Chubby Cattle is a lot of fun.
It is Southern Nevada’s first — and, apparently, only — conveyor-belt restaurant. Maybe you’ve heard of such spots, many of which are overseas. Generally they serve sushi, with customers snagging their choices from the belt.
It’s the same principle at Chubby Cattle. There, too, the food going by on the conveyor belt is raw, but most of it isn’t meant to be eaten that way. This is a Chinese hot pot restaurant, which means customers are seated in front of individual or table-service magnetic-induction burners. After they choose up to three from several seasoned broths (which, in a Dantean touch, include several levels of hell), the broth is brought to the table and placed in the recess above the burner.
And then the fun begins.
The refrigerated conveyor belt, enclosed in clear acrylic to ensure cold things stay cold, snakes through the restaurant in a rough U-shape, taking about an hour from start to finish. Customers who spot something that interests them open a door on either side of the domed belt and remove a plate or bowl, color-coded so that, when they’re finished, they’ll be charged accordingly. And then they can cook it in the boiling broth, which is periodically replenished. A sauce station, centrally located in the restaurant, has little bowls for transporting any of a variety of sauces and such things as minced garlic and sesame seeds back to the table.
It works pretty well, for the most part. There is a certain feeling of Lucy-with-the-chocolates, but that passes quickly. About half of the dishes on the belt were labeled, which made them easier to identify through the slight glare of the dome. Among the ones that weren’t marked, some were obvious, some not so much; a dish of what turns out to be tripe can look a lot like noodles.
The assorted mushroom broth ($3.99) was nice and earthy and contained an assortment of mushrooms that included enoki, shiitake and several that were less familiar. Even better, though, was The Beautiful Tomato broth ($4.99), which had multiple levels of sweet-and-sour flavor and just a little spice along with the heat. Into them we dipped lobster balls, surimi, shrimp and Chinese yam, priced at 99 cents to $3.50 per plate, and both became fine soups as we finished.
One tip: At the height of the early dinner hour, many repeat choices went by, a large share of which seemed to be a little offbeat to those who aren’t ethnically Chinese. As the evening progressed, the crowd thinned out and the staff was able to catch up, the variety increased, so if you’re not seeing what you want, be patient. The parade eventually carried pork-blood sausage, clams, mussels, beef tendon balls, marinated tofu, Chinese beef balls, fish balls with meatball stuffing, live fish fillets, taro knots, cheese beef balls, baby bamboo shoots, dumplings and on and on.
And a caveat: It’s tempting to sit at the bar along the north side of the belt, but it’s a little cramped.
It’s also possible to order from the menu, both for convenience (and some of the tables don’t have access to the conveyor belt) and because some foods, including meat platters with paper-thin slices fanned across them, are too large to fit on the belt. Good choices included hand-cut Angus beef ($8.99), pork loin ($5.99), tofu skin ($1.99) and udon noodles ($1.99).
Chubby Cattle’s system enables its customers to choose just the foods they want, cooked and sauced to their preference. But in addition to the promise of a good meal, it offers the possibility of a fun evening.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.