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Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot coming to San Mateo

Not sure when, but the only other official location at Union City might know the opening date. As I drove by the other day the signage was already up.

It will be at 215 Ellsworth, across the street from Walgreens.

The Asian Gourmet free circulation July/Aug 07 edition has a huge feature article on the successful chain and a background on the CEO, with over 700 locations worldwide, several in Canada, and now 2 in the Bay Area. Supposedly in China this place outsells Mickey D's and The Colonels Fried goodness.

Looks like the former "Little Sheep" hot pot in Milpitas was a fake/imitation, and they have since changed their name.

According to the article, Little Sheep uses a herbal soup base that consists of dried longan (guei yuen), goji berry, and up to 10 more Chinese herbals for the base flavor.

Looking forward to trying their hand made meatballs, beef slices for hot pot (yes available), Mongolian beef pancake and Mongolian style noodles. This should be interesting also for those who don't like lamb/mutton for its gamey texture, although they say the hot pot herbal broth will help remove that taste.

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  1. Just called the Union City location and asked. The San Mateo location will open in late September.

    1. did you know on Tuesday' - they offer an all you can eat buffet, its fantastic!
      We have been going all last month, not sure if they are continuing to offer this
      great buffet deal...

      3 Replies
      1. re: Rina

        Rina, are you referring to the Union City location? All you can eat sounds good....hopefully they will offer that at San Mateo too.

        1. re: Rina

          they dont have the AYCE promotion anymore : (

          1. re: Rina

            In honor of the Beijing Olympics, San Mateo is running the AYCE deal for $17.99 per person, two-person minimum, and 1.5 hours maximum time on Tuesdays until August 31.

          2. The ones in China offer a choice between the mild (medicinal) broth and a spicy one, and I assume they'd do the same here. You can also get both broths at once in a "Yin Yang" pot.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Gary Soup

              I'm sure the spicy broth would have a medicinal base as well (Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations episode where he goes to Sichuan, the mala hotpot he had was a mix of medicinal herbs with a load of hwajiao/peppercorns). I'm sure the crowds will have gotten bored of Shabuway around the corner by the time this place opens ;-).

              1. re: K K

                The one is Union City has medicinal herbs for both spicy and non-spicy. And yes, they also offer the ying/yang pot (both kinds with a divider in the middle).

                1. re: vliang

                  Now that you guys jogged have my memory, I do recall the medicinal things visible in the spicy broth. Fortunately, the chilis masked out any medicinal flavors (and everything else0. We alway go for the ying/yang pot in the interest of family harmony (even when we do huo guo at home).

                  The ones we get in China look pretty much like this picture:


                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    Just had it in Hong Kong. This is a huge addition to Bay Area eating.

                    1. re: SarahKC

                      For sure in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, they source their lambs to somewhere in Mongolia (?) that is supposedly a government preserve (according to the article I read) ie hopefully no pollution of any sort, for the best quality lamb and raising/breeding practices. I'm hoping they use a similar source (or identical) for the Union City and soon to be San Mateo locations.

                      So who has the downlow on how the fake Little Sheep in Milpitas got busted and changed their name/logo? Or was that discussed already in a thread I missed?

                      1. re: K K

                        In a Kaiser clinic, of all places, I picked up a September issue of Asian Restaurant News, which had been donated for the waiting rooms. The article on Little Sheep's business said that the Little Sheep name was trademarked, but that confusion in its translation had already led to some problems.
                        The article noted that the Union City shop is called "Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot," and the business cards of its management team, the parent company is called "Inner Mongolian Little Lamb USA Corp." And, on the place set desciption of the restaurant, the company is called "Inner Mongolia Little Sheep Catering Chain Co."
                        It also said that Little Sheep uses New Zealand lamb in the U.S. because of "import regulations on raw materials," and that the meat from China is not ready yet for import, according to the Union City manager, Daniel Huang.

            2. Little fat sheep is already open! Drove by today to check and saw people eating with the steamy windows, and the sign says OPEN. will try it this weekend and see if its just as good as the original.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Rina

                As with any Chinese place, I say give them a month to work out the kinks and for the crowds who must try the latest and greatest, to die out.

                But thanks for the report that they're finally open!

                1. re: K K

                  It shouldn't take long to work out the kinks (other than hardware and logistics) since it's such a formulaic approach to a meal. (This is probably why most reports have found Xiao Feiyang's hot pot meals nearly identical and as good at US outlets as in China.)

                  In any event, the traditional start of hot pot season in China is the first day of winter ("li dong") which falls on November 8 this year, so it will be about 5 days left before I will get the urge :-)

              2. wow! thanks for the info. can't wait to try!

