Dining Out: Spicy House is cheap, cheerful and loaded with chilies

Spicy House
281 A Dalhousie St., 613-695-8889
Open: Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
Prices: up to $13.99 for large plates and soups
Access: steps to front door and to main dining area and washrooms

There’s a new restaurant in the ByWard Market whose very name will discourage some people from giving it a try, while others will fist-pump in anticipation of eating there.

It’s called Spicy House and to give potential customers even more fair warning or inducement, on its windows facing Dalhousie Street are photos of some ominously garnished soups, appetizers and main courses.

Inside, the month-old, cheap-and-cheerful eatery serves from a laminated, picture-enhanced menu of about 10 appetizers and a dozen larger dishes served across the expanse of China, plus one Taiwanese dish and a Korean-style treatment of tofu. Clean and new, but frill-free in terms of ambience, the dining room is so scantily decorated that the only eye-catcher is a flat-screen TV that seems only to display images of a Sichuanese hot pot and of chili- and cumin-flecked lamb skewers. In all, the eatery’s a far and welcome cry from the fast-food sub place that was once at this address.

In the mood for a little mouth-searing, I ate lunch at Spicy House twice in the last week and was glad that I did. Not only was the food sufficiently, if not debilitatingly, spicy, it was consistently and quickly made and the flavour profiles seemed on-point to me and to my dining companion who has had similar fare in China.

Spicy House, however, did not strike us as the spiciest game in town. I ate with two friends with freakish appetites for chilies who wanted off-the-chart heat from dishes that they ordered extra-spicy, and they were underwhelmed. That said, a heaping bowl of vermicelli with beef in hot and sour soup left another friend a sweaty mess — he might as well have emerged from a sauna. My response was somewhere in the middle — I experienced the mouth-warming endorphin rush of chili-laced dining, drank lots of water, and thought most dishes delivered tastiness beyond heat.

A final caveat before I go dish-by-dish: there’s a lot of offal on Spicy House’s menu. One of those friends who wanted to tear his head off with spiciness was absolutely innards-averse, and would have none of Spicy House’s beef liver, tripe or pork intestines. “Why not call this place Offal House?” he suggested. Let’s just say that at Spicy House, you can chose from two ways of eating adventurously.

Among the appetizers, quite pleasant was the dish of sour and spicy shredded potato, in which the lightly pickled tuber made us think we were eating daikon. Mildly, but discernibly spicy and sour, the dish was a nice, palate-cleansing contrast between bites and slurps of other spicier fare.

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