Don’t Fear the Heat at Happy Lamb Hot Pot

In just half an hour’s drive, you could be this happy, too!

Right off the highway and kitty-corner to a Vietnamese shopping mall called the Eden Center, there is a special, popping place called Happy Lamb Hot Pot (6799 Wilson Blvd). There, they serve Mongolian-style hot pot, which is distinct for an ultra-flavorful broth that cooks meat within seconds, saving you the step of furnishing your soup with sauces after cooking. Happy Lamb is an international chain, with several locations in little pockets throughout America. My nearest location is in Falls Church, a 20-minute drive from DC’s city center.

At Happy Lamb, they give you absolute, total freedom over what you end up eating. It’s almost chaotic: the menu is pages-long, and it’s impossible to tell how much food you’re actually ordering, because every portion size is different. Plus, you’re just marking tallies in the corner of the page — this ship could run without a single interaction with a server.

Since we had no clue how much we should order, we just tried to get a few items in most of the areas of the menu, and hoped for the best. In terms of meat, we got chicken, prawns, and fish balls. We also ordered Napa cabbage, boy choy, two types of mushrooms, and thin noodles to soak up a little bit of the broth’s flavor. For three people, it was definitely enough food — but we wanted to use up a little bit more broth at the end of the meal, so we ordered some more udon noodles.

The next time I go back, I’m definitely going to make some tweaks to my order. The udon was better than the thin noodles, so I’d skip straight to the udon course; and the fish balls took forever to cook, so I’d leave them in the broth longer. I also fear that I overcooked a good portion of the chicken, which truly takes just a few seconds in the broth to be ready to eat. I also want to sample even more mushrooms next time, because the veggies were transformed even more than the meats in the sauce.

My most essential modification, though, is to choose the spicy broth. We elected to get half original bone marrow broth and half spicy, just in case the spicy version went absolutely crazy. It didn’t: instead, it is perfectly flavorful, and the Sichuan peppercorns numb your mouth in the most electric way, leaving room for a totally new experience of the other flavors in the dish. So yes, the spicy broth is intense, but it won’t leave your eyes streaming. Don’t be scared of the heat. (It is hot pot, after all.)

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