                1 Reply
                1. re: ExtraCheese

                  I went today. I was *shocked* at how modern and trendy the decor was! From a distance, it could be mistaken for some trendy spot in the mission.

                  The staff and service was great. Water glass was never empty, only needed to make eye contact to get their attention, etc. We got the half/half broth, I'd say that the broth here is better than Sheep King down on 22nd ave in San Mateo. All the ingredients we got for the hotpot were of excellent quality and pretty well prepared.

                  I didn't get a chance to try any of the non-hotpot items on the menu, but I definitely plan to go back. Although it is a chain, I think it's a great addition to downtown San Mateo.

                2. FYI, spotted at Marina supermarket in San Mateo over the weekend were the actual flavoring packets for Little Sheep soup broth (spicy and original clear broth) versions, with the Little Sheep logo imported from Mongolia. Around $4 to $6 per packet.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: K K

                    My only gripe about little sheep is their use of MSG in their hot pot base. I swear they use MSG in place of salt.

                    1. re: theSauce

                      I would not be surprised. When we were in China, we swore the building was swaying, but actually, we were so "poisoned" by the MSG in the food that it was affecting our balance. The stores had bags and bags of different brands of MSG next to the huge bags of sicuan pepercorns. If anyone can find out if they were MSG free, we'd love to try it to compare with the soup we had in Chongqing.

                      1. re: peppatty

                        No luck here. MSG scale is way off the chart at Little Sheep-- I was so thirsty and had a big headache afterwards from the MSG.
                        The prices are also very high compared to other similar places. We spent
                        about $25 a head and I was still not very full. I like the soup stock at Sheep King on El Camino so much better and Sheep King's portions
                        are much larger. The pork meat balls at Little Sheep does not
                        even come close to the homemade meat balls at SheepKing.
                        I'll not pay a premium for nicer decor and worse food.

                      2. re: theSauce

                        Whether MSG causes or doesn't cause adverse reactions is purely speculative. The discussion of a particular restaurant is not the place to bring a personal crusade.

                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                          There's no personal crusade here. I use MSG sparingly in my own
                          cooking if I believe that the dish can benefit from it. I'm
                          simply reviewing my experience at the restaurant.

                    2. Poked ourselves inside to take a peek after an overpriced dinner at Sushi Sam's on Friday where the appetizer/cooked food from the Japanese only wall menu shined more than the sushi....

                      Holy smokes the inside of this place looks soooooooooo high end and fancy. It could have easily passed for a SF haute posh trendy gourmet dining place decor wise. Very impressive and of course the whole restaurant was packed with a lot of adventurous eaters. If you thought Shabuway was fancy, this place is a gazillion times more so.

                      Took a quick peek at the menu, a ton of variety. Not all you can eat of course, so that's where they make $$$, by charging you for everything other than water and chopsticks/napkins. I noted "dipping sauce" was 50 cents :-/.

                      One very noticeable thing when you walk past the door, a very pungent odor of potentially the hot pot broths. Pungent not in a bad way but it makes you take note. At least the broths are herbal and supposedly healthy (MSG cough cough cough salt).

                      Will definitely check this place out sometime.

                      1. We ate here Saturday Jan 12, 2008. We arrived at 5:30 p.m. and departed at 7 p.m. The restaurant was virtually empty when we arrived and there were several empty tables when we left (contrary to what we heard about lines being out the door).

                        We enjoyed our meal here very much. The decor is very pretty and the service was attentive. We ordered the half spicy/half mild broth. The spicy side was not very spicy (not like at Ninji Hot Pot, Newark where our mouths are burning and our eyes are watering the entire time). We got the fatty beef (good), Lamb shoulder (our favorite), udon noodles (excellent), potatoes (ok), bok choy (good once we tore it in bite size pieces before adding to broth), chicken skewers (ok), and some steamed rice on side.
                        I loved eating the whole garlic cloves in the broth.

                        We wanted to order the dipping sauces but the waiter would not let us. He said *we don't want anyone to order those sauces for their first time here as we think the broth is enough seasoning - we only have them on the menu for those grumpy customers that INSIST on it*

                        Well, we really missed having some dipping sauces (cause like I said, the broth was not that spicy). We especially miss the sauce cart at Ninji Hot Pot, in Newark (where we would get up 3-4 times to refill our sauce tray at their cart.

                        I loved the decor but the food was pretty bland. I must say though, that I felt fantastic the next day. Like it energized me or something. Maybe it was all the garlic. Anyway, I would love to go back but everyone in my party wants to go back to Ninji Hot Pot, in Newark

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: BarbaraBell

                          When I went here, it was not crowded at all around 6:30. But it got really busy when I left at 8pm. I guess people like eating hot pot later in the evening.

