Aunty’s Hotpot House Brings a Familiar Name and Face to Kapolei
The new spot is the latest from the Aunty behind Sweet Home Cafe and Aunty’s Ramen.
I love hot pot. I love it so much that even though I don’t like vegetables, something about eating them from a hot pot makes them delicious to me. That’s how much hot pot moves me. So when I heard that Aunty’s Hotpot House had opened at Ka Makana Ali‘i in Kapolei, it immediately earned a spot on my calendar.
Aunty’s soft-opened on July 15, so we went last Sunday at opening to beat the new hype rush. It’s a good thing we did, because the place filled up quickly. To hot pot aficionados, Aunty was already famous in the local scene.
Aunty is Susend Tran, the same Aunty who originally owned Sweet Home Cafe, an OG hot pot restaurant at Old Stadium Mall in Mō‘ili‘ili. It was the place that always had lines outside. Any day, any time. She eventually sold it, then opened up Aunty’s Ramen on McCully Street. Which she ended up closing shortly before the pandemic. Then a former customer suggested that Aunty open up a new spot in the old Kickin’ Kajun space when that eatery moved to a bigger location at the mall. Aunty agreed and Aunty’s Hotpot House was born. I learned all this because Aunty herself stopped by our table three or four times to talk story and to see how we were doing. From what I saw, she did that for pretty much every table.
Now for the main event. They call their hot pot Aunty’s Famous Hot Pot, and you order it in three steps. First is to choose a broth for $2: beef base, chicken base, seafood base or vegetable base. Some have options. Beef, for example. You have your choice of regular beef broth, different spice levels, or Vietnamese spicy and sour. According to our server, their regular beef broth is popular, so I got it. It was light with a hint of seasoned saltiness. I liked it. My wife went with the herbal broth from the vegetable base. I found it also light but with a bit of zest, which I enjoyed.
Next is to choose some meats: wagyu beef, beef brisket, rib eye, beef tongue, pork belly or pork shoulder. All go for $8 except for wagyu, which is market price. We got beef brisket and rib eye, which are the most popular. I’m a big fan of pork belly, so we got that as well.
The final step is to choose other ingredients from the refrigerators to the side. We love our add-ins, so we helped ourselves to lettuce, spinach, long rice, mushrooms, tofu, fish tofu, meatballs, saba and konnyaku.
There’s a sauce station where you can prepare your own to taste, but I opted out. My personal test for hot pot is to see if dipping sauces are even needed. I’ve been to spots where I needed dipping sauces to get any flavor or worse, mask it. Not so at Aunty’s. The fresh ingredients and gentle yet vivid flavors of the broths made sauce unnecessary. I found it so good, I was too impatient to wait for my portions to cool down, so I burned the inside of my mouth. More than once.
Aunty’s Chef’s Pupu Specials all looked interesting, so we went again with the most popular, which were the Pork Belly Bao ($10.99) and Aunty’s Rolling Beef ($9.99). Turns out Aunty’s Rolling Beef is a Taiwanese pancake. Served cold, a doughy wrapper with a flaky crust wraps a beef filling. A drizzle of hoisin sauce accents the dish and adds a sweet contrast to the beefy flavor. Cucumbers add a crispy freshness.
The Pork Belly Bao was a deliciously layered experience. It’s topped with a lobster chip that offers a contrast to the soft, fluffy bun. Inside, the tender, rich braised pork belly comes with the invigorating sourness of pickled cabbage. The final layer is a flavorful surprise, a sweetness from crunchy almonds.
Aunty’s was busy when we arrived and busy when we left. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The food was great, and so was the service. Post a pic of your food on Instagram, and you get a complimentary bowl of shaved ice. Ours came early and melted before we had a chance to try it, so Aunty made us a whole new serving. It was just like old times at Sweet Home Cafe.
91-5431 Kapolei Parkway, (808) 670-2813, @auntyshotpothouse