Restaurant: MaLu Bian Bian Hot Pot
Location: 18194 Colima Rd Ste A, Rowland Heights, CA 91748. (626) 820-9206
Date: February 23, 2020
Cuisine: Chengdu Szechuan Chinese Hot Pot
Rating: 12/10 for experience
I’ve been on a bit of a Szechuan style hot pot kick for the last year. For those of you know don’t know, “hot pot” is the classic Chinese homestyle food which is super popular as a restaurant type in recent years. The most “classic” form is “Mongolian” like Hot Pot Hot Pot or Little Sheep. Then there are hybrid more modern joints like Hai Di Lao. And even the cheap student pre-prepped version like Boiling Point or Flaming Pot. But my favorite is the ultra spicy Chengdu or Chongqing style. I’ve had this in Chengdu and last year several opened in the SGV including Chun La Hao and Shancheng Lameizi.
So bringing us to tonight, Malubianbian represents a new style of skewer oriented Chengdu street hot pot. This is one crazy experience so I’ll detail it.
This is in the “Yes Plaza” in Rowland Heights. It’s like teleporting to China because everyone here is Chinese and at the restaurant everyone is about 23.
If you can see, there are about 20-30 people waiting outside.
Inside it’s sort of industrial new Chinese style. Small tables. Uncomfortable chairs. Ineffective hoods. As part of the “experience” a few minutes after we entered I started to cough uncontrollably. Something was just making my throat and eyes itch. I thought something was wrong with me until I noticed everyone else doing it. The server came by to apologize as the chef had just fried up a new batch of chili oil. Lol. I should have known. The place already smelled like chilis, so you couldn’t really smell it, but when you make Szechuan style chili oil (which I do myself) you have to dump 350deg oil over chilies and it releases a ton of pepper compounds into the air which are very “irritating.”
In any case, we didn’t have to wait too long (only 20 minutes) as we had a “reservation” for the “private room” which was this super cute painted closet with a two burner little table. Supposedly it sat up to 12 — but really 8 max. I mean max.
Very cute though.
Wine was a whole saga too. Only Jefferey brought some, but no one, including the restaurant had a corkscrew. He wandered the mall but no restaurant was willing to help him open his bottle (and walk out with it). Eventually we managed.
Like many new hot pot places Malu has a “sauce bar.” This isn’t as extensive as at Chun La Hao or Shancheng Lameizi but was sufficient. It was, however, pretty messy.
This was one of the main sauces I made. They didn’t have the sesame paste or all the fermented stuff I really love at Shancheng Lameizi.
They do have these traditional dry “powdered” sauces. You grab one and then add some broth from your pot to make up a sauce. It congealed very easily and didn’t really work for me, but the sauce bar version was decent.
We got all the broths. On top here is the lame tomato broth and below is the series traditional super-spicy ox fat (those big rectangles that haven’t melted yet) and blend of peppers and 18 spices.
Below is the other lame broth, the “mild” mushroom broth. Above that is the “classic” spicy Szechuan broth that doesn’t use the heavy ox fat.
I exclusively used the fully leaded traditional gut cleansing medicinal purgative spicy ox fat broth — as should anyone who isn’t a wuss.
But what, you say, does one do with these punishing broths? You cook stuff in them. But the format at Malu is interesting. Out in the dining room are about 10 refrigerators filled with skewers and boxes of food. You just wander over and grab the stuff (which seems a touch “unsanitary” but never mind). The staff count your skewers and containers at the end to calculate your bill.
Malu’s particularly unique bit is the whole skewer thing. These cost about $0.35 each and you just shove them in your pot and easily withdraw them. But for some reason I found this a bit awkward and preferred the plates of stuff.
There are a lot of skewer types including nearly all the vegetables, tons of marinated meats, the usual meat/fish etc balls and whatnot. Each bit on a skewer is pretty tiny. Often even half a meatball or the like.
They also have a bunch of plates with more meats and various other “exotic” stuff like duck blood or duck intestine (anyone want a whole bowl of raw duck intestine? we did!). I mostly ate off these because I found it easier.
Fried pork. This is a menu order item. It was just okay.
Spicy beef stomach. This was quite delicious — and chewy.
Special house spicy beef. This was amazing. Tons of flavor (and heat).
Spicy glass noodle. Really mung bean jelly. It was actually warm, which is unusual for this type of typical Szechuan street food.
Crab sticks. Imitation crab. Tasty, but they come apart in the pot.
Luncheon meat. This is always one of my hotpot favorites. Pure pork and fatty goodness. We went through at least 3 orders of this!
Beef. A Staple.
Weird spongy shrimp rolls. I don’t know what to call these, but they actually cooked up as delicious things.
Shrimp balls with actual shrimp and row. These also cooked up great.
Skinned frog. This was just too sad.
Noodles, lotus root, and strange veggie cake.
Pig ear on a stick.
Plus tons of things I forgot to photo.
Odd rice jelly. This was like water jelly. It had a jello texture and was totally clear and absolutely zero flavor. The brown stuff was some kind of syrup and very mildly sweet. You could barely taste it. I suppose it was meant to cool the palette after the inferno.
Fried rice cakes. Another typical Szechuan dessert.
Overall, this was a great experience and TONS OF FUN. The broth is awesome. The format is weird, but fun and flexible because you can get your own stuff. The problem is that the ingredient quality isn’t quite as good as at Hai Di Lao, Chun La Hao and Shancheng Lameizi. Also the sauce bar is only adequate.
Service was fabulous though. Usually hot pot service isn’t the greatest, but it was here. They kept checking on us and the owner came over and was super nice, the manager was super nice. Really friendly and helpful.
It’s very inexpensive too. A skewer is only $0.35!
So I highly recommend if you are adventurous and into new things. Mind your bottom.