After spending a winter buried under record-breaking snow and finally putting what started out as a coldest-ever July in the rearview, some of us in the office felt the need to seek some heat. The mission: Find the most over-the-top, mouth-scorchingly spicy dish in Anchorage.
I can be a bit of a masochist when it comes to this stuff. When I go to a Thai restaurant, I have to convince the server that I mean business when I ask for something spicier than they usually make it -- which often involves me promising not to ask for a refund. So after Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins went to Buffalo Wild Wings for the first time, he asked me if anyone in town served something hotter than their Blazin' sauce.
I didn't have an answer.
I grew up in Tennessee, and the Extra Hot at Prince's Hot Chicken in Nashville was the hottest thing I'd ever eaten -- nothing in Anchorage had come close. So I checked out the Blazin' wings myself. It didn't hold a candle to Prince's.
Surely there's some place in town catering to spicy food fiends, right? So we asked around on Facebook and Twitter, getting recommendations from like-minded readers to aid in our search.
Lots of diners remembered the Anchor Pub's ghost pepper wings, a dish that sounded more like a science experiment than food. It was also more of a competition than a meal. The sauce included ghost peppers, of course, plus some concoction of what I was told was pepper-spray extract. You were served six wings and had five minutes to finish. After that, you had to sit still for five more minutes, not drinking anything while a glass of milk stared you in the face.
Your reward? A T-shirt and a picture of your now snotty face posted on the wall.
The Anchor stopped using its kitchen a year ago, so fortunately for us, we didn't have to go through that ringer. So what dish replaced it as Anchorage's spiciest? Here's what we found:
Lahn Pad Thai
Item: Kra Pad Pao Chicken
Heat index (1-10): 6
The vast majority of recommendations were Thai restaurants, so at Lahn Pad Thai I picked the item on the menu that had three stars for spiciness. When placing my order I asked the server how much hotter they could make it. She said 20 stars but talked me down to 15. When the cook picked up the ticket, she called the server back to make sure it wasn't a mistake. "Even Thai people don't eat it that hot," the other server said.
I was intimidated by the time I got back to the office. When I opened the foam container, the dish glowed red. But its bark was worse than its bite. Probably should have gone for 20 stars.
Item: Ka Prao Chicken
Heat index: 7
The spice level on the Thai Siam menu goes to 3, but you can push it to 10. The person taking my order was hesitant to let me go past 5, but after I told her I'd had a 7 here before, she relented.
Either my threshold is greater than it used to be or she still didn't take me seriously, but it wasn't as hot as I remembered. That said, this one was a contender.
Wings 'n Things
Item: Nuke Wings
Heat index: 5
Long a standard-bearer for hot wings locally, Wings 'n' Things' success is built more on flavor than heat. In terms of sheer spiciness, there's no envelope pushing here, but I'll take their chicken over Buffalo Wild Wings any day.
Item: Lamb Vindaloo
Heat index: 7.5
Bombay Deluxe was one of the more frequently mentioned recommendations, so Kyle asked them to do their dirtiest. At first we shrugged it off as a lightweight, but there was a creep-heat that eventually took hold halfway through the meal. We hadn't found our spiciest dish yet, but we were getting there.
Item: Pad Ped
Heat index: 7
"Spicy here is very hot," I was told after placing my order at Bangkok Café. When we asked readers for the spiciest dish in town, this place was probably mentioned most behind the Anchor's ghost pepper wings. While the reputation here isn't undue, it might be a little overblown.
Item: Papaya Salad
Heat index: 4
While the papaya salad at Pho Lena is delicious, it's probably the wrong dish to represent the restaurant for this competition. But it was suggested too many times to ignore. Again, good but not spicy.
Item: Thai Spicy Chicken
Heat index: 6.5
When we asked at the Thai spots for something served over-the-top spicy, Chiang Mai took the least amount of convincing, hardly batting an eye when I asked them to make their Thai Spicy Chicken as spicy as they could. This was another instance of creeping heat, falling just below Thai Siam and Bangkok Cafe.
Heat index: 2
If someone asks for the spiciest dish in town and you feel compelled to recommend the samosas at Capri Pizza, don't. I've had spicier ice cream.
Item: Super Nova Wings
Heat index: 8.5
Hood Wings' Ron "Is-Real" Colvin called the Super Novas "a murder case for your face," and they murdered the competition.
The rest of the competition that's still out there, that is. While there's still a void of mettle-proving heat in our local eats, for a couple weeks that role was filled by a temporary special that buried the competition before disappearing from the menu this week...
Item: Atomic Chicken Bites
Heat index: 9
Moose's Tooth's menu regularly includes a set of specials that change every two weeks. Through last Tuesday, one of those specials carried the all-caps disclaimer "WARNING: VERY SPICY" everywhere it appeared -- on the table menu, on the chalkboard behind the register, online, everywhere.
Management told me that the dish was concocted after they repeatedly received customer comments that the pizzeria's habanero wings just weren't hot enough. The response was Atomic Chicken Bites: boneless pieces of chicken doused in a hot wing sauce made with ghost peppers. The heat was enough to give me the hiccups immediately after the first bite.
But since I can still place an order for Hood Wings' Super Novas, the title of Spiciest Dish in Anchorage has to go there, though that feels a bit like a technicality. Those wings may have left the newsroom with sweaty brows and watery eyes, but my mouth is still burning from Moose's Tooth.
Play searches for Anchorage's spiciest dish