looking for good, FLAVORFUL hot food
I am not a masochist. However, I am constantly disappointed in restaurants offering 'hot' food. I've begged in Thai and English for 'Thai level' spice. They smile and nod and I get a plate of tasty, delicious but ultimately pedestrian Thai food. I went to Balti House and asked for 'British Hot, NOT American Hot'; it was like the salsa at Denny's. I just had 'Atomic' wings from Alondras Hot Wings. They make you sign a waiver when you pick them up, releasing them from any liability if they're too hot. I ate half the tray and practically cried: spicy, yeah, okay, but nothing special. The 'special' salsa at El Cholo you have to ask for, it's good, but too watery and, well, it's salsa.
Like I said, I'm not a masochist. But can anybody point me to some good flavor where I don't have to bring my own container of Dave's Dragon Dust? I'm not into organ meats or 'Fear Factor' dishes, and it's got to have good flavor. I can burn my own mouth at home with Dave Insanity Sauce, I want something good.
Someone already mentioned shrimp topolobampo at Babita--talk about flavorful! Talk about spicy! They'll even serve it on fish (salmon's great) if you don't like shrimp. This stuff rocks.
Our fave is Lu Gi in San Gabriel--the Taiwanese take on Sichuan hot-pot. First time we went there we ordered the yin-yang pot; half spicy broth, half non-spicy. Given that we were newbies, and caucasian to boot, it was pretty darn spicy. Next time we went we ordered just spicy--we hardly touched the non-spicy broth the previous time, tasted so bland--and it was even spicier. Now we're regulars--probably the only caucasians not in the company of an asian, and the only of any color (that we've seen, anyhow) who order spicy-only hot pot. They've taken to bringing out our Tsing-Taos as soon as we sit down. Goes well with the broth, which is sooooo good. Very spicy, and full of deep, funky flavors. It's our drug of choice.
1. Peruvian. Since the (exceptional, at some places) heat comes from a bottle of aji, which is this gorgeous... green... ground... sauce substance, you can ladle on as much as you want.
Pollo a la Brasa, western and 8th.
There's a place in Vine below Sunset a lot of people here like, but they serve the most... mellowed out of Peruvian places. The above might serve you better.
2. Chinese - Sichuan and Hunan
Either of Chung King or Hunan Seafood Restaurant will not gringo you in any way. Alas for the departed: Oriental Pearl, Best Sichuan, etc.
These are both *absolutely* guaranteed to please.
There's a Mongolian-ish Sichuan place, too. Hu Bei? Can't remember the name. Even the sweet appetizer peanuts are spicy.
The Sichuan broth at Little Fat Sheep, a mongolian hot pot place, will also please.
In general, the spicy places in San Gabriel are too isolated from a non-Chinese community to really worry about having to alter things. Unlike, say...
I live near Thaitown. They are reluctant to serve non-Thais the spiciest - and I understand. The *number* of times I've seen a non-Thai order a dish, demand extra spicy, and then send it back as "inedibly spicy" or "a joke"... it makes me angry.
Anyway: unlike many of the other places here, since Thaitown is in the middle of a very... er, non-Thai hip neighborhood, they get a lot of non-enclave people in, and have been often burned by people sending back.
That said: there are some principles of ordering.
A. Demand spicy. The phrase "Thai spicy," or "spicy like Thai people like it" seems to work in some places.
B. You can send back things for *extra spice*. This is, unlike the previous problem, good, because they don't necessarily have to throw the food away. But be nice about it.
C. If you go regularly, and do B., they can get to know you.
D. I hate to say this, but, as far as I can tell, it helps: It helps if you have at least one non-white person in your party. I'm Vietnamese. I have some trouble getting adequately spicy food, but not as much as my Caucausian friends. But if I go with them and *order* or *nod vigorously* when Caucasians friends order "spicy" and give a big thumbs up, they're much more likely to get fully spicy food. Being Latino seems to have the same effect. If you don't have access to a non-white person, vigorous application of A, B, and C, I'm told, can do the trick.
