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At first bite: Will work for food

Whatever floats your bowl: Chubby Cattle offers many styles of hot pot, from the "house original" to the "house hellishly spicy."
Photography by Brent Holmes
Photography by Brent Holmes

You build your own bowl at Vegas’ first “conveyor-belt” restaurant Chubby Cattle — but it’s certainly a labor of love

I’ve heard people describe hot pot dining, as well as its European counterpart, fondue, as the ultimate con. The notion of charging guests to cook their own meal is an unscrupulous affront to high-maintenance diners, skilled cooks, and lazy people everywhere, right? Perhaps such diners should pivot their perspective, lest they deny themselves a memorable experience at Chubby Cattle, a new Mongolian hot pot restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown. Rather than bemoan any dubious DIY ethics, consider it a delicious exercise in autonomy.

If you’re among the uninitiated, don’t let the menu confuse you. It’s a simple process. First, diners choose a preferred soup base — some with quirky names (“the beautiful tomato”) and others with more intimidating labels (“deepest level hell”) — and a dipping sauce for their meal. The next step is to survey the rolling conveyor belt packed with proteins, starches, and vegetables to pluck from the parade and swish in. The price of each add-in is determined by the color of its bowl, and a handy, color-coded price chart is affixed to each table as a reference. The refrigerated, glass-enclosed belt snakes it way around the restaurant so every guest is within arm’s reach of the ingredients.

On a recent visit, I dipped my toes in the water — or broth, if you will — by ordering the basic “house original” pot. The milky white broth was gently perfumed with an assortment of exotic dried ingredients (goji berries, Chinese dates) for purported health benefits. It was subtle, but just enough to infuse the mix of slippery glass noodles, buttery beef tendon, shiitake mushrooms, and paper-thin slices of ribeye with a pleasant, herbal note. (Claims of holistic healing in my bowl are nice, but second to flavor.)

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The “house original” is the tamest option of the lot, but there are plenty of alternatives to suit every taste. Fans of Sichuan cuisine would be better off with the “house hellishly spicy” soup base, a bubbling cauldron of tear-inducing, electric red broth. Vegetarians are welcome to dip bushels of bok choy and other Asian greens in a broth flavored with mixed mushrooms. And for seafood lovers, the “dragon king” pot is the ideal base for tiger prawns and scallops. Pricier supplements include lobster, king crab and live Canadian geoduck.

The restaurant also offers a menu of grilled skewers and side dishes. Nuggets of Mongolian lamb, gamey and richly spiced with cumin, were unleashed from a metal rod right at our table; the presentation will be familiar to any fan of Brazilian barbecue. And chewy scallion pancakes were perfectly constructed of dense but flaky layers, although I would have preferred a golden crust to their pale exterior.

It’s also worth nothing that the service was exceptional. A manager explained the concept in a way that was clear, concise and never condescending. Servers stationed near the open kitchen made small talk with guests while waiting on food. For groups that lingered to chat at their tables, pots were promptly refilled with broth.

In keeping with Asian tradition, the dessert selection is limited. One noteworthy option for the adventurous eater is the durian pie. The tropical fruit, which is commonly banned from hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia for its ripe odor, is an acquired taste — you could fairly describe it as a mix of moldy onions and hot garbage in custard form. However, it’s achieved a cult status among those with thrill-seeking (or olfactory-impaired) palates.

With an individual induction burner at each place setting and its automated parade of ingredients, Chubby Cattle is a contemporary take on a millennia-old tradition. But the upgrade is a trade-off. The “have it your way” philosophy of the restaurant replaces the very essence of hot pot cooking: sharing. A communal meal is a beautiful thing, much to the chagrin of germophobes and puritanical eaters. However, the benefit of Chubby Cattle’s particular arrangement is that each person at the table can order a different flavored broth and swap bites and slurps, giving the group more bang for their buck. That translates into a lot of reaching, plate-passing and careful timing, but it’s a social hack that maintains the meal’s traditional spirit. And with such a compelling range of flavors and textures rolling right before your eyes, sharing creates a culinary experience that surpasses the hot pot ritual’s original form.

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Chubby Cattle

3400 S Jones Blvd. #15
Las Vegas, NV



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Daily 5p-12a