QUESTION: I’ve always admired your taste in food. Could you suggest the tastiest, spiciest, most intense food experience within, say, 20 miles of the corner of La Cienega and Sunset?
ANSWER: I have answered this question before. In the old days, when music meant even more to me than food, I used to hang out on the periphery of a group of young composers who would get together to cook each other spicy dishes that often consisted of little more than garlic cloves and handfuls of habanero peppers, the hottest in the world. In order to dedicate one’s life to that sort of new music, I suppose, one has to have an extremely high tolerance for pain.
Anyway, the Chung King Sichuan restaurant in Monterey Park is always good for a serious endorphin rush; and if you are into that sort of thing, the water-boiled fish and the Chungking fried chicken are especially virulent. Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori Restaurant in Lakewood has a stew of whole jalapeño peppers in a thick curry sauce, mirck ka salaan, that I believe you may find compelling. The estimable Mexican restaurant Babita in San Gabriel is prepared to cook its famous shrimp Topolobampo with as many habanero peppers as you can stand, although they may try to make you sign a waiver first.
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But the women who run the green-papaya-salad concession outside the Wat Thai of Los Angeles on weekend afternoons have been known to toss an awful lot of chiles into their huge stone mortars if you ask for it hot, and the grinding and stirring and grinding again has the effect of actualizing the ultra-hot peppers to their full, fearsome potential. Be careful what you ask for. Because at this wonderful golden temple, where the small fee for your lunch helps support any number of worthwhile activities, you almost certainly will find it, in spades. 8225 Coldwater Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood.