bush hosted the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations in 1990, Shanghai River was one of the restaurants chosen to cater to the occasion in Houston.


Few restaurants stay in business as long as Shanghai River has. I hope that they break more records as to staying power! I am happy to be able to share this good restaurant with you that has lasting appeal.

The address is 2407 Westheimer (near Kirby), Houston, Texas 77098.


© 2020 Peggy Woods