Lao Ma Tou Hot Pot Brings Thoughtful Menu and Friendly Service to State Street

Photo by Irene Chen

Krystal Chen

Lao Ma Tou Hot Pot, a recently opened restaurant on State Street in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, specializes in authentic, hot pot Chinese cuisine.

The restaurant offers hot pot and dry pot. Free cold dishes and soup come with every meal.

Chongqing hot pot, known for a boiled soup base, is a symbol of traditional Chinese cuisine. People share a pot at the table, while meats, vegetables, and other ingredients boil inside.

Depending on personal preference, a variety of pre-made sauces can also be added, such as garlic and soy. The different ingredients and flavors make this a full meal on its own.

Another one of Lau Ma Tou’s specialties is dry pot. This specialty has mixed vegetables, fish, shrimp, chicken, and chill pepper boiled with chili oil. Thus, an aromatic sense and crispy taste forms. 

The restaurant offers a wide range of protein options, such as sliced beef, fish balls, squid balls, and various vegetables. Chongqing people are known for their sincerity, and this same genuine manner was noticeable.

Waiters kindly introduced specialties and free dishes to me and explained the different sauces for specific items in detail. 

“Traditional food is comparatively expensive in America,” said Isabella Cheng, the owner of Lao Ma Tou Hot Pot and a native of Southwestern Chinese city Chongqing, in an interview with The Bottom Line. “Managing to maximize customers’ utility, as the only hot pot restaurant that provides free dishes, we insist on making homemade dishes that specifically present authentic Chinese taste.”

Cheng highlighted that every sauce and soup is homemade according to Chongqing hot pot style.

As an experienced restaurant owner, Cheng has operated a hot pot restaurant for 20 years and has adjusted the taste and ingredients accordingly.

As she insists on producing the best service, Cheng works as an employee more than a boss. She communicated with every customer and genuinely gave me advice, so I didn’t realize she is the owner until I interviewed her.

Considerate and deliberate menu options made sharing lunch with a friend more enjoyable. Although I prefer lighter meals, photographer Irene, who accompanied me, is a spice zealot, so no compromises were needed.

Lao Ma Tou offers a combo hot pot, which separates the spicy soup from the plain one. Conflicts between taste preference are avoided, and everyone is happy.

The thoughtful menu and friendly service made ordering even more convenient. The menu is written in Chinese and English, and staff stands right beside you until you decide.

More impressively, the staff seemed to understand customers’ minds; they automatically stood forward, especially when I was confused about a menu item.

At Lao Ma Tou, pricing depends on the initial soup base and ingredients chosen, as well as the number of people in your party. Soup base is $5.99 for the table, and sauce is $2 per person. On average, extra ingredients are $8 for each dish.

Lao Ma Tou’s dishes are as authentic and delicious as they sound. The fragrant blend of savory soup with the dry pot’s perfect amount of crisp and crunch create an incredible, sensory experience.

Also, the delicate cuts of meat in the hot pot were extremely flavorful, as the meats absorbed the soup spices. The meat was tender enough to melt in your mouth with every bite.

In particular, vermicelli noodles in the soup provided a good texture and trapped the delicious soup base and dipping sauce. Stir-fried potatoes and sole fillet from the dry pot enriched the soup base and dipping sauce.

Lao Ma Tou Hot Pot stands for traditional sense, custom-friendly setting, and genuine service.

For homesick Chinese international students or individuals with enthusiasm for foreign culture and cuisine, Lao Ma Tou Hot Pot perfectly straddles the line between traditional Chongqing-style hot pot and contemporary State Street cuisine.

Lao Ma Tou is located at 511 State St. Santa Barbara, CA.