[Hole in the Wall] Chon Qing Mei Wei Heats Things Up

Hot, Hot, Hot!

This is the type of Chinese restaurant where the menu bumps into the triple digits and contains items ranging from the tried and true (orange and sesame chicken, chow mein) to the rare (I’ve only seen the crispy-rice-crust dishes—toasted grains scraped from the bottom and sides of cooking pots—in the Persian-style tadig) to the esoteric (lamb stomach hot pot, pig kidney and mao xue wang, a specialty known in English by the charming name “bubbling blood” that combines the best of bún bò hue with menudo). But it’s not a dive where the service is terrible. Yes, the staff is about as conversant in English as your weekend Fourth Street crowd in Santa Ana, while comprehending the language of caliente. “Please aware of the spiciness for the spicy food,” the menu warns, and you can find the most hellish items in a special insert in the menu ringed with chiles.

More than Sri Lankan black curry, more than a torta ahogada, even more than habanero salsa chugged from a shot glass, the spiciest dish ever to grace Orange County is the pork spareribs offered here, a no-frills Sichuan Chinese restaurant with locations in Irvine and Lake Forest. So many dried, gnarled red chiles adorn the dish that it looks as if someone exploded a red party popper over your lunch. But that’s just the beginning: Chile flakes top the peppers, and spicy cooking oil slicks the plate. The cut-up spareribs feature a chile-based rub and absorb the astringent juices of sauteéd onions. Jalapeño slivers dot the mixture, the tastiest example of piling it on since the three-scoop sundae.

The ultimate allure of Chong Qing’s spareribs, though, is flavor. Masochists can dig in to test their digestive tract’s mettle from palate to tochis; everyone else should push the excess peppers aside to keep for weeks of future seasonings, pile the ribs and onions on top of white rice, and partake of some of the best pork you’ve tasted in years. The remaining heat makes the skin dry and slightly sweet, a great counterpoint to the ribs’ fattiness, while the meat slips off the bone with a gnaw or two. Eating this unleashes an adrenalin rush, partly because of the five-alarm fire in your mouth, but mostly because these spareribs remind you of the brilliance of the human cookbook.

Chong Qing Mei Wei 5406 Walnut Ave., Ste. C, Irvine, (949) 651-8886; 22371 El Toro Rd., Ste. A, Lake Forest, (949) 380-8869.



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