When it comes to food preferences, chile-heads are among the most daring, consistently seeking the most tongue-tingling, sweat-inducing spicy dishes they can find. If you count yourself among that group, you might have already exhausted all the hot dishes at your favorite spots among the best BBQ restaurants in America, the best Chinese restaurants in America and the best Mexican restaurants in America—but grab that glass of whole milk, because we’re here to help you expand your repertoire. From searing Nashville hot chicken to fiery Sri Lankan curry, these are the spiciest foods in America.
Spiciest foods in America
There's no Thai iced tea that will temper the excruciating inferno of this tear-jerking dish, Jitlada’s infamous dynamite spicy challenge. Choose your method of torture, as chef Tui serves the plate swimming in a molten curry or mint leaf sauce with a multitude of protein options from tofu to frog legs. True to its title as spiciest dish in Los Angeles, the challenge leaves you teary-eyed, light-headed and in for a night of insatiable heartburn. If you can lick your plate, the bill is waived and you’ve conquered the city’s number one spice challenge. Our two cents: Stock up on T.P.
It’s no easy feat to deliver the city’s best rendition of hot chicken, the spicy-crusted fried bird that’s perhaps Nashville’s defining dish. But the ever-present line snaking out the door of this Midtown spot is the first clue that the fryers here produce a damn qualified contender. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak: With five levels of heat ranging from “Southern” (mild) to “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” (insanely hot), Hattie B’s moist bird boasts a well-seasoned and super-crisp exterior. To cool your mouth down, dig into the mayo-laced red-skinned potato salad and crunch on the complimentary icebox pickles.
This colorful Southwest spot offers an array of street foods hailing from around the world: think Namibian peanut chicken skewers, Turkish labneh with flatbreads and cubano sandwiches. The restaurant’s notoriously hot habanero cheese fritters, aptly named “Great Balls of Fire,” are so spicy that the restaurant offers a challenge: any diner that successfully manages to consume all five fritters (and all of their piquant pepper sauce) gets her photo up in Molly’s hall of fame. Proceed with caution.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Jennifer H.
This tiny Nob Hill spot does just two things: hot sauce (the store sells more than 300 varieties) and takeout chicken wings (more than 20 wildly inventive variations that range from Korean gochujang to hot garlic, bacon and parmesan). Even avowed heatheads will want to approach the menu’s ghost pepper wings with trepidation: they clock in at 1.4 Scoville Heat Units and are likely to burn even the toughest of tongues.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/James L.
At first glance, the nam kao tod or crispy rice salad at West Hollywood’s Night + Market doesn’t look too fatal—tangy sour pork, raw ginger and cilantro are tossed harmlessly alongside deep fried balls of rice. But one bite and your mouth is set ablaze from the colossal dose of fresh bird’s eye chilies speckled throughout and the dried chili powder entrenched in the dressing. Chef Kris Yenbamroong unabashedly lays the spice smack down, as every mouthful of this intricately hot Thai classic reveals a new layer of heat reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno.
This Old City favorite is a hotspot—pun intended—for seekers of spice in the Philly area. Satisfyingly home-style Szechuan dishes are lavished with dried chiles, chili flakes, hot chili oil, Szechuan peppercorns and still more iterations of peppers. While most dishes on the menu carry at least a tingle of heat, Han Dynasty’s signature dry pot ranks at level 10 and seethes with peppercorns and chiles. Have plenty of plain rice—and cold Tsingtao—at the ready.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Linda Z.
Some sage advice: Unless you’ve waxed your tongue, Homer Simpson–style, do not go for the curry at the highest spice level at this Sri Lankan mainstay. The pork-based curry seems like a big ol’ dish of betrayal: With juicy meat and rich curry complexity, it appears to be love at first bite, but then the veil lifts and the flavor disappears into a fog of pain. I feel a room-spinning shortness of breath that reminds me of altitude sickness. Once it kicks in, you’ll feel as though you’ve reached the top of a roller coaster only to realize you’re powerless to do anything but go along for the ride. All the yogurt in the world won’t bring you relief: it’s merciless.
