Photos: The Hot Pot Craze Has Gone Gourmet In The SGV

Two restaurateurs from Hong Kong are on a mission to change the Chinese restaurant experience in America with their latest venture, UniBoil.

UniBoil, which is helmed by business partners Leo Lai, 46, and Alan Pun, 32, specializes in Chinese-style hot pots made with high-quality ingredients and zero MSG, the latter of which typically goes hand in hand with traditional Chinese cuisine.

"Unfortunately, many people associate Chinese food as cheap food coupled with terrible service," Lai tells LAist. "With UniBoil, Alan and my utmost priorities are freshness, quality, and good service. We're all about great ingredients, but we also want to change the misconception that Chinese food equates to a cheap, unfriendly experience."

UniBoil's hot pots are individual bowls that come with your choice of glass noodles or chicken rice made with house-made chicken stock. There are six different soup bases to choose from such as the Thai Satay, Spicy Sichuan, Tomato soup and Sichuan pork hock, to name a few.

Patrons can choose between seafood, lamb shoulder, Kurobuta pork and certified Angus beef from Snake River Farms. To also make things easier on you, UniBoil also offers three preset additional hot pot bases with the proteins, broth and ingredients already chosen: Japanese Miso Hot Soup, Korean Army Hot Soup (Budae jjigae) with Kurobuta Pork, and the Sichuan Pepper Numbing Pork Hock Soup.

"We get top-notch ingredients from American purveyors even though they are much more expensive," Pun tells LAist. "We make all our broths in house from scratch. Our broth simmers for up to 12 hours daily. Nothing is ever re-used. There's a negative stereotype in our community that Chinese restaurants like to cut corners in order to make an extra buck or two. We want people to come into our restaurant to get the same quality of service they would expect from a high-end American eatery."

Lai and Pun say that one of the most popular choices are the Sichuan Pepper Numbing Pork Hock soup, which has the unique "mala" numbing taste.

"There are not any other hot pot restaurants that do a pork hock hot pot, especially not a spicy, numbing, Sichuan-style one," Lai said.

For the Sichuan pork hock broth, UniBoil even goes the extra mile to thoroughly pick out all the spicy Sichuan peppercorns to make for a more enjoyable eating experience (an extra step that even fancy hot pot places in China do not do). Another trendy favorite with the younger clientele at Uni-Boil has been the Korean Army Soup, which consists of an interesting hodgepodge of ingredients like instant noodles, kimchi and cheese all mixed in. For those who crave a more traditional hot pot, the Sichuan Pepper Pork Hock and the Tomato soup are the top fan favorites.

With just one taste of the broth, the difference is clear. UniBoil's broth is superb, free of MSG and high volumes of salt and oil that are present in many Chinese hot pot eateries. UniBoil's biggest competitor in the same space, Boiling Point, doesn't even compare. My order of tomato soup with certified Angus beef came with enoki mushrooms, vermicelli, imitation crab, cabbage, tofu, clams and fish cake. The ingredients are all very fresh, but the broth is the major standout.

The chef uses over 40 pounds of fresh chicken to create the base of the hot pot broths. The chicken stock is placed on high fire for 4 to 6 hours and then simmered for a total of 10 to 12 hours. The special tomato broth is made using fresh tomatoes daily. Even their hibiscus drink is brewed every morning using dried hibiscus leaves.

Prices range from $11.99 to $14.99 depending on the soup base and protein of choice. However, UniBoil also has a lunch special runs until 2:30 p.m. everyday and includes your choice of hot pot, chicken flavored rice or glass noodles, and a drink. After that, drinks are not included with the meal.

The duo currently have two UniBoil locations in the San Gabriel Valley, one in Monterey Park and the other in Rowland Heights. They're planning on spreading their wings stateside, too. "We will be actively expanding in the United States. We're looking at 50 stores in the next few years including from here in California all the way to the East Coast," said Lai.

UniBoil also frequently runs lots of specials and games where patrons can get heavy discounts on their meals. Lai and Pun are already cooking up ideas for Chinese New Year next month where they plan to give away lots of free swag, discounts, and even red envelopes to lucky patrons. Also, for those eaters interested in doing some shopping while eating, Lai and Pun curate a number of highly rated shopping items from China and Taiwan in their stores so you can shop while you eat.

UniBoil is located at 500 North Atlantic Blvd. in Monterey Park, (626) 782-718, and 18406 Colima Rd. in Rowland Heights, (909) 378-0638.