Comfortably Numb

Tony Hu's newest is a lip-scorcher

Lao Ma La is no place for the spice-averse.

The newest from Chinatown impresario Tony Hu, he of the Lao empire, is named for the spicy, numbing effect of the Sichuan peppercorn. It's the key ingredient in mala sauce, and here you can expect lips and tongues to tingle throughout the course of a capsaicin- and Sichuan peppercorn-packed meal.

Order a hot pot ($10) as a simmering, aromatic centerpiece, and choose from an assortment of skewered vegetables ($1.50), meat ($2) and seafood ($2.50) to cook in the piquant, spiced broth. Skewers emerge from the grill, too, bearing whole shrimp ($2), small potatoes ($1), smoky ribbons of bacon ($2) and chewy hunks of lamb ($2), each dusted with dried chiles and the restaurant's numbing namesake.

One of the more unusual sources of mala is a deep bowl of Chengdu spicy and sour vermicelli ($6). Slippery cellophane noodles and bok choy are bathed in a fiery broth, tinged red with chile oil and turned brashly sour by a substantial dose of vinegar.

For a respite from the heat, try sweet, peanut-studded Chengdu noodle salad ($5) or sliced pork belly with garlic ($5), which swaps the lip-tingling buzz for a wallop of pungent allium.

Lao Ma La, 2017 S. Wells St. (in Chinatown Mall); 312-225-8989 or tonygourmetgroup.com