Ten Things You Should Know Before Dipping Your Meat at Hai Di Lao Hot Pot

Extras, extras: Snacking on free fruit cups while you wait is only the beginning

Hai Di Lao, the upmarket, Chinese hot-pot hot spot in Arcadia’s Westfield Santa Anita mall, wants to win the San Gabriel Valley’s hot-pot game. The name Hai Di Lao says it all. It’s derived in part from a winning mahjong hand that snatches up the final game tile in a move described as hai di lao yue or “snatching the moon from the bottom of the sea.”

Unlike Hai Di Lao’s competitors who generally face off on price without much differentiation in product and service (or lack thereof), this mainland China restaurant import—with more than 100 locations in Asia (and more coming soon to the United States and Canada)—knows its challengers’ shortcomings and exploits them by emphasizing customer service and offering lots and lots of extra goodies.

In fact, the branches in China treat waiting customers with everything from shoeshines to mani-pedis. Need a car wash or housecleaning? China’s Hai Di Laos have you covered while you wait. Sadly, Hai Di Lao’s first U.S. restaurant can’t quite offer those perks just yet.

However, here are 10 extras you can expect at Hai Di Lao Hot Pot that the other hot-pot places don’t have:

  1. A happy wait. Even if that’s one to two hours, you won’t mind so much. There is a magazine rack with everything from Nylon to newspapers for guests to peruse. (Hai Di Lao is also near the mall’s playground, perfect for the toddler-toting set.) If only Chengdu Taste were so considerate.
  2. A hunger-free wait. The last thing you want to see when you arrive starving to a restaurant is a line. Here, you’ll snack while you wait. Some complimentary items include fruit cups, kabobs, and beverages. Check yourself, though. You’re here for the hot pot, remember?
  3. Messessories. Cell-phone baggy, eyeglass-cleaning cloth, eating apron, and hairband, all to protect you from your own gluttony. (What, no splash guard?)
  4. iPad menu ordering. Just slide and tap your way to-hot pot heaven.
  5. A whopping 20 different items at the sauce bar to mix and match as you please.
  6. Free munchies available at the sauce bar, from strawberries to a cloud-ear mushroom salad to a boiled-peanuts and fried-soybeans mix. (I ordered a cloud-ear mushroom salad from the menu. It was removed from my order when the waiter saw that it was available from the sauce bar. Service.)
  7. Individual hot pots. You know, like personal pan pizzas, but hot pot. (Most places have one to two partitions for family-style eating.) This means you don’t have to be outvoted and forced to go with the mouth-numbing Szechuan spicy soup base. That mushroom broth is all yours, wimp.
  8. Everything (except for the pre-packaged lotus root slices) is made from scratch or processed in-house. All those yummy sauces, house-made. The shrimp paste in the plastic funnel bag? That too.
  9. Organic veggies. These include napa cabbage, spinach, and lettuce.
  10. Is it noodle? Or is it dancer? It’s both! Noodle dancing is both a dinner show and really tasty. Fresh noodles with the perfect “q” in each chew are flung, swung, twirled, and pulled right before your eyes. Just don’t leave them in the broth too long.

If this isn’t enough pampering for you, Hai Di Lao is working on adding massages to its guest perks. Just like they already have in China. A little to the left, please.

redarrow Hai Di Lao Hot Pot, 400 S. Baldwin Ave. (promenade level of Westfield Santa Anita mall), 626-445-7232