People who like their food extra, extra spicy are a special breed.
Their preferred flavor is six-alarm, and the phrases they use to describe their favorite dishes sound like the come straight from the torture chamber: “pain-inducing,” “hotter than Hades,” “almost unbearable,” “melt-your-face hot,” “blowtorch on your lips,” “punishment on a bun.”
All of these phrases, mind you, are delivered as endorsements, not complaints.
Recently, I asked Wichita diners to identify the city’s spiciest dishes, those that should be eaten only by people with guts (and tastebuds) of steel. My inquiry was inspired by a post I saw online by a local diner who’d just tried Dempsey’s Biscuit Co.’s extra-extra-extra-hot chicken called The Reaper.
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Her lips, she said, had turned into hell’s gates. Her saliva was now lava.
She’d like to tell you more about how hot the hot chicken she’d just eaten was, but that was impossible. Her mouth was dead.
“Ordering The Reaper was a mistake,” she wrote.
I’ve never been a huge fan of spicy food. I can handle a little kick, but anything beyond that tends to numb my taste buds, and I can’t really taste anything that comes after it. But I know several people who don’t want to eat anything if it doesn’t set their mouths ablaze.
One of them is Bill Ramsey, who owns the local uBreakiFix stores. He didn’t love spicy food when he was a kid, he said, but when he joined the Navy and got to sample food in countries like Japan, Thailand and Indonesia, he developed a taste for it.
Now it’s all he wants.
“Chemically, they say, it releases dopamine into your body and gives it a little bit of a euphoria,” he said. “I just love to have that burn that lasts for a couple of hours.”
Ramsey said he has a “dizzying array” of hot sauces and powders in his kitchen and is always trying new ones to see whether he can get his food just a little hotter. He puts it on everything, even adding things like habanero powder to his barbecue rubs.
He has trouble finding food hot enough for him in Wichita, but Thai House at 969 N. West St. gets pretty close. When he orders food, he asks for it “super Thai hot.”
He still misses Yen Ching, the Wichita Chinese restaurant that closed in 2014. They always knew exactly how he liked his food.
“They knew what I wanted when I walked in: garlic chicken extra, extra, extra, extra, extra, extra, extra, extra, extra-spicy. They would literally just bring me a bowl of it when they saw me,” he said.
When Ramsey first tried The Reaper chicken at Dempsey’s Biscuit Co. – whose menu description reads “For Those Who Ain’t Got No Soul” – he didn’t think it was spicy enough. But they’ve tinkered with the recipe to his satisfaction, he said. It’s now insanely hot – hot enough to possibly sicken someone with limited experience in eating face-melting foods.
Sebastian Gordon, who manages the new Dempsey’s Biscuit Co. at 3425 E. Douglas, said he used to also be leery of extra-spicy food. But Dempsey’s owner Steven Gaudreau became obsessed with Nashville hot fried chicken, and before he decided to open the his new restaurant, he took Gordon to Nashville to try it.
Spicy food that has a flavor and isn’t hot just for the sake of being hot is what Gordon says he now craves. The Reaper chicken, which makes the restaurant’s “hot” and “hot hot” chicken seem tame, is flavorful and delightfully painful all at once, he said. It’s made with a combination of ghost peppers and Carolina reaper peppers.
“When you eat something really, really hot and then the temperature fades, you feel awesome,” he said. “It cleans you out. Your body feels great. It’s nice.”
Bann Thai, the restaurant that Wanwaree Jackson owns at 3811 W. 13th St. North, also has a solid reputation with fans of spicy food. Even her mild dishes have a noticeable kick.
She has a spice chart posted on a white board in the restaurant. Mild dishes have 1/4 teaspoon of spice. Thai hot has 3 tablespoons.
Jackson said she loves spicy food, but it must be treated with respect. If she eats it too often, she feels severe intestinal distress.
“Not too many people can handle the Thai hot here,” she said. “I eat Thai hot once a month. That’s all.”
In pursuit of this story, I sampled both Dempsey’s Reaper chicken and a dish of green curry, Thai hot, from Bann Thai, and it was an experience. Perhaps my heat tolerance has grown, but I didn’t break a sweat with either. My eyes watered, and at moments, I felt like my mouth was on fire, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. And the flavor of both dishes was top-rate.
My lips burned for an hour, and the next morning I felt ... funny for a little while. But I didn’t die, and I didn’t consider it a major mistake.
Maybe just a mild one.
Wichita’s hottest dishes
Here’s a few suggestions from Wichita diners who love spice.
▪ Dempsey’s Biscuit Co., 3425 E. Douglas: “Just breathing in the Reaper tickled my lungs. Like when roasting Thai peppers in a frying pan.” – Nanou Woodcock
▪ Thai Tradition, 650 N. Carriage Parkway: “Thai Tradition will make any dish Chef or Kay hot. I usually order one or the other and honestly they are both so melt-your-face hot that it’s tough to discern the difference.” – Chad Cowan
▪ Thai House, 969 N. West St.: “Order ANYTHING Thai Hot. It will hurt ya.” – Bill Ramsey
▪ Chiang Mai, 3141 S. Hillside: “When you can convince them to use fresh chiles.” – Kevin Langenwalter
▪ Ruben’s, 915 W. Douglas: “While not pain-inducing for me (there’s almost no such thing as ‘too spicy’), the Camorones a la Diabla from Ruben’s packs a pretty serious punch. Everything they do is fantastic, but it’s now the only thing I order.” – Taylor White
▪ The Anchor, 1109 W. Douglas: “The ghost pepper sauce at The Anchor that I add to the Burn Baby Burn ... Gotta love a good endorphin rush.” – Devin Brown
▪ Charng-An, 9203 W. Central: “The spicy noodles at Charng-An on West Central. I always get them with extra chili paste, I like it HOT!! They aren’t on the menu, but if you ask for them they’ll deliver!” – Dixie Messing
▪ Promise Thai, 313 S. Greenwich: “I order my wife Pad Thai at Promise. I tell them to make it as spicy as they can. After a few times of getting hellish hot pad Thai to go, they asked me if my wife is Thai. Nope.” – Jack Jones
▪ Magic Wok, 9504 W. Central: “It’s called their ‘kitchen sauce.’ You have to ask for it. Just a small dab makes a whole plate full of food hotter than hell.” – Vern Henry
▪ The Kamayan Truck, food truck: “Spicy fish sauce on sticky rice from The Kamayan Truck. So spicy I got the hiccups. So flavorful I couldn’t stop eating it.” – Brian Hayes
▪ Bomber Burger, 4860 S. Clifton: “Bomber burger will make a burger hotter than Hades. You have to be very careful how you describe the level of heat you are after. He makes them custom. Not on the menu.” – Frank McCurry
▪ Passage to India, 6100 E. 21st St. North: “Spicy lamb vindaloo. Only a mango lassi can cure it.” – Jeremiah Harvey
▪ Bahn Thai, 3811 W. 13th St. “Everything is amazing and she makes the spiciest Thai food in town because everything is so authentic.” – Lacey Stone
▪ Ming’s, 1625 S. Seneca: “Ask for Eileen’s hot sauce and tell them to make it ‘20 stars hot.’ Fire.” – Keith Lietzke