Your mouth is talking to you. It’s saying: “When do I get a vacation? You’ve got summer plans to revive your brain and the rest of your body. What about your palate, buddy?” I’m as guilty as the next eater of falling into a culinary rut. Eventually, I listen to that inner voice and seek out fare that’s hotter, spicier and more exotic than my usual.
The point is not to inflict serious pain on myself. I’ve done that judging salsa and chile. I want a full measure of heat with intense and unusual spices and textures and flavors. Sometimes I want to taste in 3-D HD where the flavors fly off the fork. We asked some local hotheads to suggest dishes served at local eateries that fill the bill. Here’s a vacation week’s-worth of wake-up cuisine.
Spicy calamari: Japango. 1136 Pearl St., Boulder, 303.938.0330. Japango’s calamari appetizer includes sautéed, never deep-fried squid liberally splashed with Sriracha, the thick red pepper hot sauce. We like it with sashimi and a little sinus-clearing wasabi on the side.
Pete’s Heat hot sauce: Tortugas, 218 Coffman St., Longmont, 303-772-6954. Whether you order etouffee or grilled mahi at Tortuga’s, Longmont’s Caribbean-influenced restaurant, always get some of the house-made Pete’s Heat hot sauce. It’s amazing stuff made from ground mustard, papaya, habanero, pineapple, honey and herbs. It’s also sold bottled at the restaurant and online.
Lobito agua chiles: Colorado Steakhouse & Mexican Grill, 11961 Bradburn Blvd., Westminster, 720.937.5749. Big citrus-y shrimp are cooked in tomato sauce with cukes, onions and tons of blistering dried chiles for a bigger-than-life impact. Eat it in 20 minutes without drinking anything and it’s free; otherwise, it’s $12.
Green curry with chicken: U.S.Thai, 5228 25th Ave., Edgewater, 303.233.3345. Order this authentic eatery’s green curry with chicken, bamboo shoot, Thai basil, coconut milk, and vegetables and then say “Thai hot.” The servers will ask you if you’re sure. Say “yes” and be prepared to sweat your way to an out of body experience.
Chile verde: Efrain’s Mexican Restaurant III, 451 S. Pratt Parkway, Longmont, 720.494.0777. Efrain’s dishes true Northern Mexican-style hot green chile. The bowl of spice-flecked broth is packed with roasted peppers and chunks of fall-apart pork with a flaming bite that scares you and then beckons you back for more. Lay in an ample supply of flour tortillas, chips, water and beer.
Buffalo-style hot wings: Willy’s Wings, 109 Bear Creek Lane, Morrison, 303.697.1232. For some places chicken wings are just an appetizer. At Willy’s, it’s more like a religion. Order 10, 20, 30 or 100 of the meaty wings straight from the fryer. We like to get both the four alarm XX-hot sauce and the more sweetly complex spicy barbecue sauce. On the side they have corn dogs, deep-fried Rocky Mountain oysters and deep-fried apple turnover or cheesecake.
Lamb vindaloo: Kathmandu Restaurant, 110 North Jefferson St., Nederland, 303.258.1169. The lamb vindaloo ordered “hot” at this mountain town eatery is what we call sneaky-spicy. You take a bite and notice the many flavorings, the tender meat and subtle tart undertones before this urgent blaze flickers and grows until you’re left slightly dazed but quite happy with a sweaty forehead.
Cool tip: To cool the BTU’s (actually Scoville Units) in your mouth, some suggest milk but beer is more effective. The best of all is spirits—i.e., tequila, vodka, brandy, etc—because alcohol most easily dissolves the heat-inducing oil containing capsaicin, and frankly dulls the habanero agony. Another great reason to drink tequila with your green chile!
Got a fiery favorite on a local menu? Don’t keep it to yourself. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep an eye out this summer for a silvery Airstream trailer at Chautauqua, the Louisville Street Faire and the Twenty Ninth Street Mall. Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg and partner Laura Rice are debuting StrEat Chefs, a gourmet food truck. Their goal is to launch a national street food company.…Oliv You & Me, 2043 Broadway next to the Savory Spice Shop, is the first Boulder County store to carry my favorite artisan salumi crafted by Denver’s new Il Mondo Vecchio. The shop also sells a world of fine olive oils plus a light lunch including soup, sandwiches and quiche.…Oliv You & Me is one of the stops for the recently launched Local Table Tours. The Saturday Market to Table Tour on June 19 starts with an insider’s visit to the Boulder County Farmer’s Market and finishes at nearby restaurants for a tasting of dishes using local ingredients. Details at: localtabletours.com.
The folks who operate the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Leaf, Aji and Huckleberry have opened the doors of Zucca Italian Ristorante at 808 Main St., Louisville. …Zoe Ma Ma is open at 2010 10th St. (between Pasta J’s and Sushi Tora) offering Asian street food favorites.…The Cheeky Monk is pouring 38 Belgian ales and American craft brews at Orchard Town Center, 14694 Orchard Parkway, Westminster. The café and bar is also open in Winter Park and Denver.…India’s Clay Oven is serving favorite curries at 5290 Arapahoe Ave. in the former Royal Peacock spot.…The bike-themed Rueben’s Burger Bistro is dishing various burgers on pretzel buns at 1800 Broadway.…Coming soon: In a clear case of gastronomic irony, the meat-glorifying Ted’s Montana Grill will fill the former veggie-friendly Sunflower space at 1701 Pearl St., Boulder.
Free tastes of Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Torte and Raspberry Bliss dessert drinks are on the menu as A Grand Finale hosts Eat Dessert First 5–8pm June 11 at 489 N. Highway 287, Lafayette.…The puckered-up Rhubarb Festival June 13 in Pine Grove features a pancake breakfast with rhubarb sauce, rhubarb pie and a celebrated rhubarb cooking contest; details at historicpinegrove.com.…Well, $295 tickets for the grand tasting pavilion are still available for the major domo of American food festivals, the FOOD & WINE Classic June 18-20 in Aspen. If you want to hang out with Mario Batali, David Chang, Giada De Laurentiis, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pépin, Tom Colicchio and Rick Bayless be prepared to dish out the big bucks. I’d go just to sit in on Joshua Wesson’s Haute Dog session: pairing vino with wieners. For information check out foodandwine.com/classic-in-aspen. …The Greenbriar Inn hosts a Lefthand Brewing Company beer dinner July 22. greenbriarinn.com, 303.440.7979. …Can Man handle The West End Tavern’s wing king challenge? Find out on June 16 at 7pm, when Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food takes on Boulder. Watch it at the tavern to take advantage of food and drink specials.…For even deeper immersion in our local foodshed, join me for Radio Nibbles 8:25am Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, and KGNU.org), and read my food trend blog at johnlehndorff.wordpress.com.
“You don’t get tired of muffins but you don’t find inspiration in them either.”
—Playwright George Bernard Shaw.