Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater New York where the site’s editors, reporters, and critics answer specific or baffling restaurant requests from readers and friends. A new question and answer will run every Thursday. Have a question for us? Submit your question in this form.
I'm new to New York City, and my mom is coming to visit me soon. I want to impress her — she really likes spicy food, and it has to be reasonably priced. Alcohol would be great, but it's not necessary. Vietnamese and Korean cuisine are my go-tos, and I like the level of spice at places like Xi'an Famous Foods, for reference. I'd also prefer it to be on the 4/5/6 or N/Q/R/W. Anything tasty/affordable is right up my alley, and since I'm new, I'm open to mostly anything! The goal is always to leave a restaurant happy and full.
— Affordable and Fiery
You are definitely in luck, because New York City offers some of the world’s spiciest fare from a dizzying array of restaurant types. We’ve got Mexican and Tex-Mex, Indian and Nepalese, Cajun and Peruvian, Calabrian and Jamaican and Senegalese, as well as Sichuan and Hunan, all easily falling into the peppery category for at least a portion of the menu. So, since your go-tos are Korean, Vietnamese, and Central Chinese (via Xi’an Famous Foods), let’s push the envelope a bit.
A couple of blocks south of the 6 train stop at Spring Street on the edge of Soho is Lan Larb, a comfortable and attractive cafe specializing in the Isan cuisine of northeastern Thailand. The chef is Ratchanee Sumpatboon, a woman who has never been known to tone down the chiles.
Try the tamarind-based seafood soup, which perfumes the broth with a fiery spice paste called jaew, or any of the versions of green papaya salad. My favorite dishes are the meat salads called larbs, of which the duck and catfish versions are best. Wash the meal down with lager or riesling. Hint: Don’t forget to tell your server that you want your food hot, which is good advice in any restaurant that serves spicy food.