Americans can find their favorite chain restaurants all around the world. Regardless of which continent you’re on, there’s a good chance you can find golden arches right in the airport. More developed cities will even have your familiar Fridays, Chili’s, or even the finer dining options like Ruth’s Chris. While chain restaurants are not the most exciting, they do convey a certain level of quality. You go in knowing what to expect, and you come out satiated.
As Asian countries continue to grow at a rate that exceeds the now developed countries, the reverse is starting to happen. Local chains and brands are starting to arrive stateside. I still remember the commotion when Filipino fastfood joint Jollibee opened its first outpost in Queens. Now there’s another Asian favorite arriving in New York: Little Sheep Hotpot.
Little Sheep, or the “Little Fat Sheep” as it’s called in China, is one of the most popular restaurants in the People’s Republic. They’re famous for their hotpot, especially the Mongolian inspired soup base for the milky colored broth. Before arriving in Flushing, the brand has already expanded to a handful of outposts in the West Coast and more around the world. In fact the company was so popular that it was purchased by Yum! Brands, parent of KFC and Taco Bell.
Now some of you might tell me that Little Sheep has always been in Flushing, that information is simply incorrect. For years there was an impostor on Main Street claiming to be a chain of the famous restaurant, but the logo’s incorrect and the English name is also off. We always gave it the benefit of the doubt, but when we saw that it re-branded itself soon after Yum! Brand announced the purchase of Little Sheep Hotpot, it was obvious they were guilty of infringing and did not want to anger Yum! Brands’ lawyers.
Last year I visited Little Sheep in Cupertino, and I was struck by how organized and efficiently the restaurant was run. The environment was clean, the broth was excellent, and the meats and vegetables were all exceptionally fresh. They even had beer on tap, rare for a Chinese restaurant.
The new outpost in Flushing thankfully shares all of the aforementioned qualities, and has added VIP rooms to boot. Now you can eat hotpot out of sight of commoners. Up front the maitre d’ was very much in control, and the television next to her looped Little Sheep Hotpot’s promotional film, probably straight from HQ in China.
To make your meal interesting, I recommend the split pot, which allows two types of broths in one pot. The traditional, milky broth is packed with lots of Chinese herbs, and makes a great soup on its own. The spicy broth adds dried chili peppers for extra kick.
Now how you cook your own food, and how much dipping sauce you use, obviously will affect the way the final results came out. So all I can say is that the meats are very fresh, the vegetables are neatly washed and placed into a bowl before you dip it into the steamy broth. When there’re too many plates of raw goodies on your table, the wait staff brings you an extension table that they put down next to yours. Thoughtful.
If you’ve never had hotpot, Little Sheep is a great place to get acquainted. If you’re a fan of hotpot, then you also owe it to yourself to come for the famous soup base. Even though the temperature isn’t exactly hotpot weather, think of it as a way to avoid waits and lines. Believe me, come winter, it’d be hard to get into this place.
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Little Sheep Hotpot
13659 37th Ave
Flushing, NY 11354