In recent years, an influx of money from Asia has transformed Chinatown, replacing beloved if long-in-the-tooth Cantonese places with bright restaurants in line with international tastes. Dim sum parlors have been supplanted by Taiwanese teahouses, Korean barbecues, Sichuan spice-o-ramas, and hot pot spots. So many hot pot spots.
My favorite of this new guard is Yao Yao, the first American branch of a Chinese chain based in Shenzhen. What distinguishes this place — besides its aquamarine walls and breezy-cheesy murals — is its devotion to getting one hot pot recipe right. Instead of the vast array of ingredients, broths, and dipping sauces you’ll find elsewhere, Yao Yao specializes in suan cai yu, a steaming stew of velvety freshwater fish (largemouth bass here) and pickled mustard greens in a lively, chile-tinged broth ($48 and big enough to serve two). You may throw in tofu skins and enoki mushrooms, but you’ll be fighting over the last slips of fish.
You can supplement the meal with wonderful small dishes, all under $11. Think sesame fried shrimp, smashed cukes, sausage fried rice, and wood ear mushrooms in black vinegar. My only advice: Skip the spicy beef hot pot offered as an add-on in a yin-yang bowl. You can get better elsewhere. That fish, though, is destination-worthy.