Baby, it’s cold outside. In fact, it’s been pretty cold outside in general this month, and when it’s cold outside I crave hot pot.
Hot pot, for the uninitiated, is when you have a bubbling pot of broth in the middle of your table with uncooked proteins and vegetables that get dipped in and cooked in the boiling broth. A popular chain is Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, which offers an all-you-can-eat version. There are also hot pot-only restaurants like Hot Pot City and One Hot Pot and Grill. Many restaurants like Tan Tan, Fu Fu Restaurant and Sinh Sinh, come equipped tabletops constructed especially to hold the steaming pots of broth.
All of these places are good options if you are looking for hot pot. But where do you go for the best? For a tried and true, spicy-hot Thai-style hot pot that will leave your belly warm and your appetite highly satisfied, the place to go is Vibe Lounge on Wilcrest in Alief. A Vietnamese bar, lounge and sports bar that features an extra large flat-screen TV, hip hop music and offers a menu of Vietnamese street food like muc rang muoi (fried salted squid), Vibe’s lau Thai, or Thai hot pot, is the one all my Vietnamese girlfriends cite as their favorite. In fact, when I sent out a slew of text messages asking for recommendations for the best hot pot in the city, all of the responses came back the same: Vibe.
What makes it so great, you ask? The first thing is the broth. Sweet and sour and spicy, the flavor is the same as the Thai tom yum flavor, with lemongrass and tamarind. The spice level is pretty hot (so be forewarned), more of a medium Thai hot level (so order accordingly).
What’s most impressive is the presentation. When you order it, a portable gas burner is set on the table, and the hot pot itself comes on this special hot pot plate with a four-inch lip where the hot pot ingredients are attractively laid out for you. The order comes with white fish, squid, beef, whole head-on prawns, mussels and enoki mushroom. On the side, you get a plate of bun rice vermicelli noodles, and on another plate, you get a big pile of green veggie (watercress and ong choy).
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The whole shebang will cost you about $35, but it’s plenty for two or three to share. The best time to go is during happy hour, which runs Monday through Sunday from 4 p.m, to 8 p.m., and all day Tuesdays. During happy hour, most of their street food dishes — from the fish sauce chicken wings to the steamed prawns to steamed oysters with garlic butter sauce, are discounted to just $7. And remember that this is not a family restaurant but a lounge with neon lights, loud-ish music and full bar that can get crowded later in the evening, so the later you go, the more lounge-y it will get.
Vibe Lounge is located at 6968 Wilcrest in Alief. For more info and to see a full menu, visit www.vibektvlounge.com.