Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot

hotpot011At a local Chinese restaurant, dinner is do-it-yourself.

hotpot011At a local Chinese restaurant, dinner is do-it-yourself.

Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot, located in the Great Wall Supermarket plaza on Gallows Road, serves up Chinese delicacies on a lunch and weekend buffet, but the star of the show at this restaurant is its namesake dish.

The hot pot is soup base, cooked at the table, to which diners can add a host of beef, seafood, and vegetables, ranging from the $3 Chinese cabbage to the $10 per pound fish. There are even a few options, like bullfrog and quail egg, for adventurous eaters hoping to try something new. And variety doesn’t stop at the ingredients added to the broth. The broth itself comes in a number of varieties, which cost between $21 and $6 for a whole pot of broth, though the most popular is the $8 divided pot with half mild (a light broth seasoned with scallion and tomato) and half spicy (a dark broth filled with potent chili peppers and peppercorn). And if these ingredients didn’t provide enough choices to customize the dining experience, a buffet-adjacent sauce and herb bar lets diners mix and match toppings like soy sauce, garlic and cilantro to make their ideal taste creations, or just experiment with new combinations.

The stand-out menu items are the long, thin-sliced pieces of beef, the chicken, and the wooden ear mushroom. Poor quality ingredients can be masked in cooking, or with thick sauces, but when raw ingredients come out to the table at Uncle Liu’s, they need to be of good quality. The raw meats are fresh, perfectly pink, and cook up tender and juicy in the broth, absorbing its heat in the spicy broth and its savory flavors in the mild broth. Not all ingredients are as inspiring, though. The Uncle Liu’s fried pork, while it bears the restaurant’s name, cooks tougher than one might expect from a broth-cooked meat, and the breading falls apart within seconds of hitting the broth, leaving a mushy shell barely hanging on to the meat.

While having so many options might seem overwhelming, the kind and courteous staff at Uncle Liu’s will not only offer their suggestions on what customers might enjoy from the sauce and ingredients selections, they’ll even explain the intricacies of the components – like how the tofu likes to play a disappearing act in the broth, or how quickly the thinly sliced beef strips cook to perfection.

Timid chefs need not worry, as the staff will also cook and serve the ingredients for any who might need assistance, with large, wooden chopsticks and slotted spoons for plucking and scooping items from the broth.

But the dining isn’t done when the ingredients are gone. The hot pot is served with small bowls and spoons so diners can drink up every last drop, or even add potato noodles for a soupy, meal-ending treat.

The hot pot serves a famished two expecting to take home leftovers, but most comfortably accommodates three or four. More can be placated with the addition of menu items without worry, because the broth is in no short supply. With the cooking component, supported by friendly staff members who gladly smile and laugh along as noodles go astray and broth splashes about, this spot is ideal for friends and family gathering for a fun group meal. While ingredients and broth are served tableside, however, aprons are not, so aspiring chefs should expect to get a little messy.

Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot is located at 2972 Gallows Road, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-560-6868. Restaurant hours are Monday – Friday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Saturday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – Midnight.