I’d like to quote Russell Peters and warn anyone thinking of going to Hunan Chilli King that “somebody’s gonna get-a-hurt real bad.” Walking in, it’s easy to see that the restaurant specializes in one thing: oily, garlicky pain. Just take a look around and notice all the chilli-peppers decorating the walls and columns. It’s a warning from the old days when people used to put their enemies’ heads on a spear and use it to warn off other potential enemies. It says, “don’t even bother sitting down if you have any doubts about eating spicy food.” Seriously, if you think a regular spicy tuna roll is too spicy, keep on driving.
Whenever I go to a new restaurant, I like to look around and see what other people are eating. This is difficult at Hunan Chilli King because most of their dishes look the same: garlicky, red, and spicy. Luckily, one of my dining companions had come here before and could suggest a few dishes.
My favorite dish of the night was the stir fried sliced lamb. Each bite of lamb was thinly sliced with a good ratio of meat to fat. The peppers and garlic made this dish extra exciting because each mouthful hurt, but oh, it hurt so bad. Normally, I’d complain that there’s way too many peppers compared to the pieces of meat, but it actually worked in this dish because some of the peppers were mild enough to chew on. But since it’s hard to tell which ones are heat-bombs and which ones are mild, tread lightly.
We also ordered another meat dish, but with chicken instead of lamb. On hindsight, I’m not sure we should have ordered something that was so much like the last dish save for the protein substitution, but now I can confidently write that if you don’t like the taste of lamb, this chicken dish will get you the same spices without any of the gamey taste. The chicken stir fry also came with the addition of pickled long beans, which were deliciously salty and crunchy.
The menu at Hunan Chilli King is not the most vegetarian-friendly, but the two vegetarians of our four person group didn’t go starving. As long as someone in your party can speak Mandarin, you should be able to get (supposedly) vegetarian dishes. For the vegetarians who eat egg, there’s the ubiquitous chives (or is it Chinese leeks?) and scrambled eggs. Since the BF doesn’t eat eggs, the waitress was nice enough to replace the eggs with nagaimo yam. I’ve never had this variation of the dish before, but thought it was a great idea. I liked the slimy, crisp texture of the yam in combination with the pungent flavor of the chives, but this may not be for people who get thrown off by strange textures. I returned to this dish several times during the night to give my mouth a break from the heat.
We also ordered a sliced baked tofu stir-fry type dish with bean sprouts, chinese celery, and peppers. It tasted good and had plenty of heat, so I was glad that the kitchen wasn’t skimping on putting peppers in the vegetarian plates. I’d like the ability to conjure this dish out of thin air to combat those people who say they hate tofu because it’s bland and tasteless because this dish was certainly not.
My favorite vegetarian plate of the night was the home-style fried tofu. The tofu was crispy and savory with sauce on the outside, but soft and almost silky on the inside — what a perfect combination. This dish wasn’t as spicy as the others, but maybe it was because the soy-based sauce was more on the sweet side than anything else we ordered.
Hunan Chilli King is a good change of pace for anyone who wants spicy Chinese food but is getting tired of Chung King. This place doesn’t use any numbing peppercorns, so it’s certainly for those who are fans of straight spicy food. I downed a cup of the ubiquitous Chinese yogurt drink while eating at this restaurant, but even that didn’t save my stomach the next day, but it was worth it.
Hunan Chilli King
534 E Valley Blvd
Unit 2 & 3
San Gabriel, CA 91776