So you think you like spicy food? So did we, until we subjected ourselves to the unbelievable gauntlet of pain that Los Angeles' chile-obsessed food scene offers. Indian curries potent enough to cure chest colds; Thai salads that make your eyes burn before you even take a bite; salsas that ought to be as controversial as waterboarding.
We chose 10 of our favorite spicy dishes — which may or may not be the most spicy in town, since much depends on how well you can convince the kitchen to set your intestinal tract alight — but there isn't really any doubt that any of these items could have you mopping you the stinging sweat off your brow with an icy towel. Remember the famous quote: “Pain is temporary, but glory lasts until your taste buds grow back.” Turn the page.
10. Nam Kao Tod at Night + Market
At West Hollywood's temple to Northern Thai street food, Night + Market, the flavors are unmistakable — funky fish sauce, pungent herbs and, perhaps most notably, searing chile heat. The papaya salad, cool and lime-tart at first, packs a lingering burn. The umami-rich shrimp-paste fried rice called kao kluk gapi is fortified with enough tiny bird's-eye chiles to make your collar steam. The crispy rice salad known as nam kao tod is a deft balance of chile heat and tart lime juice that will leave you salivating for a good 10 minutes after you've wiped the plate clean. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the night market. 9041 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 310-275-9724.
9. Extra Suicide Wings at Ye Rustic Inn
Would any spicy food list be complete without a plate of extra-incendiary Buffalo wings? If you really wanted to singe some taste buds on game day, you could pick up a box of wings from Hoagies & Wings in Culver City or Alondra's in Montebello, both of which boast a top-tier “suicide” flavor. But our favorite is undoubtedly Los Feliz sports bar Ye Rustic Inn, whose plump, crispy wings are a winner by any metric. More customers order the “suicide” level than you might guess, so if you really want to impress your friends, why not ask for “extra suicide,” a semi-secret menu item that will have you wishing you could trade in your pitcher of Bud Lite for a fire extinguisher. 1831 Hillhurst Ave., L.A.; 323-662-5757.
8. Szechuan Spicy Dry Pot at Duo-Pot
If you've spent much time around the San Gabriel Valley, you're probably familiar with hot pot, a style of dining that entails dipping anything from fermented tofu to enoki mushrooms into a boiling pot of broth at the center of the table. The original can be lip-numbing on its own, but Arcadia's Duo-Pot amps it ever further with the addition of a spicy dry-pot, a combination of delicately sauteed seafood rubbed with handfuls of chile. This outer ring of food is supplemented by a smaller bowl of chili oil-spiked Szechuan broth in the middle, in which float even more ingredients. The hellish result is two distinct burning rings of fire, the likes of which even Johnny Cash couldn't accurately describe. 1228 S. Golden West Ave., Arcadia; (626) 446-6933.
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7. Lamb Vindaloo at Addi's Tandoor
Wedged into a mini-mall in Redondo Beach, Addi's is an unlikely place for a great Indian restaurant, even less so one that specializes food from the Goa region, a type of cooking that is to India what fiery Szechuan cooking is to China. The lamb vindaloo, a fragrant curry slightly tinted with vinegar, is pretty spicy even when it's prepared mildly. Ask them to turn up the heat and you'll be consumed by a whirling, complex spiciness that is probably the closest legal equivalent to taking a handful of psychedelics and wandering off into the desert. 800 Torrance Blvd., Redondo Beach; 310-540-1616.
6. Deviled Chicken at Apey Kade
Located in a tiny Tarzana strip small, Apey Kade (which many regulars remember as the well-liked Curry Bowl) specializes in the hot-hot-hot cooking of Sri Lanka, whose meals often include a selection of sweet, sour and blazingly spicy sambals that probably warrant a place on this list by themselves. The wok-seared preparation of deviled chicken, made with curry leaves, lime juice and a combination of fresh and dried chiles, is ordered only by the most adventurous spice-heads. 19662 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 609-7683.
5. Preserved Pork Belly with Tofu at Hunan Chilli King
The cooking of the Hunan province, a landlocked swath of fertile farmland in the middle of China, is not for the faint of heart: No Hunan dish is complete without a liberal dosing of sliced, fire engine-red chiles. At Hunan Chilli King, fresh chiles are everywhere. They're in the wok-seared shrimp, the cumin-spiced lamb, the whole braised fish — you name it. It's enough to make you feel for the dude in the back of the kitchen dicing up what must be an endless parade of peppers. The result is that every dish kind of looks the same, even if they taste completely different. A perennial favorite is Hunan's famous preserved pork belly — bacon, for all intents and purposes — stir-fried with smoked tofu, bits of garlic and ginger, and an obscene amount of peppers. Historical records suggest that this may have been one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes. But take heart: Even if you're not a supreme communist leader, you can brave the heat. There's plenty of white rice and Beijing-style yogurt drinks that come in cutesy Styrofoam cups. 534 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-288-7993.
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4. Spicy Shio Ramen at Orochon Ramen
When it comes to spice, Orochon is probably the city's biggest star — several heat-seeking food shows and countless USC fraternity pledges have ordered the “Special #2,” equipped with their own bottles of emergency milk and dreams of winning a spot on the Wall of Bravery. In all honesty, without the addition of a “secret” blend of pulverized chili flakes and chili oil, the shio ramen would be pretty pedestrian. But that never seems to be an issue — at Orochon, it's go hot or go home. Just sip slowly: Too much of the broth on your upper lip and you'll have the world's most painful mustache for the rest of the evening. 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St., Ste 303, Little Tokyo; 213-617-1766.
3. Chile Torreado Taco at Guisados
If a punch in the mouth from a world-class welterweight could be stuffed into a homemade tortilla, it might taste something like Guisados' chile torreado taco. A few pale yellow serrano peppers or green jalapenos, destemmed and left whole, are blistered and sauteed with a few wisps of onion and some finely chopped habanero, which hide in the mixture like blips of orange Napalm. The heat begins to creep back into your throat and seize up your chest like an emergency room defibrillator. This is well before you add a dab of the homemade habanero salsa, a deceptively creamy-looking concoction powerful enough to strip paint. 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd., L.A.; 323-264-7201.
2. Buldak at BBQ Chicken Rancho
At Rancho, the buldak, known colloquially as “fire chicken,” is less of a dish than it is a double dare. Technically, the staff at this Korean pub will ask you what level of heat you prefer on a scale of 1-10, but in reality they will try to talk you out of anything above a level 3. The deep burgundy color, caused by an insane concentration of red pepper paste, transforms a simple chicken and onion stir-fry into something that causes your hair to stand on end and your tongue to throb and radiate like a plutonium rod. 618 S. Serrano Ave., L.A.; 213-388-6990.
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1. Dynamite Curry Crab at Jitlada
Ever since 2007, when Jonathan Gold declared that the beef dry curry at Jitlada “may be the spiciest food you can eat in Los Angeles at the moment,” this staple of Southern Thai in East Hollywood has struck fear into every heat-fearing heart. And that was before chef Tui Sungkamee introduced the “Dynamite Spicy Challenge,” a curry sauce made with the Bhut Jolokia ghost pepper, the hottest pepper in the world. Suffice it to say it's not just hot — it's bee-sting-swelling hot; sensory hallucination hot; call-a-priest-for-your-last-rites hot. Jitlada even designed a special pink milkshake, which closely resembles Pepto-Bismol, especially for overheated customers. If you can even take more than a few bites — good luck — the plump sweet flesh of softshell crab might be the easiest way to expose yourself to the pure tortuous balm of chile paste that envelopes the crustacean. 5233 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; 323-667-9809.
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