Goodness, Gracious, Great Bowls of Fire
I almost got arrested for this article. Apparently, mere civilians aren’t supposed to tamper with fire hydrants. However, when you order a dish so very spicy that it feels like you are trying to brush your teeth with a blowtorch, clearly the most logical next step is running out to the curb in a feeble attempt to use a fire hydrant as a water fountain.
I should have just ordered a glass of milk. But going toe-to-toe with the Scoville scale can sometimes lead to poor decision making.
So, for you fire eaters, here are some local joints that serve up hot fare, covering the spectrum from medium heat to somebodypleasekillme spicy.
A truly tasty Thai restaurant sits unassumingly in a mini strip mall on Swift. The building’s facade belies the treasure trove of Thai treats awaiting inside. (Alliteration is fun.) Personally, I’m a big fan of any restaurant that brings a small vase of fire over and lets you grill your own chicken satay skewers at your booth and doesn’t mind when you order a bucket of peanut sauce to bathe in. Additionally, this restaurant is charming beyond measure. Decorated with beautiful wooden booths, Buddhist statues, carved ivory adornments, silk tapestries, and a slew of other exotic pieces, this restaurant is the epitome of “hidden gem.”
But let’s talk curry. Oh, curry. What a genius dish, right? It’s no surprise to know that this coconut milk soup, laden with sweet veggies, your choice of protein, and flavored with traditional herbs, spices, and curry paste, was once served only to royalty. Sweet, spicy, rich yet light, this dish is a win win win win. I nobly chose scallops and went full volume on the heat. Although by all means spicy, the sweetness of the coconut milk really tempers any chance of being overwhelmed by seasoning. However, the staff assured me that if I really want to sweat into my soup, they would be happy to up the spice factor even more to choke-to-death hot.
MUNCHIES 4:20 CAFÉ
Munchies is notorious for a host of things, including hosting the host of “Man vs. Food,” Adam Richman, who, along with 95% of other challengers, lost the café’s famed “Fire in Your Hole” fiery habanero hot wing challenge, garnering himself a spot on the Wall of Shame and leaving behind a poster with his signature and a lovely little note reading “I hate you,” which is now prominently displayed behind the front counter.
This total dive bar is also famous for its late-night grub, including “fat” sandwiches, like the Fat Sandy, which has every possible ingredient under the restaurant’s roof, from burgers to chicken fingers to mac and cheese—yes, mac and cheese—stuffed into it. And don’t even get me started on the Super Fat Daddy, which gave me a coronary just reading the description—let’s just say it has six burgers in it and leave it at that.
I ordered neither the Fire in Your Hole wings nor the fat sandwiches because I don’t have a death wish. So, I just went with plain ol’ hot wings, which were just how I like ’em: super saucy with enough heat to leave your lips tingling. Drown them with a side of blue cheese dressing and you have a meal worth munching on.
However, if you want to turn up the heat, definitely give the Fire in Your Hole challenge a try: 10 deep-fried chicken wings, prepared with an insanely intense sauce of habanero peppers, hot sauce, cayenne, chili powder, crushed red pepper, garlic, and ghost chile extract must be consumed in under 20 minutes. Richman was able to consume two and ended up in such pain that he then drank a gallon of milk while standing inside a freezer, admitting that these wings were the hottest thing he had ever eaten and the only food challenge he had ever lost. So, good luck with that.
This Main Street restaurant is such a great addition to downtown. Cool atmosphere, a great owner and a pretty stellar menu to boot. Yes, yes, everybody knows about their Sexy Man Roll, which locals order by the dozen, but don’t discount their other sushi rolls. (My personal fave? The Chef Ginch: smoked salmon, eel, goat cheese, cucumber, topped with sea urchin and roe) and their amazing entrees like the Duck Tamarind.
I’ve dined at Drunken Poet a decent number of times so I decided to go super simple and just get a Spicy Tuna Roll. Y’all, it’s not that spicy. Sorry, Drunken Poet—the secret is out. However, you can always ingest a tablespoon of wasabi with it if you’re looking for a bit of heat.
This place is a must for downtown diners. You can most certainly order a ton of other holy-moly-hot items off of the menu—it is a Thai restaurant, after all, and Thai food equals spicy food. A few outdoor tables make for great people watching or you can lounge on the leather sofas inside. A beautiful bar with a surprisingly expansive selection of wines and sakes lines the back wall while the wide window at the front offers a sweet peek at Main Street. The presentation is always über-Instagram-worthy and the dishes always get two thumbs up.
Holy crap, you guys. Chutney’s brings the heat. Their Lamb Vindaloo, with “spicy chunks of lamb in a fiery hot and sour gravy with red pepper, coriander seeds, and a splash of vinegar” is no joke. The menu even asks “…will you survive?!” Just like that—the ellipses, the question mark, the exclamation point: “Will you survive?!”
