If you walk into a restaurant and you can’t read the menu, and nobody speaks your language, it’s always a safe bet to goggle everybody else’s table and point at what looks good. For the first part of this year that was a proper MO at Chinatown’s Ma Gong La Po, which looks like a Chinese bakery but is in fact a full-service restaurant specializing in Sichuan and northern Chinese dishes.

If you followed this procedure, you probably noticed that pretty much everyone eating was hunched over butane burner-mounted rectangular hotel pans filled with whole fish, half submerged in a burbling lava of hot red oil, Sichuan peppercorns, red chiles, Chinese celery, and whole garlic cloves. This is the house specialty, “grilled fish hot pot.” And by “grilled” they mean fried: that would be your choice of catfish or grass carp at $8.95 to $10.95 per pound, respectively.*