3815 30th Street, San Diego
Each Wednesday night, North Park’s True North Tavern — a good-time spot for drinkers, foodies (the menu is the product of chef Matt Gordon from next-door neighbor Urban Solace), and all-purpose revelers — holds its TNT Taco Challenge. The rules are simple: Sit down, put on garb reminiscent of the slumbering Alberto’s mascot, eat two tacos slathered with an unhealthy amount of habanero (40 times hotter than jalapeños) and ghost chilies (more than 13 times hotter than habaneros), then sit for five minutes without reaching for any sort of edible or drinkable relief while the bar staff teases and heckles you.
I’d heard horror stories about former contestants who’d been in such bad shape they’d ejected the tacos from their scorched stomachs in front of the entire bar. I’ve always touted myself as a fire-eater, and a taco tandem is always a welcome thing. Despite that, I’ll admit I was nervous. I signed a waiver saying I wouldn’t sue if I suddenly keeled over and required hospitalization or a cemetery plot.
Seven bites later, the tacos were gone, my lips were purple, tender to the touch and doubled in size, the back of my throat felt like I’d gargled shards of glass, and sweat and snot were flowing from me with equal fluidity. Yet, I sat there with a smile on my face. To my surprise, those tacos — and even that devil’s-cauldron condiment — tasted really good. And, better than that, I knew I could easily sit there for another five minutes. Hell, I sit around on barstools for hours on end with great regularity. I’ve been training for this moment my whole life.
The seconds ticked by. People gawked at how unfazed I was, though some looked as bored as sadistic spectators who come to a car accident hoping for blood and twisted metal and find instead an uninjured schlub changing a tire. In place of a tire iron, I held a microphone and barked out the chorus to Buster Poindexter’s “Hot, Hot, Hot.”
A scan of TNT’s “Wall of Flame” reveals a certain “offdutyfoodie” with a beaming smile. It’s in sharp contrast to the expressions on the faces of two folks who ended up on the abutting “Wall of Shame” that evening, or even the face of the guy who took 15 minutes to get through his tacos and spent most of that time shouting a certain four-letter expletive as his so-called friends delighted in his misery.
The next logical step would be to dive mouth-first into some gorge-fest where one must eat a feast fit for a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and while I can fit more into my svelte frame than anyone might logically expect, that’s not my bag. If it’s yours, however, by all means consider taking on “The Big One,” a two-pound hamburger patty on a ten-inch bun that only eight people have been able to take down at Daddy-O’s in Point Loma.
If that’s too beefy a proposition, there’s always one of San Diego’s longest standing food trials — the “Iron Man Challenge” at PB’s Broken Yolk Café. All you have to do is consume a 12-egg omelet smothered in cheese and chili in an hour. Small potatoes, right? (Did I mention it’s served with a couple of pounds of home fries and two fist-sized biscuits?) The Iron Man was made famous nationally by Man v. Food host Adam Richman when he came to America’s Finest City, wolfed down that bad boy in front of a full house of diners, and got his photo tacked up with locals who’d wiped clean the pizza pan they use as a platter.