It starts as a tingle on your lips, then the sensation works across your tongue and becomes a vibrating numbness. The Chinese call this ma-la (numbing and spicy), and it's the coveted aftereffect of eating Sichuan peppercorns.
The best place to experience this electrifying spice is in its native Sichuan cuisine at Spicy & Tasty in Flushing, Queens. You'll forget the trek when you're slurping down dan dan noodles ($5) with spicy pork, or chewing on chili-oil-slicked beef tendon ($7).
The menu has 200 dishes on it, but there are clear symbols to indicate what's hot and what's not. Cobble a meal together from toned-down classics like smoked tea duck ($13) and sautéed string beans ($9), which make good counterpoints to hotter dishes like wontons in red chili sauce ($4) or steamed pork belly with toasted-rice powder ($10). Ask for the shredded lamb with fresh hot pepper ($13) and an order of Yang-Chow fried rice ($9) to quell the heat.
You may work up a healthy glow, but nothing is melt-your-face-off fiery. And you can always ask the kitchen to tone the heat level down—though you'll be missing all the fun.
Spicy & Tasty, 39-07 Prince St., Flushing; 718-359-1601