New to Culver Plaza, Nice to Meet You Hot Pot specializes in chuan chuan, a type of hot pot from Chong Qing, China that focuses on skewers of meat or vegetables. The skewers are then placed in the pot of boiling soup in the middle of the table to cook the ingredients just like at other hot pot places. The main purposes of the skewers, from what I can tell, are to make it easier to pick the food out of the soup and to keep the meat wrapped around its vegetable filling.
Like other shabu and hot pot places, the first step at Nice to Meet You Hot Pot is to choose your broths. You can have up to two broths and I opted for the tomato and house spicy beef (mild) flavors. The tomato broth is a sweet and savory option that pairs well with vegetables and noodles, while the house spicy beef reminded me of Szechuan spicy soups filled with lots of numbing peppery flavor. Even at mild, the house spicy beef broth was still quite numbing, so I recommend going down one level of heat than what you normally order.
After you order your broths, you head to the self-serve refrigerated section in the middle of the restaurant. Here, they have racks of skewered meats and vegetables; plates of tofu, vegetables, and noodles; and an open refrigerator filled with beverages. All of the skewers and plates do add up quickly and can become quite expensive, so I recommend grabbing a little at a time instead of going nuts and grabbing every dish in your first round. If you’re not interested in the skewers or bowls of fresh vegetables, they do have a menu you can order from made up of cooked appetizers and the sliced meats you can find at a shabu spot.
In this center area, Nice to Meet You Hot Pot also has a few cold appetizers like cucumber salad, a selection of Chinese desserts, and a sauce bar. The sauce bar has a huge selection of toppings and sauces including fresh chilis, chili oil, minced garlic, cilantro, green onion, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame seeds. Unlike other hot pot restaurants such as All That Shabu, the sauce bar is not included in the price of the meal, so if you want to save yourself about $3, skip on the sauce bar. I personally didn’t think the sauce was critical to the meal because the broths themselves added a lot of flavor to the meal.
Out of the refrigerators, I grabbed a large variety of stuff to try – watercress, luncheon meat, bamboo shoots, instant noodle, tofu skin, taro, and several meat skewers. Out of what I tried, I enjoyed the watercress and skewers the most. The watercress soaked up a lot of the soup as it cooked, giving it quite a bit of flavor. Out of the skewers, my favorites were the beef filled with cilantro, beef filled with enoki mushroom, and pork belly filled with pickled cabbage. Each of these skewers was made up of a thin slice of meat wrapped around the filling, so it cooked fairly quickly. With these ones, I enjoyed how the filling added both flavor and different textures to each bite.
Overall, I enjoyed my meal and know I will bring my friends and family back to try it. However, when I do return, I’m definitely going to go with more of a strategy in mind to get the most out of what I order. Like I said earlier, the sauce didn’t feel critical to my meal, so I would skip that. I would also focus mostly on the skewers because each skewer is only $0.48. Even though some of the meat skewers came with two skewers, meaning it cost $0.96 total, it was still the best deal on the menu since the plates cost from $4.99 to $22.99. The skewers are also what makes Nice to Meet You Hot Pot unique from other hot pot dining options in Irvine.
If you do go, I recommend wearing something casual because the smell of my meal clung to my clothes. My jacket didn’t necessarily stink the day after, but it did have a clear spicy beef smell to it.