It feels like the D.C. area went from having one or two hot pot restaurants to four or five in the span of a month. A few weeks ago I’m looking online and see two new hot pot venues are opening in Rockville, and another one in D.C. Intrigued, I decided to visit some of the news spots and figure out what all the fuss is about.
Hot pot, traditionally a Chinese cooking method, offers an interactive dining experience featuring warm broth and a variety of ingredients to cook in the broth. Whether or not you’ll like hot pot dining depends on your idea of fun. If you don’t want to cook your own food, don’t go to a hot pot restaurant. If you love the idea of making your own meal by mixing and matching different ingredients, waiting for them to cook and absorb the flavors of the foaming broth and then pairing them with different sauce, you’ll enjoy hot pot, especially great in winter.
Urban Hot Pot
1800 Rockville Pike H2, Rockville, MD 20852
For the “well-oiled machine” version of hot pot cooking, with the maximum number of ingredient options, this is the spot. You start things off by choosing from one of six cooking broths. I loved both the savory vegetable broth, and the tomato broth which is sweeter and has a very distinct tomato flavor. There is a small bar at the front of the restaurant where you choose your sauces. Next, you can start to select items to cook in the broth. Those items come floating to your table on a conveyor belt which is pretty awesome because you get to see what you are going to get before actually committing to it. If you don’t see what you are looking for, you can order additional items off of an iPad at your table. No need to wait for a server. Choices include everything from nearly twenty different kinds of veggies, meat, half a dozen kinds of noodles and tofu.
My mom and I had a ball; we each got our own pot and went to town cooking different veggies and then dousing them in the variety of sauces. We loved the variety of noodles, the lotus root, and the tofu sheets which sound weird but aren’t. At the end we were stuffed – and exhausted! Cooking is hard work. All you can eat at Urban Hot Pot will set you back $18 a person at lunch, and $26 a person at brunch and dinner. Tables are large enough for four people with multiple cooking pots; if you are looking adventurous meal with friends, this is the hot pot choice for you.
301 Water St SE Ste 115, Washington, DC 20003
For the winter season only, Whaley’s is also transforming into a hot pot venue called Fuyu. Fuyu is focusing on shabu shabu hot pots, which are specifically Japanese hot pots. Diners can choose from a dashi or red miso broth, and then select items to cook in the broth. Keeping in with the Whaley’s theme most cooking items are seafood based. Noodles and veggies come on the side. This is the most expensive hot pot option, with the fewest options for ingredients. Most of the seafood ingredients are $30 or more for two people, although that does include the noodles and side vegetables. This spot would appeal mostly to seafood aficionados, as there are few other ingredient options.
Little Dipper Hot Pot House
Multiple locations: Rockville, Falls Church & Fairfax
Little Dipper Hot Pot in Rockville offers another unique hot pot option. Already cooked veggies arrive swimming in the hot pot, and you can select your meat or tofu and type of noodles to cook. Each pot has a theme, such as the tomato dipper with a tomato based broth, the curry dipper with a curry based broth, and the miso dipper with a miso based broth. You can also choose the spiciness level of the broth. For those who want to do the least amount of work, this is the hot pot experience for you. The veggies are cooked and ready, all you had to do is add your protein and noodles. It is also the most affordable of the hot pot options, as the bowls range from $14-20, and that includes your protein and noodles.