Hot Spot

Hi dee ho, neighbors, and happy Tuesday! Sorry I’ve been AWOL for a few days. Things have been seriously running away from me lately. Between book writing, sequestration-fretting, and helping my boyfriend Sean look at houses, it’s been a busy stretch! 2/3 things are good though, so in spite of the looming threat of cut work hours or worse (we haven’t been told yet how the sequester is affecting my contract specifically), I’m staying positive. You know how I do.

So in that light, I thought I would share with any of you local readers one of my favorite new finds! Sean and I stumbled upon this restaurant only a week or two ago, and I’m already obsessed. We’ve already been twice! It’s in Fairfax, VA, in the same little strip mall as our favorite branch of Bon Chon Chicken. Welcome to Hot Spot!

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Preface: I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for three years (grades 9 – 11) and one of my absolute favorite things about living there was, in fact, going to eat shabu shabu, or hot pot. Hot pot is like… Asian fondue. If you’ve ever been to the Melting Pot and eaten one of their entree courses, it’s pretty much the same thing (only at a much, much better price point, hahaha). You get served up raw foods that have been prepared for you — thinly sliced meats, pre-cut noodles, veggies galore, etc, and cook them yourselves at the table in a pot of boiling broth.

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Hot Spot is an all-you-can-eat sort of place, so they give you a little card where you can choose all the awesome stuffs you want, as well as the types of broths you’d like to cook in. They offer you a pot with a divider in the middle so you can choose two types — they offer plain shabu shabu, spicy variations and even a kimchi broth! Then, you just check off all the meats, veggies, and whatnot that you want, and they bring it to your table. Simple and easy.

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The first time Sean & I went here, we got the spicy broth and the herbal broth. When we took my parents here a week later, we got the spicy and the shabu shabu. Both times were awesome! Between our two visits I think we tried just about everything on the menu, but I really loved how this place not only serves ALL the meats and ALL the seafoods (seriously, scallops, clams, shrimp, fish, OCTOPUS — you name it, they’ve got it), but also fish/beef/shrimp balls, and lots of different kinds of tofu. It made it feel really authentic.

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So you toss the stuff in the pot, pull it out a minute later (it all cooks crazy fast), and go to town! By the time you reach the end of your meal, the broth itself is suuuuuper flavorful and delicious. I always get a raw egg at the end of the meal, poach it in the broth ’til it’s still runny-yolked, then break it into my bowl. The broth gets amazingly thick and delicious, and… aw man, mouth watering. Crap.

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Hot Spot also offers a pretty robust sauce bar. It’s equipped with all your basics — soy, hoisin, oyster, vinegar — and then some fancier options — sesame oil, chili sauces, ponzu. They also offer cilantro, chilis, green onion, minced onion, salt, sugar, sesame seeds, garlic, and more (!) to mix into the sauces. It’s fun to throw together some various combos, but honestly, most of the food doesn’t need it. I’d say equipping yourself with a little bowl of sriracha (if you like spicy) and a thing of hoisin sauce (my faaaave) is probably all you’d really need… though it definitely didn’t stop me from trying every available sauce, hehe.

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I haven’t been to too many other hot pot restaurants in the area, so part of the reason why I may be so in love with Hot Spot is simply due to nostalgia and lack of places to compare it to. That said, both times we went, our servers were SUPER friendly and attentive, and the general vibe of the place is really fun. It’s surprisingly young and modern, which is not what I would have expected from a good hot pot place. It felt really trendy. I think the owners are pretty young, and who knows, maybe hot pot is gonna be the next big thing!

The price is a little bit high — I think it was $22.99 per person? Which is fine for dinner but kind of expensive for lunch. Of course, as mentioned, it’s all you can eat, and they do provide a lot of higher-cost food options (all the aforementioned seafood). Plus, it’s totally customizable! If you wanted nothing but marinated beef and scallops for your meal, you could do that. They offer $2.50 beers during happy hour, too, which we found out by accident. It’s a LOT of fun for a group to dine together, provided you’re all okay with communal cooking and whatnot, of course, and it’s probably not the best choice for a group with mixed dietary preferences/exclusions. All that being said, obviously I LOVED this place and want to go back again and again and again. Like I said, tons of fun to go with a group — especially people who have never experienced hot pot before! Sean hadn’t before we went here, and I think I’ve made a believer out of him.

Have you ever eaten hot pot? If not, think you’d be willing to try? I know some people get a little icked out at the thought of communal eating situations, but I guess growing up eating Chinese food “family-style” my whole life — especially with my 80,000 uncles, aunts, and cousins at my grandparents’ house — really made that sort of thing a non-issue for me. If you live in the area, I HEARTILY recommend giving Hot Spot a try!