116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — A new cuisine typically available only in cities the size of Minneapolis and Chicago has joined the eclectic selection of restaurants in uptown Marion.
MIX, previously located in the Armstrong Centre in downtown Cedar Rapids, marks a few firsts of its kind: the first Chinese hot pot restaurant of its kind in the Corridor, the first Korean restaurant in Marion and likely the only restaurant in Iowa with hot pot, Korean and sushi under one roof.
“Cities the size of Cedar Rapids or Marion don’t necessarily have the population or diversity to have a hot pot restaurant, a bunch of sushi or Korean restaurants,” said Kyle Franklin, co-owner of the restaurant. “We came up with the idea where we could put it all together.”
Where: 1138 Seventh Ave., Marion
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Phone: (319) 200-1028
Website: mixsushikitchen.com (Will be updated soon.)
Details: Menu offerings soon will be available via third-party delivery services. The website, once updated, will offer online ordering and reservations for hot pot tables. Half of hot pot tables will be available for reservations.
The hot pot experience
Hot pot brings a new food and an immersive social experience to the table unlike most types of restaurants.
MIX is the first restaurant in the Corridor with permanent electric hot pot burners built into each table. Other hot pot experiences, few and far between at mostly Szechuan restaurants in Iowa, often involve a temporary burner brought to the table.
To order hot pot, your party may select up to two soup broths to share. Flavors range from the traditional with beef bone broth, taro root and traditional spices to the savory mushroom or the Tom Yum, an extra spicy Thai option with homemade shrimp stock and lemon grass.
Each table is given a plate of traditional vegetables and meats including lotus root, watercress, cabbage, mushrooms, fish ball and Asian-style meatballs.
“Since we’re the first ones to do it in the area and people aren’t familiar with it, it forces people to try it how it’s supposed to be tried,” Franklin said.
Diners can select their own meat option. The meat selected determines the price of hot pot, which is priced per person.
With a pair of tongs, diners cook their own meat and vegetables by dropping them into the boiling broth with tongs. After a few minutes, diners ladle their soup into a bowl.
Hot pots can be ordered with any number of diners and accommodate large groups well. Dividers at each large table, which has multiple burners, allow different size parties to share tables.
Although the soup bases offer complex, nuanced flavors, the ingredients themselves are simple. The hot pot experience, Franklin said, allows the simplicity of good food to shine through.
“You don’t realize how overly prepared food is when you go out to eat at American restaurants,” he said. “This allows people, probably for the first time, to taste ingredients true to their actual taste. It’s got a little flavor of the broth, but you can taste the vegetables themselves.”
And as the area enjoys a new type of cuisine, the social experience brought to the table helps others reconnect over a meal through the communal experience, too.
“After COVID, this is going to be a great way to sit down and connect with your friends,” Franklin said. “Take a break from the realities of the world and get back to the basics.”
Expanded Korean menu, sushi bar
In addition to hot pot, an expansive Korean menu and sushi bar far surpasses what MIX offered in Cedar Rapids.
The new Marion restaurant offers everything from mainstream favorites like bulgogi, a sweet marinated beef, to less common traditional dishes like Haemul Jjim, a sweet and spicy stir fry with shell fish varieties.
In addition to hot pot, three popular clay pot Korean soups are on the menu. Aung, a native of Myanmar with years of experience cooking at Korean restaurants, folds Burmese influences into options like the hot and sour soup.
All Korean entrees and soups come with a rotating selection of banchan — Korean side dishes like seasoned spinach and kimchi. The large menu doesn’t sacrifice authenticity to appease local palates.
“I’ve been cooking dinner every Sunday for my friends for 20 years now,” Franklin said. “I know what people like, I know what I like.”
True to their name, their approach is less rigid than at many traditional Asian restaurants, because it mixes and matches different elements and ingredients to offer creative new fusions — not a “take it or leave it” attitude that Franklin said some restaurants have.
Notable Korean appetizers include the Tteok-Bokki, Korean fish cakes with carrots, cabbage, a spicy sauce and mozzarella cheese.
With a sushi bar prominently displayed in the center of the dining room, an expanded sushi menu rivals offerings from nearby restaurants dedicated only to sushi. Yet another fresh fish menu offers new riffs on seafood-based Asian dishes like swordfish steak satay or mahi laksa, a bowl of pan-seared mahi swimming in rice noodles and a Malaysian broth.
Bottle-only beer imports will round out the international vibes of MIX, in addition to a selection of wines handpicked by First Avenue Wine House in Cedar Rapids.
A wall of slushy drink varieties adds a pop of color to the modern interior’s palette of dark graphite and glimmering black tables, without relying on bottles of liquor. Slushies, made without alcohol, can be ordered with alcohol mixed in.
The move to Marion
For Franklin and co-owner Bryan Aung, who started MIX Sushi & Kitchen in 2019, the vision at the outset didn’t include hot pot or Marion — at first, they just wanted to do Korean and sushi well, alongside a sampling of other Asian and Pacific island cuisines on the menu.
Franklin, a Cedar Rapids native, never had Marion on his radar. But with persuasion from Mayor Nick AbouAssaly, the owners of the nearby Hip-stir, and an insistent Realtor, the vision came to life in Marion’s rapidly developing uptown district. MIX opened the week of April 18 at the Seventh Avenue spot formerly occupied by the Urban Pie pizzeria.
“The city of Marion was more open minded to my concept,” Franklin said after overcoming regulatory hurdles for the tables that let diners cook the food at their own table. “I got excited about this location. Marion has such a well thought-out plan.”
That plan required extensive research into how restaurants in cities like Minneapolis were able to offer hot pot without cost-prohibitive ventilation equipment. With no open flame at tables and only steam coming off of hot pot soup, Franklin was able to show the city of Marion that hot pot tables were safe to offer in the dining room.
“Cool things don’t happen unless somebody actually tries to do it,” he said. “I think we would’ve done well in Cedar Rapids, but I think we’ll do even better here.”
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