In China, $5 is a lot of money! You could possibly eat like a King on $5 a meal in Shanghai, though the variety might suffer. For the best for less, you’ll have to head to Huai Hai Road and attempt to find an expat hangout favorite—Windows.
Windows is a strange phenomenon. With three locations in Shanghai, this is literally the most affordable place to go for western-style grub and cheap drinks. A bottle of beer is around $1 and a side of French fries is an affordable $0.75. For a full meal, you have options that range from Chinese cuisine to French culinary favorites to American home cooking in the form of grilled cheese. So, what did I have for exactly $5 at Windows this week? – I had grilled cheese (best and only cheddar cheese in town!) with a side of fries and a bottle of Tsingtao beer.
Windows has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment while you eat. Most big sports events are on the big screens, and if you don’t get into football, then the pool table is centrally located and usually the waiting list to play is short. If that doesn’t catch your fancy, head to the dart boards and see if you can get your opponent to put a shot out for the winner. That shot, by the way, will run you about $1.50. In two of the Windows establishments they have lively dance floors after dark, so if getting jiggy with it after eating Chinese nachos is your style, then head on down.
One of the coolest aspects of going to Windows is the ability that establishment has of making you feel much wealthier than you actually are. If you have a few people going out with you, a smart option is to buy a whole bottle for your table and then a few mixers. This never ceases to be fun, especially since it is something reserved for the uber rich in the West. The cost of getting your own bottle—the purchase price of that particular booze from the store down the street! No kidding, they actually charge you what they paid for the bottle and then you pay for your mixers (about $1 a piece) separately.
The service at Windows is above par, and almost all of the staff speak English. Those who don’t, are friendly and there are always ways to communicate by gesturing (a skill that gets better, by the way, after a few $1 beers).
With the affordability of the Windows establishments, you’d expect a bit of a rougher crowd but that just isn’t the case. Windows attracts a lot of English teachers, who often bring their favorite students or friends. You’ll find a nice mix of Chinese and foreigners interacting in a fun way. In some expat establishments the costs are too high for many locals to even enjoy, thus Windows is a real melting pot and as such is an amazing way to experience Shanghai, enjoy great food, and save money.