Must-Stops on a Spicy-Food Marathon
Dear Mr. Gold:
I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen my blog, foodmarathon.blogspot.com/. I want to follow last weekend’s Koreatown food marathon with a Spiciest Food Marathon. I’ve been thinking about Orochon, El Super Taco, Kyochon, Babita — maybe even a chain like Wing Stop. Do you have any suggestions?
I have to admit: The marathon aspect of serial dining is probably the scariest part of my job, especially when deadlines dictate four steak meals in a single afternoon or portions of 22 tacos over an evening in East L.A. I love what I do, but at its most basic level it can sometimes resemble an episode of Fear Factor. And a marathon of ultraspicy food seems especially daunting. I have seen what a single bowl of Impact 2 ramen can do to the stomach lining of a USC undergrad. I can’t even imagine the potential havoc five nuke-hot meals could visit on an eater made of less stern stuff.
The Southern Thai restaurant Jitlada, of course, serves potentially the spiciest food in Los Angeles, although the kitchen tends to dial back the hurt on the spiciest dish, the dry beef curry, unless you work pretty hard to persuade the proprietor of your seriousness of purpose. The off-menu roasted habanero salsa at Chichén Itzá is world-class formidable — if you ask for habanero salsa, the waiter will probably serve you the liquidy one. The one you want is the chunky one composed of not much more than diced habaneros and a little lime. The northern-Indian curries called baltis at Agra, a minimall Indian joint in Silver Lake, can be ordered hot enough to give you a week’s worth of gastric agony — the owners have relations in Birmingham, a city where machismo is occasionally measured out in the number of chiles you can tolerate — but you have to be firm about what you want, and you will be the object of laughter if you fail to put a dent in your curry. (Ozzy Osbourne, an Agra regular, has bitten into a lot of things scarier than Agra baltis.) Babita’s shrimp Topolobampo, made with fresh habaneros, is daunting. And there’s always the ever-popular water-boiled fish at Chung King in San Gabriel — Sichuan pepper and several kinds of chiles combined into a single dish, flamethrowers attacking your gut in places you never knew existed.
But if you’re looking for spicy Korean chicken, forget about Kyochon, and forget about the places that serve delicious dak galbi — which was last year’s spicy Korean chicken fad. What you want is buldak, the notorious Fire Chicken, whose sole culinary purpose is to turn your olfactory apparatus into an erupting, oozing geyser of snot. Since one order of buldak is much like another — it’s not as if you’re going to be able to taste the stuff — you may as well try it at the beer-sluiced Crazy Hook, one of the many fine pirate-themed bars in Koreatown. The buldak will teach you the true meaning of Arrrrrr. 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, (213) 389-3424.
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