By Austen Fiora
12:50 PM EST, January 2, 2013
Nothing burns away the winter doldrums like spicy food. Usually, a bowl of pho is my go-to cure, but that's not always close at hand. This week, our street food coverage continues with a spotlight on three of the carts that make up the busy scene in front of the YNH Hospital St. Raphael's campus.
First up is La Carreta, one of a fleet of carts that orbit the State Street restaurant of the same name. Every carreta offers a simple formula: $5 gets you a burrito, a quesadilla, taco salad, or three tacos, each filled with your choice of chicken, beef, pork, or vegetables. My taco plate came with a generous amount of black beans and rice on the side, drizzled with salsa. The tacos themselves are hefty, too: La Carreta eschews a more purist approach to toppings, instead offering a heap of Tex-Mex staples. My tacos, fully loaded, boasted tomatoes, cheese, guacamole, cabbage, sour cream, and salsa. This last is your basic salsa de arbol; it might be Cholula. It's fine by itself, but it struggles to cut through the guacamole and dairy in the tacos. The meat is grilled but unseasoned; pork means pork, not, say, carnitas. While La Carreta scratches the itch, it left me wanting some more in the way of spice.
Peking Duck House, just down the block, serves Szechuan and Cantonese dishes — but not duck — in various permutations. I opted to pay $6 for a little bit of everything, served over white rice. The Amazing Chicken and Black Bean Chicken are par for the course, but the cart's string beans and stir-fried carrots are flaccid. Honey roast pork, lightly battered, fried with chiles, and covered in a subtle soy-based sauce, is the standout dish here. Still, when I popped one of its peppers into my mouth, I found that the heat had been mostly stewed out of it.
Enter Thai Spice. For $5.50, you get your pick of entrees with rice, noodles, and sriracha or sweet and sour sauce. "Spicy?" asked the owner. Yes. He suggested two chicken recipes, one stir fried with string beans and the other straight from the grill. Both of these punch way above their weight. The string bean chicken pairs warm yellow curry flavors with a lemongrass edge, and the beans have a nice, satisfying crunch. The grilled chicken, slathered with a sweet-satay marinade, is charred and crispy, but the inside stays moist. Even the rice stands out with a rich saffron flavor that works well alongside the sweet glass noodles. Whether you're into counting Scoville units or not, I can vouch for Thai Spice. It's delicious, and it beats out the competition in this week's block party.
Catch these carts on Chapel Street between Orchard and Sherman. La Carreta is open Monday-Friday, 11:30-2. Thai Spice is open Monday-Friday, 11-2.
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