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O.C.’s Best: Hot Pot Hot Spots
On a chilly autumn night, a bubbling pot of broth makes an enjoyable and interactive meal
Chose your ingredients, swish them in a roiling pot of broth, then dip them in flavorful sauces for a communal dining experience that’s perfect for the season. From fiery and flavorful Taiwanese hot pot to simple and pristine Japanese shabu-shabu, these six Asian-style restaurants let you be the chef.
This sleek, Japanese-inspired shabu-shabu spot, left, offers plenty of twists, including quick-seared slices of Jidori chicken, and ground chicken mixed tableside with a quail egg and scallions to create teaspoon-sized meatballs that you gently cook in the roiling broth. The beef is tender, and the mounds of rice are a combination of fluffy white and brown. If you get a late-night hankering for shabu-shabu, Mokkoji is open until 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. $18 to $25. 14041 Jeffrey Road, Irvine, 949-451-0011
2. The Red Pot
The fever has spread to Little Saigon, where this all-you-can-eat restaurant offers its specialty of lau de (goat). There’s hot and sour Thai-style Tom Yum broth, but we recommend mixing the spicy herbal and the miso. The selection of meats is fairly standard, from beef, lamb, and chicken to beef tripe, pork stomach, beef tendon, and bouncy squid meatballs. Try the silky tofu skins, which are chewy and fun to eat. $22; goat hot pot is an additional $20. 12119 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, 714-636-7168
3. Ah-Lien Hot Pot
Once seated at O.C.’s newest Taiwanese shop, you’ll be presented with a sheet that lists more than 50 ingredients. Choose from an assortment of thinly sliced meats, from tender Prime rib-eye, chicken, and short ribs, to pork neck, mutton, and pork-blood rice cake for the more adventurous. Of the handful of broths offered, try half sour cabbage and half spicy. Add some leafy greens such as peppery tung ho (chrysanthemum leaves), delicate pea shoots, and crunchy watercress. You can mix your own dipping sauces, too. $13 and up. 6638 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, 949-453-0886
4. Little Sheep
Part of a growing global chain of hip Mongolian hot pot restaurants, Little Sheep offers perhaps the most flavorful experience with its house ma la (spicy pot). Or get two-for-one with its yin-yang soup base—half spicy, half herbal broth. A premium assortment of meats includes lamb shoulder, leg, and meatballs—even lamb dumplings. Also, hand-sliced fatty beef, perfectly scored curls of cuttlefish, pork belly, and more. Order the fish paste balls stuffed with roe, a house favorite. The house-made potato noodles, and taro vermicelli knots also are must-tries. $15 and up. 15361 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-651-0201, littlesheephotpot.com
5. Shabu Shabu Bar
Toasted sesame seeds arrive in a mortar—grind them with a pestle to release their flavor before the house-made sesame sauce is poured in. You’ve just made your dipping sauce. Go for the Prime rib-eye; the supple slices of marbled meat melt in your mouth. Super hungry? The Yokozuna platter comes piled with at least 40 slices of Choice rib-eye ($56). Other meats include Jidori chicken, Kurobuta pork, shrimp, scallops, and mussels. Save some noodles for the end of your meal and ask your server to prepare a soup using the remaining ingredients, added sauces, and stock. $15 to $125 (for Wagyu beef from Japan). 1945 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, 714-954-0332, shabushabubar.com
6. Tabu Shabu
Tucked in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plaza, Tabu’s U-shaped shabu-shabu bar is stylishly modern. There’s the standard kombu (kelp) broth, spicy miso, and sukiyaki—a sweet and savory broth. Try the Meyers Farm grassfed rib-eye—the meat is thick and velvety. Other organic meats include Kurobuta pork shoulder, Loch Duart salmon, and Australian Kobe short rib. Both the goma (sesame seed) and ponzu (citrus-soy) sauces are house-made. At the end of your meal, ask your server to make a comforting porridge by cracking an egg and stirring it into your pot with rice. $15 to $25. 333 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-642-2660, tabushabu.com
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.