Whisler’s laid-back style of cocktails and open-air patio make it one of East 6th's most popular bars, but just as many people flock there for the ultra-spicy Thai food courtesy of Thai-Kun. The menu ranges from grilled bread with peanut curry (perfect for padding the stomach after a few Pearl Snaps) to the black noodles with beef, a heartier option that won’t overpower a cocktail. But be warned: Approach the waterfall pork, featuring a five-alarm “Tiger Cry” sauce, with extreme caution—it’s one of the city's spiciest dishes.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Adri A.
It looks like a shack from the outside, but that’s all part of the package at this funky, arty restaurant, which pays homage to Haitian culture and cuisine. Inside, colorful murals spice up the place, and music, art exhibitions and poetry readings complement a basic menu of fish, lamb and goat, plus vegetable stews. Speaking of spicing up, heatheads will want to go straight for Tap Tap’s lanbe pike nan ji sitwon, fiery marinated conch ceviche featuring plenty of minced habanero peppers.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Agus T.
There’s always a long line outside Peaches HotHouse on weekend mornings, and for one good reason: its Nashville-style hot chicken. The Bed-Stuy restaurant’s fiery fried bird is offered at three heat levels: regular, hot or extra hot—and you already know which one to choose. According to owners Craig Samuel and Ben Grossman, ghost chili peppers are used in the recipe but, amazingly, the intense heat those peppers pack doesn’t take over the poultry; you’ll still make out the low hum of sweetness that clings to the chicken’s crispy, craggy skin.
Spicy hot pot at Style Hot Pot in Seattle, WA
If there’s any cuisine that knows its way around extreme heat it’s Sichuan, fare from that southwest region of China that’s known for its limits-treading usage of fiery chiles and peppercorns. This unassuming Bitter Lake spot specializes in hot pot, whose name here has two meanings: temperature-wise and spice-wise. The restaurant’s spicy hot pot fully lives up to its name, stoking body temperatures with a fear-inspiring broth floating with an inordinate amount of dried red chiles.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Tokii L.
Inferno Soup at Nitally’s in St. Petersburg, FL
This only-in-Florida restaurant crosses two spicy cuisines—Mexican and Thai—resulting in mega-spicy offerings such as jalapeno-scattered nachos, chile-laced curries and smoky chipotle pad thai. A super-hot soup of egg noodles, bean sprouts, carrots, chicken and napa cabbage is known as Inferno Soup thanks to a full 16 ounces of a variety of blended peppers—guajillo, fresno, Scotch bonnets and more—seeds and all. The dish is so spicy that ordering it is offered as a challenge (full disclosure: participants must be 18 or older and sign a waiver before indulging). Have some tissues handy.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Tee H.
This understated Bella Vista Vietnamese spot is a favorite for well-executed standbys like pho, bun and seafood-stuffed rice flour crepes. All of the menu’s offerings provide that classically Vietnamese balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet, but its excellent green papaya salad leans heavily on the hot part of the equation. The extra-daring can even ask the kitchen to add That hot peppers.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Daniel K.
Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto dreamt up the concept for Ramen Tatsu-ya after living in Los Angeles and Japan, two cities in which authentic ramen shops are as common as they are delicious. With Ramen Tatsu-ya, they have absolutely seduced Austin with their classic approach to ramen. The rich, aromatic broth is time- and labor-intensive, and fresh noodles created in partnership with L.A.-based noodle maker Keisuke-san are shipped in weekly. Spice-lovers will want to opt for the bold miso ramen and then up the Scoville ante with a “Fire in a Bowl bomb” add-on, a wallop of a Thai chile and habanero chile paste
This Sunny Isles standby is a favorite for fluffy tandoor-baked naan, crisp vegetable samosas and an array of intricate curries. Spicy food fans will find themselves right at home here: whatever it is that you order, even if you ask for it mild, is sure to tickle your taste buds at least a little bit. The chicken vindaloo, which actually advertises itself as hot, doesn’t disappoint, featuring tender chunks of bird embraced by a chile-laced tomato-and-onion sauce that will set your lips a-tingle.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Jasmine U.