Baby, it’s cold outside! I find that one of the best cures for the fall and winter chill is a piping hot bowl of deliciousness. Pot Belly Mini Hotpot (Unit 2116 – 3779 Sexsmith Road) can be found in the same Continental Shopping Centre as Pearl Castle Cafe, Dragon View Chinese Cuisine and Gokudo Shabu Shabu. Unlike these other restaurants, though, it is not located within the inner courtyard of this popular strip mall. Instead, Pot Belly can be found along the outer perimeter, next to TD Canada Trust. It’s easily overlooked (but it shouldn’t be).
“Asian” hot pot can take on many different forms, so it’s not at all fair to clump them all together into one all-encompassing category. The larger communal-style hot pots of Cantonese cuisine are decidedly different from Japanese sukiyaki, which slowly simmers meat and other ingredients in a soy sauce-based mixture.
Pot Belly Mini Hot Pot’s “make your own custom combination” dynamic shares a lot with how you might order your bowl of soup noodles at a place like Deer Garden Signatures. At Pot Belly, you can choose between eleven different soup bases and six different proteins…. which is a lot!
You might like to have the chicken in a curry-based soup base, for example. You might opt for pork in a cheese milk broth. It’s really up to you. You’ll also need to choose your side dish (rice or vermicelli, or an optional $2 upgrade to braised pork rice), your spice level, your sauce, and any extra add-ons you might want. The freedom of choice can be both liberating and overwhelming, but you can’t really go wrong.
When you’re ready to order, simply circle your choices directly on the laminated menu itself using the provided dry erase marker.
Curiously, while each seat in the restaurant is set up with its own induction style cook-top, that’s not really being used as the source of heat for each individual hot pot. Instead, you are provided a rack of sorts with a gel-based fuel in the center. This is subsequently lit ablaze with your hot pot on top, keeping the contents of your meal extra hot for an extended period of time. Do be careful!
The soup base itself for your hot pot should provide plenty of flavour already, but if you want to kick it up another notch, you are given the choice of either a peanut-based satay sauce or a spicy garlic sauce. The latter does have a good amount of kick to it for fans of the spicy stuff. If you’re not dining alone, get both and share with your tablemates.
Shown here is the Seafood Hot Pot in Tomato Soup Base ($13.99). The menu can lead you to believe that you will only get the protein you select, but each hot pot comes with a number of other ingredients by default as well. You’ll find enoki mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, wood-ear fungus, corn, tofu and more.
As mentioned, this can be accompanied with either a bowl of rice or some rice vermicelli. The noodles arrive uncooked, so you will need to dunk them in your hot soup. Don’t worry – they cook very quickly, especially since your hot pot can stay hot for so long.
The tomato soup base fits somewhere between the soup you’d get from a tomato beef noodle soup and the Russian borscht that accompanies your set meal at a Hong Kong-style cafe. It’s just a little bit sour, which goes well with practically any protein. The mix of seafood here is also excellent, with large prawns, mussels, fish, and squid taking centre stage.
Perhaps one of the more unique options offered by Pot Belly is the split-level pot, where one-half is the traditional hot pot and the other half is a mini grill. That’s what you see here with the Lamb Hot Pot in Pumpkin Soup Base with the grill upgrade ($15.99). You don’t get any more meat this way. Instead, the protein is split between the two levels.
The sliced lamb, like almost everything else, arrives pre-cooked at your table. You will, however, want to mix it around and let it sear on the hot grill for a few minutes to get a little color. It’s accompanied by some raw chopped onions and sauce.
Whether or not you’re a fan of pumpkin spice everything (it is that time of year, after all), the pumpkin soup base provides a unique flavour combination to your hot pot. Of course, it doesn’t taste at all like pumpkin spice. It’s more like a butternut squash.
The lamb slices are more tender in the soup and stay just slightly pink, which I found to be more enjoyable than the lamb on the grill. That’s a matter of personal preference, of course, but I’m not sure I’d pay the $2 premium for the grill on my next visit.
The additional side of Fish Balls ($3.99) probably wasn’t all that necessary. You get about 10-12 balls in a dish. I wasn’t sure if they were completely cooked — they were slightly cool and definitely firm — so you will want to let them simmer in your soup for a while too.
In addition to the main hot pots, the back side of the laminated menu at Pot Belly offers several snacks, rice dishes, and beverages. The Marinated Pork Ear ($4.99) is a typical casual dish at Taiwanese restaurants and is not nearly as scary as you might think. It has a unique gelatinous texture with just a bit of a crunch.
The Taiwanese Chicken Nuggets ($5.99) deliver that wonderful blend of spices that you find on almost all Taiwanese deep fried dishes. The chicken here was fine, but the outside wasn’t as crispy as I’ve come to expect. Clearly, the hot pots are the star attraction at Pot Belly and understandably so.
If you’re in search of something warm and comforting, especially on a cold winter’s night, Pot Belly Mini Hot Pot certainly fits the bill. The ability to mix and match your soups and proteins differentiates it from other similar hot pot restaurants like Boiling Point on Number 3 Road. Seating is cozy, service is attentive, and the meals are thoroughly satisfying at a wallet-friendly price.
The total bill for our visit, including taxes and gratuity, came to just over $50. If you skip the side dishes and add-ons, a modest meal for two can be had for about $30. Remember to bring cash, because they don’t accept debit or credit.