Enter Area 501, Shanghai’s only restaurant dedicated to Caribbean food.
Opening in January 2020, it has already become a stronghold for the Caribbean community and its extended family, friends, and advocates.
Area 501 takes its name from the calling code of Belize, the country where chef/founder Lilian Molina hails from. All the recipes are tried-and-true traditional Caribbean dishes—a dozen of mama’s recipes—and have been green-lighted by native-Caribbean folks.
It’s a homey, casual restaurant with an inviting terrace.
Caribbean Food in Shanghai at Area 501
The menu is a mix of cuisines from Belize, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Latin Caribbean islands. The food is vibrant and has just as large a personality as Lilian.
They also have plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, and all have the same bold flavors of the non-veg dishes.
Caribbean cuisine is influenced by a colorful past. It is a mix of African, Spanish, Portuguese, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Creole, Cajun, Indian, Mayan, and English foods and cultures.
Basically, the food borrows from all who passed through the trade route plus neighboring native roots. Allspice permeates most of the dishes; it is an aromatic spice that resembles a mixture of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. In essence: big flavors.
What To Order at Area 501
The Papaya Seafood Ceviche (¥78) is a medley of prawns, seabass, and squid that’s quick-cured in lemon and lime juice served in a hollowed out papaya. The papaya is a nice touch, adding sweetness to counteract the citrus seasoning. It’s light, refreshing, and appetizing.
For nibbles, there are Yuca Fries (¥45). The root vegetable is more dense and starchy than regular fries, and when deep-fried, offer up a crisped, chewy exterior and a soft center. It’s served with a garlic-forward mojo criollo aioli to dip.
Get those same yuca fries topped with Mayan pulled pork with Mabel’s Loaded Yuca Fries (¥88), red cabbage citrus slaw, jalapeños, and homemade spicy cheese sauce. The Mayan Pulled Pork (available a la carte) is slow-cooked pork shoulder in traditional Mayan spices, namely the spice mix recado rojo.
One dish that does excite me is the Mofongo and Cod (¥148). Mofongo is fried green and ripe plantains mashed with garlic, spices, and chicharron aka pork cracklings that’s molded into a sturdy block, accompanied by cod fish with garlic and lime dressing. It’s a Puerto Rican dish. The mofongo is sweet, sticky, and dense with a chew/crunch from the cracklings. The plaintains are sourced from Guangzhou. Unique and a must-try.
Another defining dish is the Jerk Chicken Roast (¥78). It’s a plate of half-chicken in spicy jerk seasoning (allspice, cinnamon, thyme, and nutmeg) with citrus slaw. This is a Jamaican classic, typically barbecued. Area 501 does what it can to coax out smoky flavors sans barbecue (limitations on open grills and whatnot). It’s enjoyable and the portion satisfying. Don’t miss the sauce/gravy.
Don’t miss the rice either. The Rice & Peas steams long grain rice with red beans and coconut milk, while the Coconut White Rice is just fluffy long grain with coconut milk.
For dessert, I wholeheartedly recommend the Cassava Pone (¥78), a warm cake made with sticky sweet cassava, served with a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream, coconut cream and toasted coconut flakes. It’s also gluten-free. Swap with Oatly ice cream to make it a vegan dessert.
Drinks are pretty standard. The Panty Ripper 2.0 (¥68) is an evocative cocktail made with dark aged rum, white rum, coconut liquor and fresh pineapple juice. It’s sweet, tropical, goes down easy, and is sneakily strong.
Others include freshly made spiced sorrel juice. It’s sour and refreshing. Helps with the heavy meal. Or if you’re sticking to booze, try Mabel’s Gin Gin, made with Crimson Pangolin gin, ginger ale, and allspice berries, garnished with an orange slice.
Brunch & Specials
Brunch is every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 3pm. It’s ¥148 for two courses (starter and main) or ¥178 for three courses (plus dessert). Most of the dishes mentioned above are available for brunch.
Drinks deal: Free-flow is ¥188 for mimosas, house red/white, house draft beer, cuba libre, G&Ts, and Caribbean sangria. For premium free-flow, it’s ¥276 for the above plus prosecco, the aforementioned Panty Ripper 2.0, Bloody Jerk Mary, Mabel’s Gin Gin, and 501 Rum Punch.
In Summary: Live The Good Island Life
I’m all for experiencing other cultures through food. That’s the best way, honestly. For those who want to do a little tropical exploration, Area 501 is the spot.
Nomfluence Readers Deal
Order any three dishes mentioned in this article and get a complimentary standard rum cocktail or a mocktail. Show this article to claim your free drink!
Address: Rm 1B, Bldg 12, 207 Mengzi Lu, near Liyuan Lu 蒙自路207号12号楼1B室, 近丽园路
Hours: Tue-Sun 11am-11pm, closed Monday