There are now only three in Hangzhou for traditional food as Tian Wai Tian has somehow gone the way of the Yangtze river dolphin. Zhang Sheng Ji is fabulous for local dishes, but its location in the east definitely requires a dedicated gastronome to schlep all the way out there. Then there's Shan Wai Shan, which has equally good food, especially the fish head dishes, but it's at the heart of the Botanical Gardens, requiring one to purchase an entrance ticket. Sure this allows you to stroll around and enjoy the greenery, but it still falls short of the biggest of the biggies, which has great food, a perfect spot on the lake, and now a fabulously re-decorated non-touristy sister restaurant. Both places are on Gushan and both are part of the 150-year-old restaurant that has been visited by many an international dignitary (we're not really sure which is the original location).
The Lou Wai Lou farthest west is big and noisy. There are plenty of rooms for large groups, and you've got the occasional tour group traipsing through to get to them. There's even a boat that goes out on the lake. The staff is curt because they are busy-busy, but the food comes in good time. The dining atmosphere isn't the best, but the view out of the front window is spectacular. For exactly the same good food and the same view, hit the smaller LWL a little to the east. They've had this place closed a few months to do a little renovation, and can we just say, nice job. Very modern, and the noise level, despite the open dining area, is much, much lower than its counterpart. The staff is much more attentive and courteous as well. No need to go back to the biggun.
As for the food, you'll find no finer Hangzhou cuisine than here. We were especially impressed with the new menu one of the most beautifully and professionally done we've seen. It even gives the stories behind the specialties. Our favorites were the Dongpo Pork and Beggar's Chicken. The chicken is pricey though (145RMB). On tables throughout, you can see either a chicken or the just as famous West Lake Vinegar Fish, which can also be a little much depending on the type of fish you get. Yeah, Lou Wai Lou can be a tad bit costly (if you get the big mains, which you should try at least once), but it's goooood food. The best Hangzhou food in town. English and picture menu available.