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The 12 Essential Spicy Dishes in Los Angeles

Eater editors pick their favorite palate-scorchers

While tastes certainly vary within the ranks at Eater LA, our entire team can always rally around unabashedly spicy food that warms our bellies and brings on a lil’ sweat. Fortunately, Los Angeles is a hotbed for the kind of bold and confident cooking that never shies from hitting palates with an avalanche of heat. From the braised short ribs at Sun Nong Dan in Koreatown to the crab curry at Luv2Eat Thai Bistro in Hollywood and the lamb vindaloo at Badmaash in Downtown, here now are Eater editors’ spicy favorites in Los Angeles.

Veggie timbal at Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen in Bell Gardens

Veggie timbal at Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen.
Veggie timbal at Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen
Mona Holmes

Upon entering Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen, take a deep inhale. It’s impossible to pinpoint which of the six moles dominate the room. The Bell Gardens restaurant is an LA staple where chef Rocio Camacho dazzles. And Rocio staff prepare a dish that is often overlooked in the vegetarian section. The gorgeous veggie timbal takes thinly sliced zucchini strips and layers them between vegetables and mostly melty, gooey cheese. This dish isn’t remotely spicy until you choose your preferred sauce. The deeply dark, smoky Oaxaqueño mole packs a wonderful punch of heat to the timbal. But for those who need slightly less spice — emphasis on slight — the pipian (pumpkin seed) verde is equally flavorful and almost as heat-packed. 7891 Garfield Ave., Bell Gardens. — Mona Holmes

Galbijjim at Sun Nong Dan in Koreatown

Cheese-topped braised short rib at Sun Nong Dan
Galbijjim at Sun Nong Dan
Matthew Kang

Galbijjim is traditionally not spicy at all, though with the recent wave of Koreatown restaurants looking to amp up the flavor, it was only a matter of time until the ultra-popular Sun Nong Dan decided to offer a super-spicy version of its braised short rib specialty. This one is spicier than anything a Korean person over the age of 50 would tolerate. It’s unreasonable, singeing the palate with a mix of Korean chiles, jalapenos, and other fresh chiles. It’s also oddly pleasurable, with the roasty meats swimming among chewy rice cakes, softened potatoes, and tender carrots with a sweetness that tempers the fiery spice. 3470 W. 6th St. #7, Los Angeles. — Matthew Kang

Camarones aguachiles at Coni’Seafood in Inglewood

Camarones aguachiles at Coni’Seafood.
Camarones aguachiles at Coni’Seafood
Cathy Chaplin

The folks at Coni’Seafood literally go the extra mile to serve the freshest seafood around, traveling to the Mexican coast several times a month to source fish and shrimp for the restaurant. One taste of Sinaloa native chef Sergio Penuelas’s camarones aguachiles and it’s clear that the extra effort is worth it. Flash marinated with lime juice, salt, and fresh jalapeno, the still-raw shrimp are the ideal balance of supple and spicy. For those inclined to eat each prawn from nose to tail, the heads are superbly crunchy, but careful: their whiskers can get tangly. 544 W. Imperial Hwy., Inglewood. — Cathy Chaplin

Ghost chile lamb vindaloo at Badmaash in Downtown

Ghost chile lamb vindaloo at Badmaash in Downtown.
Ghost chile lamb vindaloo at Badmaash
[Official Photo]

If there’s one thing the guys from hit LA Indian restaurant Badmaash are known for, it’s being themselves. The Mahendro family is known for doing whatever they want inside their own kitchen, from LA’s best lamb burger to slow-cooked beef short ribs with a cumin-laced curry. That said, one of the team’s sleeper dishes is also among its most direct: the ghost chile lamb vindaloo, a slow braise of meat and heat that comes with plenty of oomph thanks to a generous helping of bhut jolokia, otherwise known as ghost pepper. This is the kind of smoky, fiery, fiercely fantastic dish that reminds you that doubting the Mahendro family about anything is a bad idea. 108 W. 2nd St., #104, Los Angeles. — Farley Elliott

Crab curry kanomjean at Luv2Eat Thai Bistro in East Hollywood

A metal bowl filled with crab curry sits on a wooden table; next to it is a white plate with accoutrement including boiled eggs, shredded vegetables, and herbs.
Crab curry kanomjean at Luv2Eat Thai Bistro

Luv2Eat’s Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip — lovingly known as Chef Pla and Fern — hold the crown for one of LA’s spiciest dishes, the Phuket-style crab curry kanomjean. There’s plenty on this menu that can titillate the senses, but this one requires patience and commitment with so many bold flavors throughout. Add plenty of Thai basil, bean sprouts, noodles, and onion before digging in, but hold off for a bit. Observe this gorgeous, fragrant, golden-brown curry with crab extremities sticking out from the bowl. Keep napkins — this dish is gloriously messy — plus a glass of milk or Thai iced tea on the ready. Whether ordered mild or unbelievably spicy, this specialty curry is a fiery reminder of why LA will always have a place for Chef Pla and Fern. 6660 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles. — Mona Holmes

Tantanmen at Killer Noodle Tsujita on Sawtelle

Downtown-style tantanmen from Killer Noodle
Tantanmen at Killer Noodle Tsujita
Matthew Kang

