Last week, I went to a relatively new Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan) Chinese restaurant located off of Buford Highway. It sits in the corner of a large deserted shopping center that once was home to a Value City department store. For the sake of this post I’ll call it Hot Pot as advertised on their sign outside. Although the restaurant’s take-out menu, my debit card receipt and a hidden sign out front makes references to the place calling themselves “Chong Qing Hot Pot.”
While waiting for my order, I googled the restaurant on my iPhone and unbeknownst to me there was another Sichuan restaurant of a similar hot pot name located nearby at the Chinatown food court. And for the sake of this post, I will call that place Chong Qing Hot Pot as advertised in English on their sign.
A comment at the bottom of local blogger Eat Buford Highway’s write-up caught my eye, which appeared to have been made by the wife of the owner of the restaurant in the food court.
She stated “[t]his location on Buford Hwy is not associated with the Chong Qing Hot Pot in the Chinatown Foodcourt. The stand alone Buford Hwy restaurant has been opened by the previous,old foodcourt owner, who had a rating of 64 on the health department inspection. Please do not confuse this restaurant with the [one] at the Chinatown Foodcourt. The Chinatown location is operated by Liang He, the new owner, who has a 94..”
Chong Qing is a metropolitan Chinese city located in the Sichuan Province with a municipal population of around 32,000,000. The city is known for tableside hot pots filled with vegetables, seafood, tofu, meat and/or offal (organs or innards of a butchered animal) cooked in mild or spicy broth. Split pots are traditionally provided if you want both broths, which I did with Hot Pot’s Spicy and Light Soup ($4.95). It comes in a large metallic pot partitioned in the middle and filled separately with each types of broth. My tray full of uncooked a la carte items ($14.05 altogether) also arrives separately, and were added to both broths after the portable burner it sat on brought it to a boil.
The next day, I decided to go check out the Chong Qing Hot Pot in the food court. The owner Lian He was behind the cash register (as was the 94 inspection rating certificate) so I asked him a few questions about both places after putting in an order for a hot pot of nefarious animal parts and Stir-Fry Lamb with Cumin ($8.50).
Lian He’s tone immediately went a little sour as he seemed upset that people could confuse their businesses from each other. He confirmed that he bought the place around two years ago from the original owner—the proprietor of the new Hot Pot restaurant. Lian He also added that the original owner took his chef to the new restaurant with him (my waitress from the new Hot Pot restaurant stated this the day before too).
At the food court, I sampled an order of their Spicy Tripe Hot Pot ($8.25) which is a medium-sized pot filled with soft tripe, blood cake, cellophane noodles, vegetables and tofu. It was good, real good. My wife couldn’t stomach the off-putting odor the offal gave to the soup but the broth was tangy and easy to put down.
As far as other items I sampled at both restaurants, there are dishes that have merits and shortcomings but overall I am enjoying the food from the new Hot Pot restaurant a bit more. I like the interactivity of their hot pot (which comes at a price), but to me the spicy oil-laden broth is what slurping molten lava must be like.
The dishes at both hot pot restaurants are very similar to the ultra-popular Tasty China in Marietta, including items like the salty and sweat-inducing Spicy Chicken with chilies ($11.95 at the stand alone, $6.85-food court) and oily Dan Dan Noodles ($6.99-stand alone, $4.95-food court). The prices at the food court generally tend to be $2-4 cheaper per dish, but the portion sizes at the stand alone on Buford Highway are larger.
Regardless, both restaurants have deep menus and are open for business, so there’s nothing stopping us from exploring both. And for the record, I haven’t seen an inspection certificate displayed at the new place yet.
– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.