HE&C Tea + Pot: Traditional hotpot with a modern twist


POWER TO THE POT — Ingredients bubble atop a glistening blue and gold hotpot surrounded by noodles, beef, fish cakes, and other sides. According to culinary consultant Karsten Tse, members of the Palo Alto community have shown enthusiasm for the restaurant since its opening in March. “So far, the feedback has actually been pretty good,” Tse said. “I’ve been looking at Yelp and also another Chinese app that talks about restaurants … that generally gave pretty good feedback.” Photo(s) by Palina Kuzmina

Shrimp, beef, tofu, cabbage and many more ingredients simmer as customers savor their way through their meals. Dining in stylish yellow chairs and surrounded by leafy green walls, the customers of downtown Palo Alto’s newest hotpot phenomenon HE&C Tea + Pot enjoy the restaurant’s combination of traditional Chinese hotpot and boba tea.

The Story

On March 8, HE&C opened its doors on Emerson Street.

Owner Vivan Fung, a Palo Alto resident of 10 years, says she opened the restaurant with the goal of introducing a new side of Chinese cuisine. According to Fung, HE&C stands for Health, Energy and Connection, the core tenets of her restaurant that she seeks to provide through her food and beverages.

According to Karsten Tse, a culinary consultant for HE&C, the restaurant defines itself by the quality of its ingredients. 

“She aims towards a healthier side, so less MSG products, more fresh fruit products,” Tse said.

According to Tse, HE&C decided to serve customers with individual pots in order to adapt to American cultural expectations.

“[In] traditional Chinese hotpot, you share one huge pot together, and we all cook together,” Tse said. “But I know it’s not American culture to actually double dip in a lot of things.”

We put our hearts into it … everything is [made] by trying to do as much homemade items as possible

— Karsten Tse, Culinary Consultant

One of Tse’s favorite components of HE&C’s hotpots was an ingredient introduced after the restaurant’s inception.

“Originally…they were focused on their veggie pot and the soup base,” Tse said. “After I came along, they changed the program and introduced American Wagyu [beef] to pair up with the hotpot. It actually pairs really well.”

Ultimately, Tse says he feels that those at HE&C are driven by their commitment to quality in every hotpot.

“We [at HE&C] put our hearts into it,” Tse said. “Everything is [made] by trying to do as many homemade items as possible.” 

The Food

We ordered two hotpots, the Prime Beef Rib-eye ($28.99, left) and Seafood Combo ($26.99, center), alongside a fish cake appetizer ($6.59, top right) with a sweet and tangy sauce. The presentation of the food was beautiful. Both soups featured a medley of various vegetables, tofu, and fish cake served in intricate ornamental blue pots. The beef pot included a platter of thinly sliced raw beef intended to be cooked in the steaming soup (bottom right). 

Unfortunately, the taste of the soup broth was quite mild; none of the flavors particularly jumped out, and the textures blended together. While the seafood and the beef were both of exceptionally high quality, the flavors were not as rich and varied as they could have been.

A key feature of HE&C’s menu is its drink selection. We ordered the restaurant’s best-selling Mango Sago ($6.99, top right), a mango puree mixed with coconut milk and tiny translucent tapioca pearls. Fitting with the general theme of the meal, the drink avoided strong flavors, instead featuring a calm fruity flavor. While the sago had the texture of juice pulp, the rest of the drink texture was smooth. We found the drink enjoyable, though a bit too plain for our taste.

Ultimately, the meal proved to be too expensive, totaling almost $100. Even accounting for the expensive ingredients, it was more expensive than we’d like. However, the food lived up to our expectations in both its quality and presentation. If you’re looking for a high-end, beautifully plated meal, HE&C is a great option.