Orochon’s Special No. 2 is unequivocally the spiciest ramen in Los Angeles, a bowl lifted out of hell itself, most likely. Killer Noodle, on the other hand, also offers a very good spicy tan tan men, ringing with both sancho and numbing Sichuan peppercorn in a nutty sesame broth. The tangier Downtown bowl is also stellar, and so spicy that it will require ample water and napkins to survive. Killer Noodle’s excellence comes from its wavy noodles, which pick up the broth with ease and provide a delicious vehicle for slurping up the flavors. 2030 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles. — Matthew Kang

Gaeng hang lae at Northern Thai Food Club in East Hollywood

Gaeng hang lae in a black plastic bowl on a shiny metal table, at Northern Thai Food Club in LA’s Thai Town
Gaeng hang lae at Northern Thai Food Club
Cathy Chaplin

It’s a tight squeeze inside of Northern Thai Food Club in East Hollywood, but gingerly shimmy in between the shelves lined with imported ingredients and fresh produce for a front-row view of the brimming buffet. While most everyone orders the khao soi and the house-made sausages, don’t overlook the admittedly homely gaeng hang lae — a ruddy-hued Thai-Burmese pork curry made with tamarind paste and ginger root. Eaten with sticky rice, the spice-forward stew is unrivaled in its balance and flavor. Sopping up every last bit of the gravy is essential. 5301 Sunset Blvd. #11, Los Angeles. — Cathy Chaplin

Papaya salad at Ruen Pair in East Hollywood

Papaya salad at Ruen Pair in East Hollywood on a plate.
Papaya salad at Ruen Pair
Cathy Chaplin

There’s papaya salad, and then there’s Ruen Pair’s papaya salad. The longtime Thai Town tenant is known for keeping late-night hours and serving up a wide variety of Thai dishes, though without the kind of heat-is-everything cred that Jitlada earns. Still, don’t underestimate the waves of sharp, sustained fire that come from the crispy, crunchy, fresh papaya salad at Ruen Pair. There’s a reason this is one of the most signature dishes in all of Thai Town; it’s as delicious as it is spicy. 5257 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. — Farley Elliott

Aguachile tostada at Mariscos 4 Vientos in Boyle Heights

Aguachile tostada at Mariscos 4 Vientos in Boyle Heights.
Aguachile tostada at Mariscos 4 Vientos.
[Official Photo]

With four Mariscos 4 Vientos a few miles away from each other in Boyle Heights, it’s entirely possible to drive past and seek out the least crowded option when searching for the aguachile tostada. The first bite is always refreshing. But as the flavors release, take it as a warning: the heat levels will only go up. Keep going, because the combination of the onion, garlic, lime, serrano, and sliced shrimp or white fish are what makes mariscos so wonderful, even as they bring on the sweats. The avocados can provide a mild respite from the heat, unless it’s doused with chile. Just order an icy horchata and relish the pain and pleasure that is Mariscos 4 Vientos. 3000 E. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. — Mona Holmes

Numb taste wontons at Chengdu Taste in San Gabriel

Numb taste wontons at Chengdu Taste in San Gabriel
Numb taste wontons at Chengdu Taste
Cathy Chaplin

Among the numerous spicy dishes at Chengdu Taste, perhaps none carries the intensity of Sichuan peppercorn like the “numb taste” wontons, packed with green and red chile oil that provides a surprising amount of depth to the classic dish. Stir the thin wonton wrappers encasing juicy pork bites to coat them in the sauce and then take them in one by one. While the sheer heat won’t surpass some of LA’s spicier dishes, it’s hard to think of a dish that awakens the numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorn as well as these wontons. Drink some cold water afterward for maximum numbing effect. 828 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. — Matthew Kang

Chiles toreados taco at Guisados in Boyle Heights

Chiles toreados taco at Guisados.
Chiles toreados taco at Guisados
[Official Photo]

“This taco is extremely spicy,” the menu at Guisados reads. Frankly, that’s not nearly enough of a disclaimer. The chiles toreados taco at this Boyle Heights institution may well be among the hottest three bite-dishes anywhere, thanks to its mix of Thai chiles, jalapenos, serrano peppers, and generous habanero peppers and salsa. Luckily, the taco is more than just a pure fireball; it’s a blistered, satisfying concoction served on the restaurant’s signature handmade corn tortillas along with a smear of black beans. Tread lightly, but don’t be afraid to try it at least once, especially because there’s plenty of cooling (and excellent) horchata nearby. 2100 East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles. — Farley Elliott

Khandvi at Surati Farsan Mart in Artesia

Tantalizing methai (sweets) and chat (snacks) are what it’s all about at Surati Farsan Mart, a stylish shop in Artesia specializing in Gujarati-style nibbles since 1986. One of the most wonderfully spicy snacks are the khandvi — silky pasta-like sheets made of chickpea flour and yogurt that are tightly coiled, trimmed, and garnished with fresh cilantro, black mustard seeds, and plenty of grated unsweetened coconut. Sold by the pound, the bite-sized rolls get their heat from a combination of fresh chiles and ginger in the batter. Go ahead and order a solid pound or two, because it’s nearly impossible to eat just a few of these irresistibly hot bites. 11814 186th St., Artesia. — Cathy Chaplin