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The Adventurous Eaters’ Checklist

Take dining out to the next level with these delicacies, plus a dish so spicy you need to sign a waiver
Cow's head soup at De Cabeza | Photos: Madison Parker

By Chase Scheinbaum

The Ring of Fire


Phaal Curry

World Curry

From Bangladesh by way of Britain, phaal is a scorcher even among the spiciest of curries. In San Diego, there is precisely one place to order it: World Curry. Slow cooked with tomato, garlic, and ginger, the chicken curry gets its searing heat from a combination of Thai, serrano, habanero, and ghost peppers. Only a few dozen tough-tongued patrons have finished a 12-ounce portion of it, served on a pyramid of rice, in 30 minutes; those who have are immortalized on a whiteboard. Just a single customer—who to date has endured 100 of the brow-soaking phaal dinners—has earned his very own whiteboard and the undisputed title of “Phaal King.”

Pacific Beach

Scorpion Wings

Regents Pizzeria

If you are of sound mind and body and agree to release Regents Pizzeria of any liability, you may sign your tongue away on the waiver required to order these wings. The assault begins with a mixture of the two hottest types of Melinda’s Hot Sauce, scorpion pepper and ghost pepper. The wings are tossed in the sauce, which the restaurant claims packs 2 million Scoville units (your typical habanero barely cracks a quarter million), and served with a blue cheese dressing for relief. “A lot like its name, the sauce hits you really hard, really fast, but the heat dissipates quickly,” says General Manager Cary Reutter.

University Cityregentspizzeria

“Thai Hot”

Issara Thai

At this Northeastern Thai restaurant, only a few brave regulars dare request their dishes “Thai hot,” which adds a chili tamarind sauce that clocks in at a searing 15 on the normal 1-to-10 spiciness scale.

Point Loma issarathaisd


Hotter than Hell Burger

Draft Republic

This devilishly fiery burger takes every opportunity to add heat to a grass-fed beef patty and brioche bun. To wit: spicy Italian sausage and ghost pepper Jack cheese, topped with pickled jalapeño, habanero slaw, and a smearing of habanero jam.

University Citydraftrepublic

What’s That Smell?


Époisses de Bourgogne

Venissimo Cheese

Although the taste of this custardy, cream-colored French cheese is delicate, the aroma is putrid. Made of cow’s milk and rinsed with pomace brandy, Époisses belongs to the ultra-malodorous rind-washed variety. Venissimo Cheese regularly imports it, packaged in little wooden discs. Just wait until you get home to try it.

Three locations

Durian Bao

T.P. Bánh Bao 3

Durian has such a powerfully noxious stench that it’s actually banned from the Singaporean subway—but it’s softened when the fruit is blended into a sweet egg custard made with coconut milk and baked into a rice flour bun. To maximize the bouquet, eat the bao freshly fried, with ice cream or by its smelly self.

Mira Mesa 

Stinky Tofu Hot Soup

Tasty Pot

Ubiquitous in Hong Kong and Taiwan, stinky tofu is—how shall we say this?—funkier than James Brown’s socks. It can be fermented with milk, greens, herbs, and even meat, served warm, cold, stewed, deep fried, or as this Taiwanese spot in Convoy does it, in spicy soup with cabbage, fish cake, quail egg, and pork blood rice cakes for maximum funk.

Kearny Mesa tastypot

Alternative Proteins


Water Buffalo Burger

Crazee Burger

This restaurant specializes in exotic meats, like ostrich, camel, and water buffalo, a domesticated relative of bison and yak. In Asia, this beast of burden is used for everything from milking to plowing fields. At Crazee Burger, it’s slipped into a bun with Mae Ploy cilantro cream sauce.

North Park

Gusanos de Maguey

El Tejate

Gusanos de maguey, or agave worms, are the larvae of butterflies or moths that feed on the plants that beget mezcal (and are the very same critters pickled in bottles of it). These grubs have been a nutty-tasting source of protein for people in Oaxaca for centuries. They can be eaten as a taco filling, dried and ground into a flavored salt, or fried to a crisp and piled on the plate—as they’re done at this Southern Mexican spot.


Gator Po’ Boy

Cane Patch Kitchen

Flout the food chain with toothsome chunks of fried alligator served with tomatoes, pickles, and a choice of three sauces (rémoulade, spicy, honey mustard) on a buttered French roll.

Liberty Station

The Adventurous Eaters' Checklist

The Adventurous Eaters’ Checklist

Balut Surprise at Gaya Gaya Bar & Kitchen

Balut Surprise

Gaya Gaya Bar & Kitchen

In the Philippines, balut—a steamed, fertilized duck egg, aged up to three weeks—is served on the street. Once peeled, the hard-boiled mix of embryo, egg white, and yolk is eaten by hand with vinegar and salt. To save diners the trouble of peeling, chef DJ Tangalin sets the peeled egg on caramelized onion and swaddles it in puff pastry. The balut is plated with a chili, garlic, and scallion butter sauce and, rather than vinegar, served with pickled radish. “We’re adding a little French take on it,” Tangalin says. “You have a sweet element, the earthiness of the balut, the acidity of the radish, and heat from the sauce.”

Mira Mesa

Cabeza de Res en Su Jugo

De Cabeza

“Cow head in its juice” is the specialty at the aptly named De Cabeza. To make the Sonoran and Sinaloan favorite, meat from every part of the head—tongue, eye, brain, and cheek—is simmered with onion and garlic, creating a flavorful clear broth. The chopped meat is added back into the soup and served with tortillas for assembling your own heady tacos.

Chula Vista

Wash It All Down

The Adventurous Eaters' Checklist

The Adventurous Eaters’ Checklist

Tejuino at Las Uvas Tejuinos la Dona


Las Uvas Tejuinos la Dona

Corn masa and panela sugar are boiled and briefly fermented to create tejuino, a refreshing if pungent beverage often poured over shaved ice and served with lime juice and a pinch of salt. Drink it from a plastic bag in Jalisco, mixed into drinks at cocktail bars, or with scoops of lime ice cream at this National City juice bar.

632 National City Boulevard, National City

The Adventurous Eaters’ Checklist

Cow’s head soup at De Cabeza | Photos: Madison Parker

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