“Wow, you like hot oil,” more than one waiter at the Chinese joint in Levittown would say to my father when he requested a small dish of the stuff. “Hot oil make you live a long time.” Earlier this week Time published an article citing a link between eating fiery food and longevity, based on a study of about 500,000 Chinese.
Lu Qi, the author of the study writes “It appears that increasing your intake moderately, just to 1-2 or 3-5 times a week, shows very similar protective effect,” he says. “Just increase moderately. That’s maybe enough.” Based on that statement I might just live forever. With further ado, please enjoy this list of C+M’s favorite spicy foods in Queens.
1. Kuai tiao Summer, Plant Love House
I may no longer order my food Thai spicy. , but the bowl of Kuai tiao that goes by the name Summer ($12.95) at Plant Love House, remains the most incendiary Thai noodle soup I have ever slurped. “Summer. The heat is real. Dare you to try,” reads a menu insert with a picture of this blazingly hot take on tom yum. A gigantic prawn lolls in the red broth along with a hard-boiled egg, bacon, and a home-made sweet pork patty. The latter is a good counterpoint to the spicy broth which has an undertone of lime, chili, and garlic. There’s a nice smokiness from the bacon, but above all there’s the unmistakable flamethrower heat that comes from plenty of red chilies. Plant Love House, 86-08 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, 718-565-2010
2. Sandheko wai wai, Dhaulaghiri Kitchen
Whenever I try to characterize Nepali food, I find myself saying, “It’s like Indian food but spicier and different.” Sandheko Wai Wai ($3.50), a Nepalese chaat made from crushed ramen noodles fits both descriptors. The noodles are mixed with onions, raw garlic, tomatoes, red pepper, and plenty of green chilies, among other things. Crunchy and spicy it will have you mopping your brow. Dhaulagiri Kitchen, 37-38 72nd St., Jackson Heights
3. Pepper Shrimp, Maima’s Liberian Bistro
The last time I ate the pepper shrimp ($12) at Maima’s Liberian Bistro was with Andrew Zimmern. “Wait for it,” the Bizarre Foods America host said as I popped a shrimp in my mouth. About three seconds later I flushed and then gasped. Despite the unrelenting Scotch Bonnet heat, the sweetness of the shrimp shines through in the dish at Queens only Liberian eatery. Maima’s Liberian Bistro, 106-38 Guy R.Brewer Blvd., Jamaica, 718-206-3538
4. Gui Zhou liang fen, Gui Zhou Miao Jia
This $5 bowl of mung bean noodles has earned a place in my heart and stomach as among the best spicy cold noodles in Flushing Chinatown. It’s listed on the menu of Gui Zhou Miao Jia as “Gui zhou vermicelli.” The broad slippery strands topped with salty roasted peanuts, piquant pickled radish, chili, green onions, and preserved greens are hardly vermicelli. Mix up the entire lot and dig into a bowl of cold noodles that’s simultaneously sour, spicy, and crunchy. Gui Zhou Miao Jia, 136-55 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, 917-285-2535
5. Ohn-no kout swei, Crazy Crab 888
Crazy Crab 888 has the distinction of being the only Cajun seafood boil/Burmese restaurant in Queens and all of New York City. There’s plenty of Burmese fare, including tea leaf salad, but one of my favorite’s is an off-menu item, ohn-no kout swei. The spicy chicken noodle soup sports a coconut-enriched broth brimming with fried tofu cubes, curry leaves, and fish balls. Consider it the best-kept Burmese spicy soup secret in Queens. Crazy Crab 888,40-42 College Point Blvd, Flushing, 718-353-8188
6. Lao Papaya Salad, Zabb Elee
Zabb Elee, the only Michelin starred Thai restaurant in Queens, boasts seven types of papaya salad, or som tum. These range from a pretty standard Thai version with dried shrimp and peanuts ($8) to my favorite: Lao style som tum poo plara ($8). Zabb’s version does not hold back on the fishy, funky, fiery flavors of Southeast Asia. Half of a preserved blue crab—salty and funky yet still sweet and juicy—surmounts a tangle of crunchy papaya, long beans, hemispheres of Thai eggplant, and, for added crunch, Thai chicharron. The whole affair sits in a shallow pool of liquid that’s a study in fishy, spicy, and citrusy flavors. It’s best ordered spicy with a side of kao neaw, Thai sticky rice ($2). Roll it into balls and use it to sop up the liquid. Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992
7. Kari laksa, Curry Leaves
When I’m in the mood for something spicy in the morning there’s nothing better than a bowl of customizable Malaysian kari laksa from Curry Leaves in Flushing. I like to go in the wee hours of the morning—oh, say 4 a.m.—when the crew behind the longest-running pop-up in Queens is just getting started. Laksa and other Malaysian snacks are served cafeteria style from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily. Choose your noodle (go for yellow), broth (kari laksa), and your fixings, your choice of a half dozen or so items including several types of fish balls, fried wontons, and char siu. Curry Leaves, 135-31 40th Road, Flushing, 718-762-9313