                        2. link

                          Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
                          215 S Ellsworth Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

                          1. After having eaten here twice for dinner (San Mateo location) here are some observations:

                            - the third broth, other than spicy and regular, is mushroom and does not contain any herbal stuff.

                            - The broth is a lot tastier after you cook all those other dishes you cook in the broth.

                            - Certain items are standouts, others are major yawners. Lamb is a must. Beef is a bit meh for me. Tong Ho is a great veg to go with the hot pot, but then that's pure opinion, plus the fact that my tastebuds for hot pot are a bit more Taiwanese inclined these days.

                            - The beef pancake....super good and toasty, eat while it is hot. The sweet potato cake is nice too.

                            - Forgettable: beef tendon meatball (arguably not hand made in house vs the other ones like regular meatball and lamb meatball) and the $10.95+ mixed mushroom platter, does little to enhance the broth.

                            -Great are frozen tofu (compacted from temperature, and absorbs more broth, be careful when consuming), the bamboo "pith" or ju seng (ditto on broth absorption), bow tie "konbu" seaweed which tastes better cooked in the broth.

                            This is defnitely a different experience than Taiwanese hot pot at Ninji in Newark.

                            For hardcore Chinese hotpot fans, I read that Spicy Town in the East Bay/Fremont area has a specialized mala spicy hotpot style from "Chung Hsing"/Chung Hing (w/o looking it up, it seems to suggest a part of Sichuan, of which the more famous city is Chengdu). Chung Hsing might be more known character wise as Chung King, as in Wong Kar Wei's movie Chungking Express (which has nothing to do with Sichuan but a slum ghetto building in Hong Kong called Chunking Mansions).

                            But I'd have to say there is definite MSG in Little Sheep's broth. It's unfortunately inevitable. The 2nd dinner here the sodium levels seemed to have shot way up, so yes there's inconsistency too.

                            I'd say your mileage may vary here, but it's still a very warm welcome specialized kind of Chinese cuisine, great during cold nights like these of late, and definitely a better experience if you have more people in your party. Just don't do any double dipping ;-).

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: K K

                              Chongqing used to be part of Sichuan Province (and more famous than Chengdu, in my knowledge) and was the capital of free China during the Japanese occupation. It is now an autonomous municipality (like Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin) It's long been synonomous with very spicy hot pot.

                              1. re: Xiao Yang

                                Thanks for the rundown and for the proper pingyin spelling of Chongqing.

                                The latest issue of the bimonthly East West Chinese (local) gourmet mag has a cover story of Spicy Town's hotpot and also an article on the 9 important things you must know about Chongqing style hot pot. A great read but the main articles are in Chinese only (even it's a bit too hardcore for me to properly translate).

                            2. Cool! I've eaten in their Causeway Bay (Hong Kong) location, if this is indeed the same outfit. It was quite worthy. If this one has the "breast of lamb" that the Causeway Bay one did, definitely order it. Chewy lamb ribs, yum.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: SoupNoodles

                                SoupNoodles: I was just looking at their menu and found this:
                                Are these the "chewy lamb ribs" you're talking about??? This sounds like a place I have to try and it's closer than Zone 88!

                              2. OMG. Fantastic experience at Little Fat Sheep today. Can anyone tell me about the fantastically crazy little items(medicinal?), that make your tounge feel like its on PCP, in a good way? I identified the goji, longan, chopped chili, jujube & black peppercorns.

                                I am especially interested in the 2" long stick/twig thing with dark bark, the nutty looking little menthol fiber ball shaped like a cardamom seed but not green, and last, but most insane LSD ride, the beige, approx 1/8", looks a lot like the pepper corn. Sometimes it was in twos on a wee stem. That thing is like a rollercoaster for your mouth-wheeeeeeeee!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: mmerino

                                  Anyone know if we need reservations for a Saturday dinner? I called but no one picked up there.

                                  1. re: mmerino

                                    The tongue numbing is from the sichuan peppercorn.

                                    1. re: mmerino

                                      I am not sure what the items are in the broth. I was hoping someone would respond to you. I felt like I was walking on air thru the next day after eating here. I want to go back but I don't think they have Hot Pot for one?

                                    2. Anyone tried the 9.95 "mini hot pot" lunch special? Heckuva deal choice of meat and a mini sampler platter or other sides including tofu, fish ball, veg and beautifully fresh enoki and shitake mushrooms. I really like this place - the broth (in addition to being delicious) seems to be the elixir of life. Decor and service are way above the norm for the location.