The Frog-Only Restaurant With Seriously Transformative Hot Pots

When someone says "themed restaurant," we can't help but picture a family of five, weary from a road trip, seated among artificial vines and life-sized plastic tigers at a Rainforest Cafe. We could just as easily imagine the group flanked by flashy electric guitars as they tuck into double-decker cheeseburgers at a Hard Rock Cafe. The former "jungle-themed" chain boasts 23 locations around the world, and the latter music-themed hotel-restaurant-casino franchise boasts even more. 

Others might think of more local examples. In New York City, for instance, you can settle into a booth at the wood-paneled Flower Shop, a cozy ode to 1970s grandma-core. In Portland, you can get your thrills and chills well past Halloween at the horror-centric Raven's Manor. At Mr. Frog in Rowland Heights, California, the theme goes beyond decor — it also applies to the food. And as its name suggests, frog meat is the star of the menu.

Slow cooking makes for extra-tender meat

When Food Beast's Constantine Spyrou visited Mr. Frog for the first time in December 2022, he was initially "skeptical" about dining on amphibious gams and backs. But with the encouragement of his mother, who grew up eating frog legs in China, Spyrou was "tearing into pieces of frog as vigorously as she was." The restaurant's menu is centered around frog meat, which melts into a tender treat in three flavors of hot pots: Signature Basil, Hot & Sour, and Sichuan-style Extra Spicy. The restaurant also offers bullfrog in its limited selection of grilled items.

Bolstered by frog designs branding the chairs and walls, the Rowland Heights restaurant may seem like a novelty to some. On the contrary, it capitalizes on an ingredient that's central to Chinese cuisine, particularly in Shanghai. "Frog dishes are on almost all menus," writes Umami Mart's Yoko Kumano in a post about gānguō niúwā, or bullfrog hot pot. "It's like the chicken of America." Spyrou concurs in his own post. "If you've never had frog before, think of it as a more tender and sweet variation on chicken," he writes, adding that it "almost melts in the mouth when perfectly cooked like a piece of fish."

A thousand-year tradition

In a South China Morning Post piece about the history of the hot pot, food writer Andrew Sun explains that the dish was bred in the age of Genghis Khan, the former Khagan of the Mongol Empire. "In the summer, Mongol horsemen cooked meat on their spears over a fire," says Sun. When they were short of traditional cookware, they used their helmets as makeshift pots for boiling water and cooking meat, giving rise to the hot pot. 

As the years went on, the dish was popularized across China, and each region laid claim to different variations. According to Sun, Cantonese, Sichuan, and Beijing hot pot are the most common styles. Sun doesn't mention frog legs, so Mr. Frog may have created its own sub-style of the dish.

Based on the variety of broth it offers, Mr. Frog might be inspired by the hot pot from more than one region. That said, Sichuan Umami Mart's Yoko Kumano says she tucked into bullfrog hot pot at a Sichuan restaurant. But unlike the kind at Mr. Frog, hers was a "dry-style hot pot" without broth. "I didn't know how much I liked frog until discovering this dish," she says.