Okay, So Where Are the Guests at Shabu Plus?

It’s TOO easy to get a res at this hot pot spot in the heart of AdMo!

Shabu shabu (hot pot) with chicken and prawns. Photo by Hannah Berman.

I have never in my life struggled more to enter a restaurant than I did while trying to find my way into Shabu Plus on Adams Morgan’s 18th Street. Armed with the name of the restaurant and an address (which you might assume would be enough?), I walked right past it. Upon realizing my mistake, I walked back to where the address indicated the restaurant should stand, and I considered the two signs I could spot, baffled: one sign led to the basement of the building and read “Shibuya,” and the other sign hang on a door up a flight of stairs and read “Death Punch.”

As I was informed by the patient maitre-d at Shibuya, in order to access Shabu Plus, you actually need to go through the “Death Punch” door and turn left. I’m not to blame for my confusion: the only proof visible from the street that Shabu Plus even exists is three nondescript menus tacked to the side of the streetery out front. If not for them, you would never know that an upscale hot pot restaurant lives in between the two better-advertised businesses in this townhouse.

Details at Shabu Plus. Photos by Hannah Berman.

When my grandparents and I finally entered the restaurant, fifteen minutes late for our reservation, we were struck by a sudden sense of seclusion. The room is so quiet that it feels almost studious: it’s all low-backed bamboo chairs, understated trinkets, and elegant Japanese basics.

Of course, the room was also quiet because there was no one in it. As we entered, my grandma looked around and remarked drily, “Thank God we got a reservation.” At 1:00pm on a Saturday —in other words, peak brunch time for DC’s ravenous brunching crowds — we were the only people there. Clearly, the restaurant is dealing with a little bit of a visibility problem.

Rainbow roll at Shabu Plus. Photo by Hannah Berman.

Sure, maybe brunch goers are just more likely to be drawn in by other AdMo bottomless mimosa options than the offer of simmering hot pot; but if that’s the case, then they’re definitely missing out, because this hot pot is ritzy and fun, both a meal and an activity. It’s also delicious.

The wait staff here is dedicated to their craft, which translates to being willing to patiently explain how hot pot works over and over again in excruciating detail. As our waitress told us two or three times, the meal starts with everyone at the table deciding together on a broth base, which is then poured into the pot at the center of the table along with chunks of soft tofu and various veggies (i.e. cabbage, spinach, various mushrooms, garlic chives, and Japanese leeks). After the mixture boils, the diners become chefs, dunking their meats in the broth for cooking. Some meats need up to three minutes in the broth, like the chicken and the prawns, while others only need around five seconds, like my grandfather’s brisket.

The Shabu Plus bathroom is yet another hidden gem. Photos by Hannah Berman.

After the meats have cooked, you can season them with various sauces (I recommend the citrus-y soy sauce) and garnish with sesame seeds. Once all the meat has been consumed, it’s time for the shime, or final course: rice or noodles are added to the pot to soak up the now-flavorful broth.

Shabu Plus is set apart from similar hot pot locales by their emphasis on sourcing ethical and sustainable meats. They are so devoted to this cause that they’ve recently introduced a supply chain tax, so as to not hike up the menu prices every few days — because of shipping issues related to the pandemic, they’ve had to begin sourcing meat from stranger and more boutique farms, which of course comes at a premium.

Ultimately, Shabu Plus earned a big thumbs up from me. Their focus on sustainability combined with the genuinely good sushi and the genuinely good time make for an unforgettable meal. For a reliable winter meal that will have you filled to the brim, scour 18th street — and rest assured that if you can find Shabu Plus, they’ll have space to seat you!

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