With warm temperatures finally subsiding in our third week of November, winter is finally coming to Riverside. Last Tuesday’s cold evening inspired me to seek out some comfort food at Riverside’s newest hot pot cafe — Piggy Pot — located next to the Palms on University Avenue, near Ten Ren’s and Jafang Pizza.
Even for people familiar with the area, Piggy Pot can be easy to miss as it is hidden behind strip mall-style buildings. The walking crowd will have a much easier time coming to this place, with a frustrating parking lot of a narrow alleyway.
After some time, we found the door and headed inside, greeted by bright lights, warm colors and the dulcet tones of Top 40 radio intermixed with conversations of the other patrons. Piggy Pot’s decor was a cross between modern apartment and classic nursery: Bright ceiling lamps and cream-colored walls painted with circle art blending with cotton-candy pink benches and a pink-purple color palette on the tables and wall trim. The decor created a carefree atmosphere that put me in a good mood. I was able to take in the atmosphere without any distractions as we sat around for several minutes, wondering if we had made some social faux pas entering through the back door. After our wait, our server appeared from the kitchen to hurriedly bring menus to ourselves and the other patrons.
Piggy Pot seems to be understaffed. There are only about four employees total, and the large size of the dinner crowd meant that the two servers had to pull triple-duty: serving tables, manning the register and preparing drinks. Many tables were unevenly served, with some people eating while other still waited for drinks.
When one of the employees finally got around to us, we ordered milk tea, potted plant milk tea, green tea and three hot pots: garlic, veggie and spicy. Green and black teas were only $2.75, while milk teas and specialty drinks were in the $3-$4 range. The tea, albeit slow to come, was delicious, and the presentation of my potted plant tea was delightful, with crumbled Oreo and mint leaves giving it a unique appearance akin to its namesake. The hot pots themselves were also presented well, but the exaggerated wait times had started to grow irksome in contrast to our food’s handcrafted charm. The metal bowls were large and full of colorful soup, and were served suspended in a metal frame with a burning coal underneath. Unlike other hot pot places I have tried, everything arrives pre-cooked except the noodles. However, we enjoyed cooking our noodles in the boiling broth, and our waiter offered advice on proper cooking and eating methods for those of us unfamiliar with the cuisine.
Although long wait times can be tolerable, Piggy Pot let me down with the mediocre quality of its food. While their initial pot selection appears extensive, all contain the same water and vegetable stock for the soup base, and the only variance comes with the addition of one or two spices, such as the addition of garlic or satay. Furthermore, the main ingredients (enoki mushrooms, tomato, lettuce, crab meat, tofu) were all the same for each pot, and everything is boiled into a monosyllabic slurry with a forgettable bite. The only difference between the pots is in name only, as the lack of any meaningful options for customization creates an illusion of variety where there isn’t any. While guests can choose between beef, pork and lamb, the beef and pork are overcooked to the point that they become indistinguishable. The portion sizes are impressive, but the unremarkable flavor makes eating eventually feel like more a chore than a treat.
The menu contained many options for ingredients we could add to personalize our pots, such as clams, fish filets and the like, but we discovered that most of the options were either sold out or no longer offered, making personalization of our meals nearly impossible. Dessert was not much better, as the “cold pots” (a shaved ice-style dessert) had the same problem of the rest of the menu items: There were 18 “listed” options of cold pot combinations, but only four were offered at the time. The other dessert options were cheesecake and tiramisu (Oreo cake and creme brulee were also listed, but again, not available), and the pairing of traditional Chinese cuisine with Western desserts made the tone of the meal inconsistent. In addition, the tiramisu and cheesecake weren’t very good as they were served frozen and tasted store-bought, lacking any of the handcrafted charm of the rest of our meal, despite their $3.75 price. None of my party felt we had gotten our money’s worth when the time came to pay, as three drinks, three pots and two split desserts cost over $60, which felt steep compared to the disappointing quality of the food.
It really pains me to give Piggy Pot a so-so review as I feel it has all the necessary ingredients of a good restaurant but stumbles in its execution. Its decor and charming atmosphere put me in a good mood that was dampened by the blandness of our meal. If Piggy Pot wasn’t a new restaurant, I would give it a lower score, as I hope that in time the understaffing and menu issues can be addressed. I believe a streamlined approach to menu design and the addition of more unique meal options would greatly improve its quality. If you are craving hot pots, try other places around Riverside, then give Piggy Pot a try after some time off its training wheels.