Hot Pot Finally Hits Albuquerque
The Bird Hot Pot serves adventurous eats and cheap drafts
The Bird Hot Pot is notable for being the first dedicated hot pot restaurant in Albuquerque. Hot pot, if you’re unfamiliar, is a traditionally Chinese style of cooking that involves dipping raw ingredients into a boiling pot of broth on your dining table to cook them, then into a dipping sauce, and then into your mouth. Yes, it’s a little bit like fondue, and yes, it’s a little bit like going to a restaurant and then paying to cook your own meal—but it’s also a really fun group dinner.
The Bird is owned by the same folks who run the connected Bird of Paradise Liquor Store. The space is bizarre. There’s no other way to say it. The tiny restaurant space in the front opens up into a huge bar in the back that you could entirely miss, if you’re just going there for the food. There’s televisions on every vertical surface—playing sports in the bar, and playing a mix of game shows and soap operas with the volume on low in the front restaurant. The bar has a generous tap with a few local brews and plenty of domestics, and good prices to boot (a pint of Shiner Bock cost me $3.50). There’s a few dining tables back there, a jukebox and several pool tables, along with a handwritten sign that promises karaoke on Saturdays. On my second visit there I played a game of pool with a few other visibly queer women, and the slight but palpable tension between our table and the couple of men dressed in hunting camo at the other table was delightful. The crowd that this place draws is interesting and varied, to say the least. I suspect it’s at its fullest on game nights.
If what you go there for is the food—which is certainly reason enough—you’ll be seated in the small front room and given a laminated check-box menu and a dry-erase marker. The menu here is limited to hot pot and a handful of appetizers like seaweed salad, tempura and a few other fried, sushi restaurant type of dishes. The jalapeño bombs ($5 for a plate of six) are a tasty dish to share and friendly on the American palate: fried jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and imitation crab and topped with some sriracha mayo and hoisin sauce. Don’t feel like you need to visit the appetizer menu by any means, though—the reason you’re here is to stick some raw stuff into boiling broth, and anything else is just overture.
There’s six different kinds of hot pots available at The Bird: pork ($15), chicken ($15), beef ($16), seafood ($17), vegetable ($14) and “water land” ($19, a big combination of seafood plus pork, beef and chicken). Each comes with some bok choy, cabbage, corn, carrots and mushrooms in the broth as well. You choose either rice or dong fen (a thin rice noodle) to go into your hot pot, or pay a little extra for udon or ramen noodles (each $2). On the back of the menu, you’ll find a whole list of side items that can be added. These come out raw in little dishes to be added to the pot as desired. I especially enjoyed the addition of chrysanthemum leaves (a very floral-tasting green with a peppery aftertaste) and kimchi (each $3). One hot pot with a couple add-ons is more than enough for two hungry people, especially since the servers are generous with bringing out more broth as they see your pot get depleted. This isn’t a very leftovers-friendly kind of meal, so try not to over-order.
Once your hot pot comes out, head to the small cart full of dipping sauces and garnishes to customize as you see fit. There’s chili oil and sriracha for spice, but also some fresh cilantro and green onion, as well as white vinegar, chopped garlic, lime wedges and soy sauce. The condiments trip is a traditional part of the hot pot experience, so don’t feel like you’re being rude or uncultured for adding in all the flavoring your heart desires.
On one of my visits to The Bird Hot Pot I came in a group of four, which is an ideal configuration for trying two different kinds of hot pot. We split one vegetable and one beef hot pot, with a few add-ons for each: the aforementioned chrysanthemum leaves and kimchi in the veggie, and, for the more adventurous of us, pork blood ($3) and fatty intestine ($3) in the beef. The server came back to our table to make extra sure we had meant to order those last two. “It’s good,” he assured us, speaking about the pork blood, “it’s … kind of like tofu.” Not exactly what I was expecting, but he was right—at least as far as texture goes, it is similar to tofu. Taste-wise, well, it tastes a lot like blood. A little disconcerting, frankly, but a good try for adventurous eaters.
The broth itself is very simple: Probably a stock made from bones and meat, is my guess. Mixing in some chili paste, fresh cilantro and lime was my recipe, while some of my tablemates went heavy on the garlic and sriracha. We gulped down our bowls of seasoned broth after all our meat and veggies were gone, and I found myself full to the point of drowsiness. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t move back to the bar for a beer, though.
If you’re looking for a place to get a pint and catch up with a friend, The Bird’s bar is definitely a good spot to try. Being connected to the liquor store next door, they have quite a generous selection of booze at cheap prices. Their tap has plenty of regulars like Modelo Especial and PBR, along with some deeper dives like Great Divide’s Samurai Blonde Ale, an easy-drinking beer that I’m partial to. In the future, I’ll probably be coming here to watch baseball games and drink cheap drafts at the bar, hopefully with a basket of tempura or egg rolls at my side. I hope to see you there.
5407 Gibson Blvd. SE
Alibi Recommends: Beef hot pot, cheap draft beer
Vibe: Weird but in the best way