Are they taunting us? I’m pretty sure the chef sends it out and then stands in the kitchen curling his mustache and laughing like an evil genius from a James Bond movie. Note: I don’t know if the chef has a mustache and I’ve never actually seen a James Bond movie (I know, I know, not even one) so take that into consideration while picturing that mental image.
Meanwhile, back at the table, I’m pretty sure I consumed about 48 pounds of pita bread during this meal in the hopes of soaking up some spice. That being said, it’s freaking delicious. The sweet gaminess of the lamb and the earthiness of the coriander match perfectly against the piquant vinegar and the tang of the sour gravy. And the scent alone is overwhelmingly mouthwatering.
The staff is super helpful and, thankfully, quick to refill your water glass. This place is authentically Indian and totally worth the trip.
CURRY CREEK CAFÉ
If you’re going to put the word curry in your restaurant’s name, you better make a good one. And this cozy little café totally does.
Now, let’s be honest: You have to try really hard to make a bad curry. I mean, you’d pretty much have to add Windex and shoe polish to make coconut milk taste bad. But when you come across a legitimately amazing curry, the whole world stops.
I liked this place from the jump. Bells and whistles? No. This little Nokomis nook is not necessarily a looker, but it sure does make one outstanding seafood curry. The spice was oh so nice and the broth was beautifully done. They totally sealed the deal for me with their homemade bread and tapenade and their fresh, bright cucumber salads. But, to be honest, if they served nothing but their curry and made you eat it in the bathroom with a bag over your head, I’d be totally fine with that.
EL TORO BRAVO
My experiences as a career eater (best job ever) have confirmed the fact that you can often find some super tasty meals at neighborhood strip malls. El Toro Bravo backs up my claim. This Clark Road hideaway has been cramming locals in for years.
There is a good deal of Southwestern flair happening at this Mexican restaurant, with Americanized notables like Nachos Supreme and Chimichangas, but don’t let that fool you: There are some authentically prepared Latin American dishes to be found on the menu, as well. Thus, I, of course, opted for a totally traditional dish: Chiles Rellenos.
Deep fried and smothered in Monterey Jack, El Toro serves up some pretty sweet comfort food. And by pretty sweet I mean Sweet Mary That’s Really Spicy.
I highly recommend ordering a Jarritos— an extremely refreshing drink made of mango, lime, pineapple, and tamarind. The sugary fruits and tangy lime help temper the wowthatshot heat of the chiles. Plus, it’s, like, really delicious. The chiles were, of course, served alongside rice and refried beans, which were pretty par for the course, but the chiles, in all of their spicy glory, were really something special.
“Life is too short not to be Italian” is the motto at this Italian eatery. And there’s a decent chance life will be a little shorter if you order the Shrimp Fra Diavolo with extra red pepper. Fra Diavolo, which means “Brother Devil,” is a spicy tomato-based sauce made famous in Italian-American restaurants and generally found accompanying a seafood pasta dish. This version is pretty straightforward with a heaping serving of hot spaghetti and a generous portion of shrimp in a bath of peppery red sauce. A decent amount of heat will tease your taste buds but won’t attempt to overpower the flavors of the shrimp and sauce. Not bad for a neighborhood-style establishment.
I’d thought I’d up the ante by adding a bit more heat—that is what this article is all about, after all. Have you ever seen a kid decorate a sugar cookie with a container of sprinkles? Yeah, that’s what I did with the red pepper shaker. Do not do this. Fortunately, Mamma’s serves warm, doughy, soak-upsome- of-that-spice garlic knots with this dish. And, thankfully, it is one of the greatest laws of the universe that garlic knots make everything better.
Thai Wasabi, as the name suggests, is a Thai/ Japanese restaurant with dishes ranging from the traditional Pad Thai and edamame to the lesser known, and perhaps less traditional, Sweety Mac Roll and Two Sexy Girls House Special, although, who knows, maybe those are huge in Japan.
This girl opted for the Thai Pad Woon Sen, a stir-fried clear bean noodle dish with onions, snow peas, mushrooms, baby corn, celery, cabbage, and eggs. I considered going full-on Thai hot but I was terrified of recreating the scene in Along Came Polly where Ben Stiller sweat at least 38 pounds off of his frame, so I just went for Hot. Looking back, I should have totally done Thai hot and then gone out and bought a new bathing suit.
This dish is pretty spicy. Don’t let those neutral- colored noodles fool you as they disguise the layers of flavor hiding within. Along with the heat, there are a ton of fun textures going on—the dense yet yielding chew of the noodles, the squish of the mushrooms, the snap of the snow peas, the fluff of the fried egg— mixed with a pretty powerful spice punch to the mouth. This is definitely something I’d order again.