Critic’s Choice: Where to eat the heat

Sichuan-style fish is smothered with peppers at Taste of Chong Qing in San Gabriel.
(Allen J. Schabenm / Los Angeles Times)

If you’re a fiend for the spicy, then you may have attempted to down an entire bowl of the Special 2 ramen at Orochon in Little Tokyo, which earns you a photo on “the wall of bravery.” Or you’ve sought the experience of Jitlada’s southern Thai specialties, including Chef Tui’s Dynamite Special Challenge, covered in a chile sludge that packs so much heat your ears start to ring. (Thais say southern food is the ultimate of phet, or spiciness.) Where to find more of the burn? Here, from recent Find columns, are several ways to satisfy the capsaicin cravings.

— Linda Burum, Miles Clements, Betty Hallock and C. Thi Nguyen

Jangchung-Dong Wong Jokbal Alongside the jokbal — braised pork shank — at this Koreatown restaurant, a fiery, salty, shrimp-based dipping sauce gives every piece added zing. You eat slices with sauce or wrapped in the accompanying lettuce with a chunk of raw garlic clove and a jalapeño slice. An even spicier celebration of porkiness, mae-un jokbal bokkeum, listed on the English dinner menu as pan-fried spicy pork hock, involves a trencherman’s portion of jokbal. The slices are tossed with thick glossy garlic chunks, jalapeño and red-tinged perilla leaves, whose slight bitterness accents the meat the way Angostura bitters enhance a Manhattan cocktail.

425 S. Western Ave., Suite E, Los Angeles, (213) 386-3535.


Red Chili Restaurant Put nehari down on your 500-things-to-eat-before-you-die list. This stewed beef, the color of red earth with sauce powered by a staggering quantity of ground chile and seasonings, is as popular for breakfast in Pakistan as Cheerios are here. Its garnish of chopped fresh ginger adds a brilliant punch of fresh sweet heat. It is with this dish and the house specialty, the saucy tomato-based chicken karahi, that you realize this cooking is more about the sauces. They’re luscious and beg to be soaked up with rice or spongy nan.

18108 Parthenia St. (in Parthenia Center), Northridge, (818) 775-0733.

Taste of Chong Qing You’ll get your tongue seared with the strange electricity of ma la. But you’ll also experience the delicacy of subtle fish dishes and fresh vegetables. And you’ll get the burn and the elegance all at once, an experience so paradoxical to the senses that you might stagger out of the restaurant a little food-drunk. One of the best dishes here is the Sichuan-style fish with peppers: fillets of white fish floating in aromatic broth and covered with a bright, gorgeously green layer of chopped ... something. The something turns out to be a sort of culinary joke: a mixture of almost indistinguishable cooling green scallions, perky pickled peppers and searingly hot green chiles. Tip: The hot stuff is the heaviest, and if you cautiously turn a piece of fish on its side and give it a gentle tap, most of the serious burn will fall off.

172 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-1357.

Valley India Cafe The menu favors the spice-laden specialties of the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu regions of southeastern India: Coconut milk, fresh, pungent curry leaves and a healthy helping of chiles distinguish many curries. The crisp golden dosas here rival the best in Little India. The smaller, thicker set dosa are the size of a dinner plate with a soft, porous texture that makes a great sponge for sopping up voluptuous sauces, especially vegetable kurma, a creamy curry with green chile, cashew and coconut. Subdue the heat with the mild kothu parota, a street food of chopped, flaky griddle bread scrambled with egg and shredded chicken.

7257 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, (818) 340-7500,

Front Page Jamaican Grille In every dish here, such as jerk chicken, goat curry and oxtails, the amped-up seasoning embraces the meat but doesn’t trounce the flavor. But if all that flavor isn’t enough for you, ask for the house-made hot sauce, a gorgeously blistering concoction of habaneros and herbs, blended and cooked into fiery perfection. To finish, try one of the drinks. The simplicity of the sorrel drink will soothe your tongue after all that heat, and pineapple ginger beer will give you a pleasant kick of fresh ginger behind some pineapple fizz. But if you like being taken to the edge of the precipice of gustatory possibility, order some of the restaurant’s mega-hot reggae wings, and then top them off with the unadulterated ginger beer. That combination will knock you to the ground and then punch you in the face again. In a good way.

1117 W. Manchester Blvd., No. C, Inglewood, (310) 216-9521,