Heat Wave

Don't worry, I'm not going to bitch about the summer anymore. But I can't promise I won't talk about heat.

That's because my tongue's still tingling (in a good way) from repeat visits to the south Central outpost of Los Dos Molinos, where New Mexican red chiles and Hatch Valley green chiles, in one form or another, star in almost every house specialty.

The spicy food here is downright legendary — just look at the countless magazine articles and framed Best Of awards that line the walls. (Some of them are even plastered on the ceiling, poster-size, along with a hodgepodge of dried corn cobs and chiles and chandeliers.) Of course, I didn't want to take anyone else's word for it. After years of accolades, some restaurants ride on their own outdated reputations, and I wanted to see whether Los Dos could still pack a punch.


Los Dos Molinos

Los Dos Molinos, 8646 South Central Avenue

Machaca pizza: $8.95
Blue corn tamale: $4.95
Adovada ribs: $13.95
Relleno dinner: $11.95
602-243-9113, web link. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner, 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Let's just say that this place gives new meaning to the expression "Hell, yes."

It was obvious from my very first taste of salsa that the flavor inferno burns on at Los Dos Molinos. No wonder the margaritas here have such a good reputation — I'm sure some folks couldn't make it through appetizers without one. As for me, I tend to fight fire with fire, craving more spice with every passing bite. At times, I felt like I couldn't control myself, and came very close to cleaning my plate on a couple of occasions. (Have you seen the portions at Los Dos? Huge. I feel guilty, kind of, but what's done is done.)

Keep in mind, it's entirely possible to eat well here without going nuclear. If that's the case, then sorry, you probably won't be touching either of the salsas — one red, one green, and both extremely eye-opening — but at least you can enjoy the chips. They really are good, about as fresh and crisp as I've found anywhere. I especially enjoyed them with a helping of chunky homemade guacamole, which tasted like they mashed it up in the kitchen right before sending it to the table. It didn't have any fancy add-ins, but it was easily as delicious as the stuff they serve at Barrio Café or Los Sombreros (two upscale Mexican places that've gotten major props for their guac, among other things).

Otherwise, appetizers are limited to cheese crisps and variations called "Mexican pizza." I went with a machaca pizza, fully expecting it to be a small tortilla topped with machaca beef. Instead, it was a rather large tortilla — crisp, almost buttery in its richness — smothered in a powerful machaca that was dominated by deeply roasted red chile. Gooey, melted jack cheese and chunks of fresh tomato provided bites of relief amid the intensity. My friends and I nibbled at it, thinking we shouldn't fill up too much before our entrees arrived, but we soon found ourselves grabbing for seconds.

Even predictable staples like rice, beans, and tortillas were first-rate at Los Dos Molinos. The rice was unique, with a savory aroma that set it apart from sweeter, more tomatoey versions around town, and the beans were a tasty union of whole pinto beans with creamy refried beans. Warm, freshly griddled tortillas, rolled and wrapped in tinfoil, were thicker than average, which gave them a soft, chewy appeal.

The same excellent tortillas contained a lump of juicy shredded meat in the luscious chicken burro and helped the enchiladas hold up under a blanket of spicy green chile and melted cheese (expect melted cheese on almost everything). Meanwhile, some of the other tortilla dishes — delicate flautas filled with beef, and a sturdy chimichanga stuffed with red chile-tinged carne adovada — took on a whole different texture after a dip in the deep fryer. Both were expertly fried to a light, flaky crispiness.

On the spicier side of things, the blue corn tamale had a kicky beef filling, and the chimi came with a side of hard-hitting green chile, but the adovada ribs were my hands-down favorite. Marinated in red chile sauce, they were scrumptious, and not so hot that you couldn't taste the pork, which practically fell off the bone before my fork even touched it. The effect was less like ribs than a really good roast. I also loved the slow-cooked carnitas, a huge pile of moist, mouthwatering pork done up in a Dutch oven. Totally decadent.

With so much in the way of meat, I was curious to try one of Los Dos' two shrimp dishes. I opted for garlic shrimp, which turned out to be pretty straightforward: fat, tender shrimp draped in creamy, mild garlic sauce, served on a bed of rice. It was nicely prepared, actually, and if I ever find myself craving something lighter at Los Dos — compared with the other dishes, anyway — I'd have it again. The relleno dinner was impressive, too, a plump, cheese-filled chile dunked in light batter that evoked omelet more than floury fried dough.

There is one other way to extinguish the blaze in your mouth: sopapillas. I know, fried dough probably sounds impossibly heavy after a plate full of spicy, cheesy, greasy goodness. I thought the same thing, and then I gobbled up two of them. These golden, triangle-shaped pastries puff up in the fryer, which makes them seem surprisingly light. And they're so satisfying to bite into — hot, chewy and crisp, with a cool drizzle of honey and a dusting of cinnamon and sugar.

It's no surprise that Los Dos Molinos also has locations in Springerville, Arizona (the original restaurant), Mesa, and even New York City. Hey, there's more to love. And things are only gonna get hotter. On my last trip to Los Dos, I noticed a brand-new branch had just opened on Washington, blocks from my office.

Now I'm really in trouble.

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