What’s the best thing to serve to a beachside paradise with summer just around the corner? Spicy Chinese soup, of course.
With the grand opening of 212° Hotpot, Isla Vista feels more and more like the Asian hubs of San Jose and Rowland Heights, bringing trendy Taiwanese food to the town’s otherwise lackluster gourmet scene.
Before I.V.’s residents left for the summer, lines were out the door at the latest restaurant addition at 6533 Trigo Road, which was formerly home to Kol’s Café and Crushcakes Café. Inside at the counter, you put your name, party size, and phone number down before you head outside to wait. Once called, it’s another wait inside to order at the same counter, and then you hunt for an empty table.
On the menu are individual hot pots, so named for the gas stoves or charcoal flames underneath each bowl of soup as it’s brought out to the table. The broth — which can be customized to four levels of spice between non-spicy and flaming hot — bubbles with meat, dumplings, mushrooms, mung-bean-based vermicelli noodles, peanuts, tofu, corn on the cob, leafy greens, or seafood, depending on which of the 11 hot pots you order. A meal will run you anywhere between $13.99 and $17.99, depending on the size and type ordered.
You eat it by ladling out the boiling broth, meat, and vegetables into the provided empty bowl, giving it enough time to cool in a smaller vessel. (Spoiler alert: No amount of time is enough to keep it from burning your tongue.)
Buyer beware: Come when you’re hungry. These pots look like your usual portions, but upon first slurp, you’ll realize that you’ve gotten yourself into something you can’t possibly finish. All hot pots come with a bowl of noodles or rice.
The curry hot pot is full of delicious, authentic Chinese curry flavor, while the beef hot pot comes loaded with fish balls and veggies. All the accoutrements are excellent at absorbing the flavorful broth, which begins in a giant stockpot in 212° Hotpot’s kitchen. For vegetarians, there is the healthy veggies hot pot, which comes in two flavors.
Their meat-based broth, when kicked up a few spice notches, is plenty spicy. Those unsatisfied with the tears-in-your-eyes level of spice that the hottest level can bring, though, are welcome to the chili oil and chili garlic paste sitting on each table. If it gets too spicy, rest assured that the only other things on the menu — which is entirely liquid — are soft drinks and imported Chinese teas, including Jia Duo Bao, a sweet herbal tea in a golden can. Drinks come with their lunch offerings.
There are still a couple of kinks to iron out before 212° Hotpot is the best it can possibly be. For one, the service (as is the case with most new places overwhelmed by a rush of customers) is lackluster. With wait times exceeding an hour over the last month, management has seemed scattered and in need of more waitstaff. The summer exodus of UCSB and SBCC students from I.V., though, means that there will be far fewer people in line and more staff to tend to your soupy needs.
Its staff also hasn’t figured out an effective way to manage the wait. Despite requiring a phone number, the only people who get seated are the ones who hang around the front. Texts or calls have yet to be seen.
Stick around, though — it’s clear that 212° Hotpot isn’t going anywhere, and you shouldn’t go anywhere but for a soup for the soul.
6533 Trigo Rd., Isla Vista; (805) 883-3092