A New Soup Lover’s ‘Heaven’ In McCully
Wednesday - July 07, 2010
There’s something about the name of Kim Nguyen’s restaurant that strikes immediate confidence into the hearts of those seeking quality comfort food. How could a place named Hot Pot Heaven be anything other than fabulous?
Fortunately, the delightfully named new kid on the McCully Shopping Center restaurant block lives up to expectations. The food is so reasonably priced and utterly delicious, I predict it will become an instant favorite with Honolulu foodies.
The concept is simple: shabu shabu-style soups with 10 different flavors and dozens of ingredients. What sets Hot Pot Heaven apart from the average shabu shabu house is the undeniable taste of home cooking. Chickens are slow-cooked daily to extract maximum sweetness and flavor from the bones and meat, and the broth then becomes the base of most of the 10 different soups.
“What’s different, I think, about our shabu shabu style is definitely the broth and the homemade sauces,” say Nguyen. “We use different ingredients to include as many cultures from Hawaii as we can.”
From lemongrass and ginger with soft tofu to spicy tom yum goong, kim chee, seafood and a “Hawaiian” broth, the all-you-can-eat soups are reason enough to visit this charming spot.
Add in some homemade, bite-sized, irresistibly good won ton, a mom - Hui Ho, mother of partner Jimmy Tran - in the kitchen, who pops out occasionally to see that you’re enjoying the food, and a menu that includes lobster balls, mahimahi, king crab legs, Korean rice cakes, beef, chicken and a firm, flavorful fish tofu, and you’re addicted from the first slurp.
The idea for Hot Pot Heaven came to Nguyen as she returned to Hawaii from a mission in Vietnam.
“We built houses and dug wells in a very poor area,” she says, “and every night when we’d finish working, we’d be served hot pot made with whatever had been caught in the river and grown in the garden. I thought it would be fun to have a similar place to go when I came home.”
A laminated booklet of food photos and descriptions is a useful tool for new customers and makes the ordering process simple. Order broth - refills are free and split pots are available so diners can order two broths at a time - then head to the refrigerator to choose your hot pot ingredients. Plates are color-coded and prices start at $2.59.
For $3.59 you can choose lobster balls, squid and other meat and seafood items, and at $4.59 there’s mahimahi, king crab, tripe, tongue, beef and those irresistible won ton.
Nguyen says Ho is kind of particular about the won ton - how they’re shaped and how they taste. And, she says, they do tend to run out fast.
For a rookie restaurant venture, Hot Pot Heaven has started off impressively, and the concept of simple, soulful, inexpensive eating could not come at a better time.
Go early for lunch, if you can, and order the won ton. Those nighttime lines are sure to be long.
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