Local Review: Hotto Potto
Location: 3090 Aloma Ave, Winter Park, FL 32792
Hours: Mon-Thurs (11a – 2a), Fri-Sat (11a – 5a), Sun (11 – 12a)
I am of the firm belief that if you try something and hate it, you should probably try it again a few years later. As you age, tastes in things change and things you’ve found repulsive once before may be the exact thing you’re craving later on. Last night, after getting a random sushi craving and realizing that nothing was open after midnight in the nearby area, one of my best friends suggested the sort of new hot pot restaurant located on the intersection of Semoran and Aloma Avenue.
Traditional hot pot is a sort of fondue-stew hybrid with Chinese origins. A large pot of flavored broth is presented, and you use this boiling broth to cook your raw meats, dumplings, noodles and vegetables. Typically enjoyed throughout the wintertime, hot pot is unique in that it can be completely different every single time you make it simply by altering a few spices and sauces in the broth — and that rather than get worse as it gets older, the flavors get stronger and more pronounced.
Hotto Potto is the first and only hot pot restaurant in the Greater Orlando area. We spoke with Alan, son of the restaurant’s owner, as well as his sister Tammy, who is the face of the location.
“We weren’t even aiming to be a hot pot restaurant”, Alan told us while we made small talk over our simmering pot of fresh meats and vegetables. The dining area was mostly empty save for a couple speaking in hushed tones near the front bar. “We were hoping to be a small Cantonese type diner on the second floor of a building over in Waterford Lakes — but right before we were about to sign the lease, we found out that having a restaurant on the second story wasn’t approved in that area, so we had to change our plans.” Alan explained that when they found the currently Winter Park venue, they were faced with a new dilemma: The small Asian diner type atmosphere they were hoping for wouldn’t be possible in such a large space, and wouldn’t really lend itself to what their overall aim was.
So they did what any family would do when faced with a difficult decision — they regrouped, brainstormed and waited for a strike of genius. And that strike came — in the form of a family homemade dinner of hot pot, which spawned the idea of incorporating the versatile dish as their main selling point.
And what a stroke of genius it was! Despite only being around for the last year, Hotto Potto has gathered quite the local following — and for good reason! With reasonable pricing, fresh fare and a slew of super secret special homemade sauces, Hotto Potto is a treat for anyone looking for a comfortable, friendly, delicious experience.
The hot pot menu is broken into sections. First, you select the type of broth base you’d like — options are given for everyone and special dietary needs are asked about and considered when you enter the restaurant. With both vegetarian (and vegan!) as well as meat-eating options, Hotto Potto has something for everyone!
Once you choose the broth, you can choose the level of spiciness you’d like. I chose a fairly mild flavor, because Alan advised us that if we wanted to add more spice, we could use the condiments and homemade special sauces — which are currently being presented to both Chamberlin’s Natural Food Market as well as Whole Foods so that they can possible stock the sauces on their shelves. Currently, you can buy them from the restaurant itself! Nick chose something spicier and paid for it later when he swallowed a whole slice of hot pepper, thinking it was a piece of bok choy!
After the basics, you are given a menu with full lists of ingredients — meats (ranging from normal beef slices to the more exotic things like beef stomach and duck feet), dumplings, vegetables, meat balls (fish, pork, etc), vegan friendly “meats” made from tofu, various kinds of noodles (we chose Udon), the list went on and on! Most of the items range from just under $2 to around $3, and the portion sizes are enough for two people. We overordered, which worked out anyway because we were able to pack a lot of it up and bring it back home with us to enjoy later, once the flavors have mingled a bit more!
Ingredients are brought out to you raw and you are able to control the temperature of the pot and add flavorings and ingredients as you want. This means that your soup is entirely dependent on you and is not prepared by anyone else — which is really fun and special to me because I love to cook and this was an excellent way to experience with a traditional Chinese dish without breaking the bank or requiring a hugely messy cleanup!
Nick and I both had taro root bubble tea, and it was amazing. Alan advised us, “If you notice that it tastes a little different from other places, that’s because our taro tea is COMPLETELY fresh! We don’t use a powder in our bubble tea — our chef boils pounds of the taro and then makes it himself with condensed milk.” Delicious, cheap, fresh AND no artificial flavors or preservatives? Yes, please. So many yesses!
There is also a very large aquarium near the kitchen area of the restaurant, and they sell fresh lobster and shrimp by themselves as well as make special shrimp and lobster balls to order for your hot pots as well!
We ended up staying until after closing time, which none of the employees or manager even seemed to mind. We got caught up in conversation about the food and the restaurant and it was a really friendly, enjoyable experience! Toward the end of our visit, Alan brought out two different desserts for us to sample — A shaved ice taro root ice cream thing and strawberry mochi balls. The taro shaved ice was just as delicious as the bubble tea had been, and it was made similarly as well. We also loved the mochi — the strawberry ice cream inside was divine!
I would highly recommend this great little restaurant if you enjoy hot pot — or even if you don’t! If you’re new to the dish, there are lunch and dinner specials that come with an assortment of items so you aren’t stuck with choosing between all the options. Truth be told, the first time I had it, I was in Boston and I couldn’t stand it. Hotto Potto has definitely made a hot pot convert out of this blogger! And they’re open REALLY LATE, so you can have hot pot (almost) anytime! ;)
Check out their website here and their Facebook page here!