E. Whatever you do, don't send back something for being too spicy. You ordered it. And it spoils it for everybody.
Most important is being a regular. I definitely have a sense of being tested - like I order "full spicy", or "extra spicy", and they give me something I'd call medium spicy. If I finish my plate and look happy, the waitress will often make some comment, or praise me, and the next time it comes even spicier. Rinse, and repeat, until it's near the limit of my tolerance. (I've gotten it to the level where I can now, at my favorite places, order something that the waitress laughs at and says, "You can eat that? I can't eat that. Only my granddad eats stuff like that." But that's verging on masochism.)
Again: watch the crowds. The more predominately Thai the places, the more likely you are to be able to get spicy stuff. Best bets for the full spicy: Ganda Restaurant, Ruen Pair, Rod Ded (home of the ludicrously great spicy duck soup, and stewed pork leg, and chicken rice), Noodles Thaitown, Sapp Coffeehouse (never been gringoed here), Sunset Siam (never been gringoed here, get the stewed pork leg).
Renu Nakorn, out in Norwalk, is another good choice. Or you can make the drive out to the holy temple of spice, Lotus of Siam, in Vegas. There is a habernero-paste-shelled grilled catfish.
The best stuff is all in Artesia.
Tirupathi Bhimas is your best bet for spicy. They serve Andhra food - a specific province of India - which is sort of like the Sichuan of India - the weirdiest and spiciest. Get their big thali, and throw in other stuff.
All of Udipi Palace, Surati Farsan Mart, and even Radjhani will also get in the vicinity, in different moods.
Let me add sokongdong soontofu as a place where you can get gloriously spicy simmered tofu in spicy beef stew.
Korean Folk Cuisine is also a nice one - they have super-good spicy octopus, if I remember correctly.
Koreatown, in general, will do you right, and not underspice things. And, much like, say, Viet places, a lot of the spicings come in condiment dishes at the table, and you spice to taste.
Best condiment: the spice past at Han Shul Bat, my favorite beef bone soup joint.
So the moral: enclaves, enclaves, enclaves. Persistance, persistance, persistance. Be regular, be nice, ask nicely, finish your plate, come again, say, "like last time, but even spicier!" Tip well. You'll get it eventually.
Some of these places, you have to win their hearts before they'll give you the full spice dealy-o.
re: Thi N.
It also helps to show knowledge of the cuisine. If you go to an Issan Thai place and order the usual Southern dishes, they'll assume you don't know what's up and give you the Americanized stuff.
If you order the right region, order precisely the specialties of the reason, and order the oddball stuff, you really increase your likelihood of getting it right.
Here's my best idea:
Go to Ganda, in Thaitown.
Order duck larb, the crispy-fried shredded catfish with green apples, and the salad with thousand-year old egg and chinese sausage. These are all very regionally correct, specialties, and spicy. Look the waitress in the eye, and say, "Thai spicy, please." Clasp your hands together. Make begging eyes. Explain that other places won't give it to you spicy. See what happens.
re: Thi N.
Yeah, I'm often in the same boat as you. Ruen Pair is the one restaurant I've been to that will make food consistently spicy without my having to beg, cajole, or scheme -- I just ask for "very spicy". They don't make it nuclear-hot, but it's definitely hotter than what you usually find out there -- the kind of hot that grows on you throughout the meal.
My other big success story has been at Jitlada. Unlike Ruen Pair, you actually have to scheme a little at Jitlada. My best success came one afternoon when the restaurant was mostly empty and Tui's daughter was waiting tables. We had a short conversation, after which I said something like, "So last time I was here I asked that the kitchen make the food the same way they make it for Thai customers, but when I got it, it was very bland. And Jazz took it back and added a little more heat, but it was still mild." And she immediately volunteered, "Oh, okay. I'll tell the kitchen that you're a Thai customer."
That worked; my food was fabulously hot.
But it's pretty hit-or-miss whether you can get them to fire it up. I usually ask that the food be made "the way you would prepare it for a Thai customer", and mention that "last time" it wasn't hot enough. Needless to say, don't share a table with anyone who requests that their dish be prepared less spicy.
And, hot or not, both of these restaurants make delicious food. Search the board to find the dishes to order.
