Chinese hot pot restaurant Potwhale quietly opened its doors at 3620 N. First Ave., Ste. 154.
To be clear, we're talking about hot pot where the pot boils at the table and you cook your ingredients.
Impress Hot Pot was previously Tucson's only Chinese hot pot restaurant, but it closed in 2018. Fatman Kitchen opened in its place and kept the hot pot tables, but they haven't incorporated hot pot into their menu yet.
Potwhale features hot pot along with a few a la carte dishes in a modern minimalist environment with whale art adorning the walls.
Guests come in, choose a table, and then check off their desired items on a laminated menu.
The experience can be overwhelming for a newcomer. If you don't have a seasoned vet with you, here are some basic tips.
Bring a group of friends, ideally a group of four. You'll save money and have a better variety of dishes.
Make sure to check off the self-serve sauce ($1.50 per person) option on the menu. It's essentially the Chinese version of a salsa bar. And you don't choose just one sauce — pick a few from the self-serve bar (and if you're feeling adventurous, mix your own concoctions).
To keep the sauce traditional, start with a base of sesame paste and mix in a spoon of the green leek sauce. I personally like to add garlic, cilantro, and sliced chili (be careful, they're quite hot). Instead of tortilla chips, you're going to dip your hot pot-cooked items into your custom sauces.
For the pot base, choose the YuanYang Base ($7.99) option; you get a Yin and Yang-shaped divided pot that allows you to choose two different broths. This is perfect if you have a group that has spice-lovers and spice-adverse folks. The Spicy & Special House Beef Broth is garlicky, beefy, hot spicy, and numbing spicy; medium spicy should be fine for most people, but spice lovers should get the heavy spicy option.
When it comes to meat, just choose what you want. The prime beef ($7.49) here is fatty and melts in your mouth nicely. The lamb ($7.49) is on the leaner side and not gamey at all, so don't worry about that. The beef trips ($6) is a typo for beef tripe, FYI. Get seafood if you want to splurge a little.
The meatball selection adds a nice bouncy chew to contrast the paper-thin meats; beef tendon meatball ($6) and lobster meatball ($6) were our favorites.
For vegetables, order the Vegetable Combo 1 ($4.99) with lotus root, potato, and winter melon, along with the Vegetable Combo 2 ($4.99) with napa cabbage, a choy (kind of like a leafy bok choy), and spinach. Add some varieties of mushrooms while you're at it.
The soybean curd section of the menu is a source of vegan protein and texture. The staples section features noodles and a few other items to soak up the broth. Make sure to get the fried dough sticks ($3.50) and handmake noodle ($3).
Once your pot is boiling away at your table, add the starchy vegetables right away; they take several minutes to cook. In the meantime, grab a slice of meat or leafy vegetable with your chopsticks and swish it around in the broth for 5 - 10 seconds. Dip it into your bowl of sauce and enjoy it.
A few minutes in, add the meatballs. They'll be ready in just a few minutes. They're hard to overcook, so don't stress too much.
The house-made noodles are saved for last. Dump them in once you've eaten the other ingredients, then let them hang out in the broth for 3 - 5 minutes depending on your preference. They will overcook, however, so pay close attention. If you cook them al dente, they will retain a pleasant chew.
Now sit back, Soymilk in hand, and enjoy the company.
We'll be back to try out their a la cart dishes such as their house special chicken wings and spicy numbing pork rib noodle.
Pot Whale, located at 3620 N. First Ave., Ste. 154, is open from 4:30 - 11:30 p.m. daily. Keep up with Pot Whale on Instagram.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...