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Our Hall of Flame

May 09, 1991|JONATHAN GOLD


You can look toward the rear of the crowded restaurant, down the length of the trompe l'oeil brick arcade, and everybody's digging into the same thing, birria , which is a portion of roast kid submerged in a thick, chilied goat broth. The sweet, mild meat has crispy parts and stewy parts, just like carnitas ; it clings to the tiny goat ribs, which you suck and then spit back into the bowl. The broth, basically amplified pan drippings, is the rich essence of goat--and the house salsa, which you add to taste, is very hot indeed.

1528 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 386-7361.


The cool, Syrian-style dip muhammara , an extraordinary brick-red paste made from red peppers and ground walnuts, packs a cumin wallop and a body-slamming dose of paprika but is complex as wine. It tastes something like a more delicate Mexican chorizo, but without the 1,300 calories of hog grease. You can scoop it up with pita or daub it on everything in sight; it goes especially well with kebabs.

5112 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 660-8060.


The Korean barbecue restaurant Kong-Joo feels like a latter-day speakeasy, a speakeasy dedicated to the great brotherhood of goat eaters. You might want to try the goat soup, a fiery, intensely goaty red broth. It's possibly the spiciest single dish to be had in the city of Los Angeles, breathtaking, rice-gobbling hot, and comes with a bowl of sliced chiles and several cloves worth of sliced raw garlic if you're in a mood to improve on the chef's excesses.

3029 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 737-9487.


During the week it turns out respectable versions of such spicy Sichuan favorites as kung pao chicken and dry-fried long beans, but on weekends, Peng Yuan serves the best Chinese breakfasts in town. Sichuan beef noodle soup is the best dish of all--chile-red broth and the clean, strong flavor of star anise, meltingly soft bits of red-cooked beef and tendon, dots of vegetables, slippery noodles that have absorbed all the flavor of the broth. The most spectacular bowl of noodles you can imagine.

700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (818) 576-2661.


Isaan cooking, from the northeastern part of Thailand, can be hot enough to stun even natives of Bangkok--even though it's mostly salads. The summit of Isaan cooking is the grilled-beef thing called seua rong hai , which is reputed to be hot enough to make a tiger cry. But even hotter, among the blistering catfish salads and spicy tendon soups at what may be America's best Thai restaurant, is what the restaurant calls "BBQ beef with fresh garlic"--rare, grilled steak flanked with chopped raw chiles above and sliced raw garlic below, something to bring tears to the eyes of as many tigers as you've got.

13041 E. Rosecrans Blvd., Norwalk, (213) 921-2124.


Padang rendang -style food, from the north coast of Sumatra, is among the spiciest cooking Indonesia has to offer, searing coconut curries and ultra-hot fried chicken. One of the nicest things about the cuisine is the fresh chile sauce called belado , which cuts through rich meat flavors like a hot knife goes through butter. Sumatrans use the stuff as ubiquitously as Javanese use syrupy, sweet dark soy. Even if Agung weren't the only padang rendang restaurant in Los Angeles, it would probably still be the best one. Its delicious belado shows up on its fried chicken, fried fish and an unusual dish made with sliced beef fried until it reaches the size, shape and crunchiness of a Pringle.

3909 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 660-2113.


The tofu casserole, soontofu , comes bubbling and sputtering, splattering the paper place mat with a fine red mist, forming a burnt crust on the rim of the red-hot cast-iron bowls in which it is served. Until it cools down a bit, soontofu looks more like a scene from the "Rite of Spring" sequence of "Fantasia" than it does like actual food. Gradations of possible spiciness range from milky-white (no chile) to a nostril-searing brick-red; you decide.

4653 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 586-0368.


Andeans are big on chiles--eating peppers fights the mountain chill almost as effectively as chewing coca leaves. With your Peruvian meal, you are bound to be served a small dish of what looks like guacamole, but what is in fact aji , a corrosive green sauce made with chiles, garlic and God knows what else. Mario's aji is creamier than most, tarter than most and even tastes good smeared on a stale lump of bread.

5786 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, (213) 466-4181.


The tacos served inside this restaurant are fine, renowned actually, advertised incessantly on the Spanish-language futbol broadcasts. But what you can get from the taco truck parked behind the restaurant on weekends is better still: fresh, crisp-edged pork al pastor cut to order and slapped into a tortilla with chopped onion and a smoky salsa hot enough to make New Yorkers howl--take an obnoxious Mets fan.

Truck operates weekends, behind 1104 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles, (213) 738-9197.

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