My most recent flavorful hot food experience was at Mariscos Chente on Centinela in Mar Vista. This place has been getting a lot of love from CH posters lately, and deservedly so. The do treat their seafood with great respect - one's only qualm might be the style, depending on the dish relative to personal taste.
I tried their camarones a la diabila and camarones a la pimienta side-by-side. While both were spicy hot, the a la pimienta was by far the spicier of the two. The diabila was black peppery hot, but the pimienta had a build-up heat factor that was very enjoyable. If you couple that with their well-prepared salsa verde - it has its own flavorful kick as well - with their chips, you should be more than satisfied.
i feel for you! honestly. i think being a girl makes it even more challenging - b/c people just don't believe you can eat hot food. i've been to jitlada, begged for hot food (please please pet pet), and was severely disappointed. food tasted great - but spice level was not there. i think the solution to this issue - is for people who can't eat spicy food to not eat it. restaurants want to please and people who can't take spice make such a fuss - that they won't serve it to anyone b/c they think that their customers will be disappointed. for me - it's the opposite. i want spicy, but can't get it.
the only place i've found that has - inconsistently - very spicy food is akbar indian in the marina. (santa monica and manhattan beach locations do not make the food spicy.) i've also found that ordering to go or for delivery helps get you a spicier dish. i've talked about this with them numerous times and the guy says that he doesn't want to take food back b/c they can make it super spicy. so - the two dishes i get are lamb vindaloo and prawns madras (both on a super level 5 spicy - it's a 1-5 scale). and just really tell them that over and over and you might get it. it's hit or miss, but when they make it spicy - it is amazing. my absolute favorite.
also - king taco has the most delightful red and green salsas. amazing! i love love love king taco - but i always get two huge "to gos" of the hot sauce - b/c seriously, it is intense and super flavorful and spicy. they also have a wonderful appetizer - chicken mint something - it's chicken slathered with a spicy mint marinade and i think cooked in the tandori. it is really good. and very spicy.
i have not had spicy thai food in this city for a LONG time. in the past, i had good luck at a place in panorama city called "khun khao" 13550 Roscoe Blvd. i rarely get out there anymore just b/c it's not fitting with my schedule - but this place would make some wonderful spicy food. the tom yum tay lay (sp?) or goong is delicious and just melts in your mouth with flavor and spice. my favorite dishes are the spicy shrimp mint and garlic shrimp. so good!!! like i said - haven't been for a bit - but used to be the best of the best. i randomly try places in thai town, but am usually disappointed b/c i'm expecting too much.
welcome. and good luck.
btw - the spicy mint chicken is at akbar (3115 Washington Blvd), not king taco . . . small typo.
also - chichen itza, where i have never been, is supposed to have amazing and spicy food. and La Serenata de Garibaldi sometimes has some very tasty sauces that are very spicy. their food is very good even if you don't happen to pick something spicy.
re: bu dat
re: bu dat
Agree re: Akbar. But this was at the Santa Monica location that the hot-fest was tried and felled several British lads. No one enjoyed their food past a 4, and if I recall, they served it to us up to a 7. (I was an observer and stayed with the 3 with taste of 4 for masala. Could've done a 4-5 in pepper lamb if really wanted heat.)
Down near/in Westchester I tried Ayara Thai and got the Jungle Curry (which is basically a spicy beef soup). Their mild-to-medium (what they tell the cooks) was perfectly hot-spicy for me - I asked for the American version of spicy but not extreme and asked the waitress to translate that to her cooks. She confirmed that mild-medium was what she told them. I don't consider myself a spicy food fiend but I've never had a problem with any atomic wings and I do drink Tabasco a little. I could've handled the medium at Ayara Thai, I'm pretty sure. (I would've ordered that - for delivery - if I had a cold.) But I don't really think I could've done more than a medium and enjoyed it. (Medium probably would've been like a 4 at Akbar.) You, however, might want to ask them to make it as hot as anyone has ever liked it. (Jungle curry tends to be hotter than a bunch of other Thai curries because it does not have the gorgeous fat in any coconut milk to chill it out.)