We may have had a proliferation of hot pot restaurants in Chicago in recent years, but they are nothing like those springing up in China. There, at new-style purveyors of huo guo, you begin by sipping cocktails in a lounge while the staff treats you to manicures and neck massages. When you move to a table, each ingredient comes out looking more TikToktastic than the last. Hot pot is an evening’s entertainment and meal in one.
At Qiao Lin Hotpot, things are less spa-like, but there’s plenty to keep you entertained. If your previous hot pot experiences have been underwhelming, this outpost of a Chongqing restaurant group, sumptuously decorated like a courtyard manor, is where you will do it right. Premium ingredients, like Snake River Farms wagyu ($17.95), and striking presentations make it stand out, but the menu offers dozens of items and myriad pathways through. Here’s how to do it.
First, the broth. There are four, but get the Chongqing spicy, which is oily, brick red, and electric with Sichuan peppercorn, and the far gentler herbal chicken, flavored with açai and jujube. Next choose add-ins to cook in the broth. Do not miss the spicy beef skewers ($6.95) and the thin white slips of beef aorta ($6.95). Both soak up the glory of the spicy broth. (The aorta has that lovely springiness that Chinese people call “Q.”) Also great: the fresh beef meatballs ($6.95), which come on a tiny wooden staircase, and the baby bok choy ($3.25). We weren’t informed about the elaborate self-serve sauce bar, but it has instructions for saucing seafood and meats. Following the lead of a neighboring table, we asked for bowls and spoons and added knife-cut noodles ($3.25) and the leftover add-ins to the chicken broth. Even this soup was Instagram-ready; not coincidentally, the restaurant’s handle is affixed to each table.