Spring Shabu-Shabu goes the extra mile with several varieties of...

Spring Shabu-Shabu goes the extra mile with several varieties of fresh noodles. Credit: Newsday/Andi Berlin

The COVID pandemic nearly destroyed the contemporary American buffet — who would think Asian hot pot would be the thing to save it?

Take the new Spring Shabu-Shabu in Westbury, which is just the latest example in the all-you-can-eat hot pot trend. With little advertising, the sizable building (a former Joe's Crab Shack) was recently packed with a constant stream of families milling about for a table. Clouds of steam poured around as cooks shaved meats and servers struggled to keep the fresh noodle bar fully stocked. At times there was even a line for the green tea soft-serve ice cream. 

What's the draw? Maybe it's the price: a cool $22.95 a person without any extra meat add-ons. This is about $10 cheaper than other barbecue/hot pot venues. But judging by the mood of the diverse crowd, the Japanese shabu-shabu concept itself seems to be drawing people in, a sign that hot pot is gaining steam beyond Asian culture.

Managing partner Jonathan Lee, who operates Spring Shabu-Shabu in Boston, Flushing and soon-to-be Westchester, lives in Syosset and had been looking to expand to Nassau County. A former paralegal, he got into the restaurant business years ago after his father was inspired by a Japanese buffet he saw while traveling in California. Lee's family hails from South Korea and while he didn't grow up eating Japanese shabu-shabu, he said that it's easy to relate to because Asian cuisines each have their own soup traditions. 

“A few years ago we didn’t have any hot pots, but now they’re opening up everywhere,” he said. “It definitely is more popular with the younger generation.” 

Spring Shabu-Shabu in Westbury has Japanese-style wood paneled dividers between...

Spring Shabu-Shabu in Westbury has Japanese-style wood paneled dividers between many of the tables. Credit: Newsday/Andi Berlin

The restaurant bills the experience as shabu-shabu, a Japanese style of hot pot that translates to “swish-swish” for the ingredients swishing in the boiling dashi soup. But the selection here is less than traditional, with everything from hand-torn Korean dough noodles to a whole wall of Chinese fish cakes. The quality of the buffet is strikingly high for the price, which Lee said he's able to do because the flat rate does not include the thinly-sliced meat add-ons. This method also appeals to vegetarians, he said. 

Patrons each choose from five varieties of broth for individual hot pot crocks, including kimchi broth and spicy pork bone with a Sichuan chile paste. The clean-flavored dashi broth made from bonito flakes and kelp is the most traditional way to go, but the darker vegetarian broth's strong mushroom flavor is a winner. Meat additions, like beef rib-eye and beef top blade, go for about $5 each. It's not necessary to go hog-wild (one order per table is fine) as the regular buffet options are more than satisfying. 

Dipping sauces at Spring Shabu-Shabu in Westbury include Chinese, Japanese...

Dipping sauces at Spring Shabu-Shabu in Westbury include Chinese, Japanese and Korean options. Credit: Newsday/Andi Berlin

The noodle section alone is breathtaking, with nearly a dozen varieties of plump noodles twisted into little dollops flecked with flour. On the other side of the buffet there's also sujebi, thick slats of hand-torn wheat dough that are commonly eaten in soups in Korean American homes, but not often found in restaurants. And while vegetables aren't necessarily the first thing you opt for at a buffet, the farmers market-esque display of greens includes purple kale, bok choy and chrysanthemum leaves.

Back at the table, customers give each ingredient a long swish in the boiling broth and then dip in sauces on offer, some funky, some not. You won't know it by the labeling, but sesame sauce and citrusy soy ponzu sauce are what you'd typically eat at a shabu-shabu joint. 

Spring Shabu-Shabu isn't the only hot pot buffet in the area. There's K-CITY BBQ Hot Pot & Sushi in Levittown, plus restaurants that combine Korean barbecue and Chinese hot pot in an all-you-can-eat setting. But Spring Shabu-Shabu is the cheapest and it's also one of the most entertaining and delicious. 

Spring Shabu-Shabu, 1195 Corporate Dr., Westbury, 516-385-5565, springshabu.com. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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