Shang Hai has been serving homemade Chinese cuisine since it opened on Milpas Street in 1983. “We are small, and we’ve been here for a long time,” said co-owner Kevin Yin, “and we are most focused on family-style [dining].” His father, who owned the Eastside Santa Barbara restaurant before him, was the first to offer soy-based alternatives at a Chinese restaurant in Santa Barbara 35 years ago.
Now, thanks to co-owner Yvette Yin’s own vegetarianism, Shang Hai knows exactly what vegetarian diners want. “I’ve been vegetarian for 24 years,” said Yvette. “I think the customers feel more comfortable when they have vegetarian food here, because they say ‘You know what vegetarian means!’” Shang Hai’s owners understand that it’s not enough to swap in tofu for meat; they also have sauce options that are free from fish stock, oyster extract, or any other animal products.
For just a taste of their extensive vegetarian menu, try the baked tofu on Chinese greens. Succulent strips of baked tofu are layered over sautéed Chinese broccoli and flavored with vegetarian oyster sauce and soy sauce. Because it’s baked, the tofu has a firm chewiness that isn’t typical of your usual silken tofu. For this reason, the dish is ideal for new vegetarians who are still learning to love soy-based products. Pair it with a side of steamed brown rice to complete the meal.
“When my father started to serve vegetarian food, our vegetarian customers were just around 5 percent,” Yvette said. “But right now, it’s sometimes more than 50 percent.” Due to the restaurant’s entirely separate vegetarian menu, the baked tofu dish is by no means your only option as a vegetarian. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Chinese restaurant that offers more vegetarian choices than Shang Hai.
Shang Hai Chinese Restaurant is located at 830 North Milpas Street. See shanghaisbca.net or call 805-962-7833.