Once you've worked your way through every fiery iteration of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, Takis, Quezas, Sabritones and Dorito's Flamas; of every weird British "crisp" flavored with pickles, ketchup or Worcestershire; of every gourmet potato chip redolent with olive oil, roasted garlic and garden herbs, there's an inescapable truth: Junk food runs the world. We've been on a Japanese junk food kick lately. After much trial and error, we've found the spicy/sweet potato chip of our dreams.
As much as we love the way they coat our hands with nuclear-red powder, Flamin' Hot Cheetos are too spicy for us. (Yes, even the ones flavored with lime.) We're looking for something mellower, something that will allow us to eat an entire bag in one fell swoop. (To that end, Cheetos has created an unintentional diet strategy: food so painful you can't bear to finish it.)
Taste Test: Karamucho Hot Chili vs. Calbee Hot & Spicy
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We want a potato chip that's moderately spicy, one that will complement a sandwich without overpowering it. The Calbee chips are pleasant with a low-grade level of heat but no distinct flavor, except for a vague sweetness. They really ought to be called Sweet & Spicy instead of Hot & Spicy.
A ruddy red color, Karamucho's Hot Chili chips hit just the right note of spicy and sweet. They don't smack you in the face with spice, but they build to a solid crescendo. If Flamin' Hot Cheetos are like scaling Half Dome and Calbee's Hot & Spicy chips are a stroll on the Venice Beach Bike Path, these are a hike up Runyon Canyon. Two powdery red thumbs up.
Elina Shatkin is a staff writer at LA Weekly. Follow her at @elinashatkin or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.