Written by Naomi and Javier
Summer time is here and so are the outdoor tables, seafood, and good weather to get out and explore new places. We’d heard of a place that specialized in crawfish (小龙虾 small-lobster-shrimp, a.k.a crawdad and crawfish) in the southwest section of the walled city. With a name like “Spicy Kitchen,” it sounded like a great place to gorge ourselves on these little sea creatures.
Spicy Kitchen is spacious with good-sized tables, because this meal requires a lot of space. With a clean, modern look, it feels like an American burger joint, perhaps trying to appeal to younger people. It sports a projector with a big screen playing American pop music videos and a very sexy restaurant advertisement with women in tiny red bikinis. The bathroom also has big pictures of women in red loving their time with the crawfish. We thought “Spicy Kitchen” was referring only to the food. The staff was very friendly but, aside from the manager, they spoke only a little English. The menus have no English on it but it has nice clear pictures, so you can get by with pointing.
More than aware of the messy meal that awaits you, the restaurant equips you with several pairs of gloves and tissues and, most importantly, a zip-lock bag for your cell phone so you can still post your foodie selfies on WeChat without getting your phone dirty – because the meal didn’t really happen if you don’t take pictures of it.
Eating crawfish can be tricky, but it’s ultimately a delicious task. It’s intensive and takes some finagling, which is to say that, at first, you might not be getting more than a few nibbles. After a dozen crayfish, though, you’ll know the anatomy and solve the mystery to unlocking each of their bodies with a few snaps.
The crawfish live up to the restaurant name: they’re fiery hot, although a few milder options are available. We tried two dishes of crawfish, one with a sweet garlic sauce and one ma la (numbing and spicy) sauce, buried under a mound of chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and whole pieces of garlic. If you like spicy, this dish is for you.
While you’re wrestling with these delicious beasties and working your way towards finer motor skills, consider ordering some “direct access” food. The shrimp kebabs, with the typical Xi’an spices of red chili flakes and cumin, were meaty and delicious. We also had some amazing oysters, served on the shell with a heap of garlic and tiny rice noodles on top.
If you enjoy eating with your hands, spicy food and seafood, this is the place for you. You’ll leave feeling spiced up, satisfied and accomplished for having become a master crawfish-opener.
Pros: A fun specialized restaurant. If you ever have a hankering for crawfish, this is the place to go.
Cons: The many spicy red hot “mascots” means this isn’t the most family friendly joint.