After eating two fist-sized pieces of The ToreOre’s Hot & Spicy Chicken, you may feel your body quickly shutting on and off, as if you’re Super Mario suddenly turning into small Mario after touching an enemy. Don't worry: This too shall pass.
The rise of Korean fried chicken in Houston has been chronicled over the past half-decade, but it’s the ToreOre’s offerings that serve as reminder that while you can pair your garlic-and-soy bird with a craft cocktail, sometimes the best accompaniment for your meal is a pair of disposable kitchen prep gloves.
The ToreOre is one of several vendors inside the produce-facing food court at the Super H-Mart on Blalock Road, which has been in operation since 2008. There, inside this fluorescent wonderland where you can peruse over 50 different brands of soy sauce and spend a half-day pondering your fish choice for the evening, shoppers seeking a hearty bite of Korean, Japanese, or Chinese goodness can rely on whatever street food they desire. Hot pots from BiBiJo Express are a typical sight, as are heaping plates of Jjajangmyun, or noodles in an oily black bean sauce, from Shan Hu.
But it’s the Hot & Spicy Chicken that garnered the attention outside of the food court, as it helped alert Houston to double-dropped Korean fried chicken. Traditional practice in Korea, the double frying creates a tight, crunchy skin that doesn’t flake while somehow keeping the meat moist inside. The ToreOre sells an “original” version of the chicken, without sauce, so you can really appreciate the textured, golden skin and taste the light salty finish, but those demanding a challenge should attempt a seven-piece Hot & Spicy ($9). It’s totally worth it.
The Hot & Spicy is coated in a thick chili sauce, sweet and flavorful in one small end of the taste spectrum, but mostly hellishly fierce. So what exactly is in that sauce?
"I have no idea," said the server at The ToreOre as to its composition. He did know it was imported from South Korea, so we'll just have to start testing to find the answer.
After a bite of the chicken you’re bound to delay speaking, or even thinking, as the sensation moves into your bloodstream and you attempt to find some comfort level with the profile. You’ll want to eat two, maybe three pieces of the bird, but the burning will be too much for your senses to handle. You can always take the rest home.
The ToreOre makes it easy, too, serving the chicken in a pizza box complete with the smiling, offensive Italian chef. The order actually comes with a pair of disposable prep gloves, likely so that you don’t get sauce on your fingers, then mistakenly rub your eyes. It also includes pickled radishes to help cool off the tongue. Possibly The ToreOre has watched the fallen combatants from afar over these past 10 years, and in some moment of mercy, thought the foolish should at least have a chance to not lose their sense of sight or taste.
It hasn’t yet found a solution for that Mario-after-touching-a-villain thing you may feel. But we don’t need everything to be neat and tidy.