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(Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Natalie Southwick
Globe Correspondent / September 8, 2010

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Hot Pot is perfect for anyone who enjoys cooking but hates grocery shopping. It’s also a dream for the social vegetarian, with a meal that can be shared amongst veggies and omnivores alike. It’s DIY food, in the best way possible.

Little Q Hot Pot was a local favorite at its former location in Quincy, which was demolished by developers this summer. Luckily for fans, it has relocated to a bright, narrow space in Arlington, with a small bar against one wall. At 8 p.m. on a weeknight, most of the 10 tables held families and couples, spilling broth and filling the air with Mandarin and English.

Little Q offers a large Sichuan menu, with typical items like kung pao shrimp ($11.95) and Mongolian beef ($8.95), but this menu seems to exist mostly for takeout, as it doesn’t get much attention at the restaurant. We ordered scallion pancakes ($3.95) and pork pan-fried dumplings ($4.95) as starters, but they arrived lukewarm and simultaneously with the hot pot. The entrees fared better; a plate of chicken with cashew nuts ($8.95) stayed hot and had the perfect amount of sauce, and eggplant with Sichuan sauce ($8.25) satisfied this spice-lover.

But the restaurant’s real appeal is in its eponym: the “hot pot’’ ($3.95 for one; $1.50 for each additional diner). The pot sits in an induction cooker set into the table and in seconds heats the broth as spices surface. Little Q offers eight different broths — all but black bone chicken can be made vegetarian upon request — and for indecisive groups (or those made up of vegans and meat-eaters) there is the yin-yang pot, which holds two broths. The most popular is the spicy mala, flavored with ginger, cardamom, garlic, and chilies. Another standout is the summer cooler, with hints of lychee and mint.

The menu features more than 60 a la carte additions, from thin-sliced meats to platters of raw veggies, and several protein-and-veggie combo options. Raw salmon pieces ($5.95) cook in just over 60 seconds, while pea pods ($2.95), bok choy ($2.95), and a platter of six kinds of mushrooms ($5.95) need a few minutes. Tiny cellophane noodles (small: $1.25) vanish in the pot, but thick udon noodles (large: $2.50) are easy to locate. For diners challenged by chopsticks, the attentive waitstaff can bring the table a basket for easy retrieval.

It’s delicious in summer. When cooler weather comes, Little Q would be an ideal spot to sit behind steam-fogged windows with friends and warm your hands over the bubbling broth.

LITTLE Q HOT POT AND SZECHUAN HOUSE 196 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-488-3755. www.littleqhotpotma.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $1.95-$8.95. Entrees $8.25-$16.95.

Hours Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon-Thu 4:30-9:30 p.m., Fri 4:30- 10:30 p.m.; Sat 11:30 a.m.- 10:30 p.m., Sun noon-9:30.

Liquor Wine and beer. May we suggest Mala broth, summer cooler broth, mushroom plate, pea pods, salmon, udon noodles, eggplant with Sichuan sauce.