Bethany Clough

River Park’s newest restaurant is about to open – and it’s like nothing else in Fresno

Mini hot pots are on the menu at J Pot

J Pot is a new Asian style restaurant opening at River Park shopping center with hot, steamy pots of comfort food for a variety of palates.
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J Pot is a new Asian style restaurant opening at River Park shopping center with hot, steamy pots of comfort food for a variety of palates.

The cavernous space in River Park shopping center that has been empty for five years – the former World Sports Cafe – is about to get new life.

On Thursday, April 11, in fact.

When J Pot Mini Hot Pot & Bar opens for lunch that day there will be bubbling mini hot pots on the tables, a boba tea counter, a full bar and a patio that overlooks the rest of center.

What’s a hot pot?

It’s the pot that holds soup that is brought to your table, but it’s also a style of cuisine. Several Asian countries have their own versions of hot pot.

J Pot is a take on the Taiwanese hot pot with a Fresno twist, created by restaurateur Jason Lin.

He’s the Bullard High grad who owns Fresno restaurants Hino Oishi Hibachi & Japanese Cuisine at Campus Pointe, and the two Rollie Rollie Thai Rolled Ice Cream locations (one in Clovis and one opening in Fresno soon). He bought restaurant Dai Bai Dang (expect some changes there eventually) and his brother owns buffet restaurant Lin’s Fusion.

At River Park, there’s another restaurant, the Hangar Burger Bar, in the works to open next door to J Pot, with a different owner.

The J Pot is a hot pot that includes spare ribs, fried tofu, iced tofu, tofu skin, fish ball, calamari, beef meatball, clam, quail egg, beef tripe, cabbage, fried taro, enoki mushrooms, corn, ramen noodles, cilantro and served “crazy spicy” at the new J Pot restaurant in the River Park shopping center. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

Hot pots

But back to the hot pots. Typically, there’s one big pot shared among five or so people at a table.

At J Pot, the hot pot bowl is designed to feed one person, maybe two.

“Everyone can have their individual pot and everyone can have it however they want,” he said.

The hot pot here is a bowl that comes to the table atop a box with a little flame inside to keep the soup simmering, similar to how big catering pans are kept warm at weddings.

Like other places, the pots are teeming with meat, noodles and vegetables.

Hot pot restaurants are “really, really popular” in the Bay Area and Southern California, and Lin and his family often dine there. Tasty Pot and The Boiling Pot, for example, have locations all over California, but none in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Fresno is definitely lacking something like this,” Lin said. “I just want to show Fresno, to bring this cuisine to Fresno.”

The menu has several styles of hot pots. Most of the ingredients come cooked in the bowl, but beef and lamb can come on the side, with the customer cooking it to their liking in the broth.

The pots come with beef broth or chicken broth. You can pick your level of spice, from mild to very spicy and crazy spicy. Most pots cost about $16 for lunch and $19 for dinner.

There’s a seafood pot, a curry pot, a Korean-style one and a Japanese-style pot.

The J Pot comes with spare ribs, fried tofu, calamari, meatballs, clams, tripe, fried taro, corn, ramen noodles and many other ingredients.

There are some adventurous ingredients on the menu: quail eggs, pigs feet, pig intestines, “tofu skins” (the skin that forms atop heated soy milk), the root vegetable taro, iced tofu (it’s been frozen to create a different texture) and the vegetable a-choy, which could be compared to bok choy.

There’s even a “smelly pot” on the menu that comes with “stinky tofu.”

“It’s fermented tofu that smells like … pretty bad,” Lin said. “It’s different.”

Despite the smell, he expects the pot – which also comes with cabbage, mushrooms, clam and tripe – to be popular.

There’s also a veggie pot and pots can be made vegan or gluten free.

More food, drink

The menu also includes vermicelli bowls without broth. There are appetizers like popcorn chicken. And there’s grilled meat with a traditional Chinese dry spice rub served on skewers atop a small flame.

Those pair well with beer, Lin said.

There’s a sauce bar where you can make your own sauce from options like chili oil and teriyaki.

The restaurant has a full bar with 16 taps and a dozen or so cocktails of its own creation.

For example, the “Long Thailand ice tea” is made with brandy, rye whiskey, honey, boiling water, Thai tea, club soda and condensed milk. There’s also a green tea mojito and a martini with vodka-soaked gummy bears.

And the boba counter in the corner is a full-fledged boba shop dubbed Tshui-Ta, which is Taiwanese for thirsty. You can pop in to get the teas without dining at the restaurant.

Tshui-Ta sells iced milk teas in flavors like green tea and creamy Oreo. You can get them with boba, the little chewy balls of tapioca that are sucked up through a giant straw.

There’s also coffee and lattes, slushies, fruit teas and other twists on tea and coffee.

The name J Pot stems from the owners and managers. All their names begin with the letter J.

The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays.

Bethany Clough: (559) 441-6431, @BethanyClough

Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.