Since a soft opening last week, Mala Tang’s servers have been explaining the hot-pot process to diners. There are choices for broth (beef-based or vegetarian, hot or mild) and protein: Thin-sliced New York Strip steak ($13 for lunch, $21 for dinner) and wine-marinated beef ($13) are popular, and there are also poultry and seafood options. Vegetable choices include broccoli ($5), lotus root ($6), and enoki mushrooms ($6), and although white rice is included, you can also order house-made noodles ($5) or dumplings ($5 for pork and vegetable, $6 for beef).
Staff at Mala Tang are happy to recommend how best to use the condiments that come with each hot pot—hot chili peppers, spicy bean paste, a house-made barbecue-style sauce, and house-made soy sauce—that vary in heat level. Diners can combine the first three into a larger bowl of the soy.
Mala Tang features individualized hot pots, something that may come as a surprise to those that have been to Liu’s other restaurants, where tables share one or two communal pots.
“That seemed like a better fit for an American audience,” says general manager Tomer Molivinsky, “because the idea of everyone cooking food all together isn’t part of American culture.”
The decor is sparse: dark wood tabletops and counters are flanked by deep-red walls and the occasional carved wall hanging. The highlight of the dining room is a photo mural depicting a market street in Chengdu, the owner’s inspiration for both the hot pot and the xiao chi, or street-food dishes. The latter—including spicy dan dan noodles ($7), mapo tofu ($8), mung-bean noodles ($6), and scallion pancake ($4)—are also available for lunch at the counter opposite the restaurant’s dining room. Liu hopes the street snacks, as well as a quick version of hot pot, will draw a lunch crowd from the offices in the same building.
A note to office workers who plan to sit down for lunch: the pot of broth, chile oil, and spices can get a little messy. “I wouldn’t wear all white the first time,” says Tomer.
Mala Tang, 3434 Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-243-2381; mala-tang.com. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 to 10, Friday and Saturday 11 to 11. Brunch, with a menu of street snacks, is coming soon.
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