Megan O. Steintrager
Hey chile-heads, do you have what it takes to tackle the hottest food this country has to offer? Below are some of the spiciest restaurant dishes in the country for your tongue searing, endorphin releasing pleasure. Dig in, if you dare.
Spicy Fish Kidney Curry, Jitlanda in Los Angeles: Not only did this southern Thai dish make it onto critic Jonathan Gold’s 99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die list in L.A. Weekly, a trusted source on the topic of fiery food tells me the dish is “close to or at the top of my personal-experience list,” for the spiciest dishes in the United States (OK, it’s my brother, but since he’s almost done me in with the spiciness of his own cooking, I believe him). Gold calls the dish “one of the more intense things you will ever put in your mouth,” an experience he likens to “biting down on a 9-volt battery” (in a nice way).
Laab Neuh Gae, Uncle Boons in New York (shown above): Pete Wells named this Thai hot spot on his list of the 10 Best Restaurants of 2013 in The New York Times, calling the attention of “chile freaks” to this spicy chopped lamb salad, as well as the chicken-and-banana-blossom salad. When he originally reviewed the restaurant, he praised the “searing heat” of the two dishes, adding “fresh mint and cilantro temper the spice but in no way tame it.” I haven’t had the chicken salad but I can vouch for the slow, intense burn of the laab — one of the best, and hottest, versions of the dish I’ve eaten.
XXX Chicken Wings, Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap in Chicago: Customers at this sports bar have to sign a waiver before being served the XXX Wings, CBS Chicago reports. The wings get their triple-threat status from habaneros, ghost peppers, and scorpion peppers. Anyone who finishes an order of these bad boys gets added to the restaurant’s Wall of Flame.
Kung Pao Pastrami, Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco: Danny Bowien doesn’t hold back on this chiles in this dish described as “fiery and blister-inducing” by The San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer. “While nothing [on the menu] is subtle, I’d save the kung pao pastrami for last because it blows out the palate for at least 10 minutes,” Bauer says. “Anything that follows that has even a modicum of chiles will reignite the fire that leaps from the tongue to the sides and roof of the mouth.”
SEE MORE: The Best Chicken Wings in America
Five-Alarm Chili, Tolbert’s, Grapevine, TX (shown above): The founder of this restaurant literally wrote the book on the perfect bowl of red, and Road Food’s Michael Stern says the chile con carne is still spot-on now that Tolbert’s daughter is running the place. The Travel Channel named the chili one of the spiciest bowls in America, but I say you only get chile-head credit if you dump the whole side dish of five-alarm sauce into your bowl.
Cochinta Pibil Taco, Guisados, Los Angeles: Why two L.A. places on the list? Guisados takes its place alongside the aforementioned Jitlanda thanks to this line in a Chowhound post: “I can honestly say that this taco and the ‘Dynamite Challenge’ dish at Jitlada are the only two times in my life of loving spicy, spicy, five-alarm hot food that I couldn’t finish the whole thing.” Describing the tacos topped with habanero sauce, plus blistered habaneros and dried chiles, the chowhounder’s simple takeaway was this: “Dear f*ing God.”
How many of these spicy dishes have you tried? What would you add to (or take off) the list?
(Photos: Evan Sung, Alanna Hale, Steve Tremayne)