Ben Zhao loved eating at hot pot restaurants in his native Szechuan province. But after work led him to move to Northern Virginia, he wasn’t fully satisfied with the make-your-own-soup restaurants he found. “Most of them are all-you-can-eat,” he laments, saying that with the typical emphasis on bulk, quality often suffers.
There was only one thing to do: open his own restaurant. In late October, he did just that with the debut of Supreme Hot Pot in Arlington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. He enlisted a group of friends to decorate the walls with murals of soup, dragons, fish and a zaftig lucky cat. Even from the street, the art attracts diners with its red and gold tones.
But so do the aromas. The signature soup is a chicken-based broth called Szechuan hot ’n’ spicy. With a range of spice levels from one to five, one would assume a level two would be a pleasant burn. That would be incorrect. These are Szechuan spice levels—real ones, not Americanized. A level two will make the average American sweat and perhaps cough a little bit. Level five? Be ready for a nuclear attack on your taste buds.
For the spice averse, there are still a slew of options. The house special bone marrow broth is rich and buttery with beef marrow and dotted with goji berries and red dates. Sauerkraut and tomato broths lend acid to the boiled meat and vegetables, while mushroom broth satisfies with umami roundness. For traditionalists, there’s a Chinese herbal broth, too.
Zhao is proud of his meats. “We use Angus beef,” he boasts. Those cuts include rib-eye and slices of fatty beef. But for those seeking true indulgence, there is wagyu beef rib. A swish in the broth is all it needs to cook to ideal beefy tenderness. There are also homemade meatballs, slices of lamb, pork belly and chicken. More adventurous eaters will marvel at the iron-y intensity of the duck blood. Pork brain is a creamy foil to the spicy broth.
Zhao says that veggies are purchased fresh every day, including leafy tong ho, cilantro that’s essential for brightening up the spicy broth and toothsome enoki mushrooms. There are noodles, too, including ropey udon and slippery wide sweet potato noodles.
The sauce bar has premade dips, including an endearingly sugary soy-based house sauce, but it’s more fun to make your own from ingredients like garlic, vinegar and chile oil.
Not everything requires DIY skills at Supreme Hot Pot. Lamb skewers pop with juicy fat and a shower of cumin and chile powder. There are Louisiana-style seafood boils, including spicy crawfish, for those who didn’t get enough oyster and squid in their soup.
But the appeal of Supreme Hot Pot is tailoring a meal to your tastes. Whether Szechuan-style hot pot is a reminder of home or a new set of flavors, it’s all about the experience, and Supreme Hot Pot provides a repast to remember. // 2301 Columbia Pike, Suite F, Arlington
Colorful murals of iconic Chinese animals cover the walls, but the real entertainment is boiling on your table.
Lamb skewers, Angus rib-eye slices, wide sweet potato noodles
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Hot Pot Ingredients: $0.99-$29.99
This story originally ran in our March issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.