Gainesville has really outdone itself this time: Nine Spices Fondue, situated besides Peach Valley and World of Beer on 34th Street, offers traditional Chinese Hot Pot around the clock. I originally thought this restaurant served chocolate and cheese fondues, but when the waiter brought thinly sliced beef and succulent shrimp paste, I couldn’t imagine anything better.

Nine Spices led my palate down an adventurous, tangy path and provided an array of sauces, meats, and conveyor-belt sides. The permutations for unique dinners were endless and despite not eating Chinese food often, I was a solid hot pot convert. Here are my thoughts on this immersive restaurant and the cuisine – starkly different from that of Larry’s Giant Subs, Pearl’s Barbecue, or Grill Fresh – that it brings to Gainesville.

The Basics

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If you’re a hot pot virgin like me, here are the basics any diner should know before digging into the smorgasbord. Hot pot is a traditional Chinese dish (with roots hailing back to the Mongols) that consists of a bubbling pot of broth, meats, and sides including corn, greens, fish, etc.

The most popular variation is the Sichuan Hot Pot, named after the spicy-tongued province in the southwest corner of China. The dish is synonymous with socializing, community, and family - and with a massive pot of gurgling, herbal broth, it makes total sense. By nature, the dish is an experience, something to be slowly participated in and appreciated.

Hot pot makes a 5-star chef out of everyone, from the unaware college student (me) to the seasoned Chinese-food eater lovingly placing watercress and wiggling squid in the liquid. Meat is usually cooked for 30 seconds to a minute, while the heftier items (i.e. pork stuffed fish balls) take a grand 3 minutes.

The Menu

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Dinner options are seriously infinite here – Nine Spices’ “claim to fame” is their jaw-dropping sauce bar, a sexy display of 10+ sauces you can mix, match, and sample. Although I went for a conservative garlic, cilantro, and leak flower sauce combo, patrons can go wild with wasabi turnip, peanut sauce, sesame paste, and red bean curd paste.

The intense flavors can seem overwhelming, but Nine Spices has you covered; above the sauces and in the napkin holders, a display of the ingredients and their cook times/health benefits is available. The “all you can eat” option costs $26.95 for adults and includes a hot pot of broth, meat, and access to the conveyor belt of sides snaking throughout the room.

Besides the hot pot party, the menu also boasts an impressive selection of Boba teas and alcohol. I tried a creamy Taro Boba and the whipped cream, combined with its earthy taste, went perfectly with my ramen, broccoli, and meat dish.

Nine Spices Fondue accommodates all levels of flavor sophistication, meaning you can make your meals as simple or elaborate as you choose. Quail eggs and mussels beckon from the conveyor belt, but you can also add Udon noodles or spinach instead. There was no pressure to cook a fancy or complex meal – although the option was definitely there.

The Atmosphere

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As a cross between a Manhattan nightclub and a conventional Chinese joint, the atmosphere of Nine Spices Fondue was a dichotomy. The fluorescent blue lights and rope chandeliers screamed new-age, but the essence of the menu – the revered hot pot – was traditional to the max. I enjoyed this paradox and so did the people around me, young professionals that were crafting their meals with precision.

The cosmopolitan atmosphere explained the lack of children around us, as did the tabletop stoves in front of every seat. With burners so close to the dining area, I would recommend this restaurant to children ages 10 and older (or younger with constant adult supervision).

The music selection was also hilarious; the restaurant was softly playing Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift in the background, and this ultra-pop got me strangely excited for the boiled shrimp paste and fried bread stick combination on my plate.

Overall Impressions

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Any place that has a fluid, dynamic menu with friendly staff is a win-win for me – seriously, what better place to be an adventurer than at Nine Spices Fondue. Your manifest destiny is your customized hot pot, your spicy chili oil and tom yum mixture become more than just sauce.

Although I would prefer the conveyor-belt sides to be covered, part of the experience is plucking tofu and crab off the metal. Overall, this restaurant is great for a date-night, solo treat (there’s a single-diner counter at the back), or an intensive exploration of flavor. My palate sure wasn’t expecting this range of (foodie) emotions.

A special thanks to Nine Spices Fondue for providing free dinners to me and Tori for this article! This article reflects our honest opinions.