Spicy foods have a deep cultural history, stretching as far back as pre-colonialism. In fact, the chili pepper – a classic choice for spicy flavoring – originated in Mexico (Mesoamerica), and was eventually carried over to Europe by Christopher Columbus.
Chilies were cultivated about 3,500 years before the appearance of Jesus Christ, but they were growing in the area as early as 7,000 BC.
Many spicy favorites, including curry and Tom Yum soups, use chilis as the main ingredient for spice. Found in almost every culture, spicy foods are important for different reasons: some people believe that spicy foods actually help make hot, tropical climates bearable. Others believe that they detox the body and allow regular consumers to live longer and healthier lives.
That last one has actually been scientifically proven, along with a few other facts. A good amount of spice can kill off bacteria, speed up your metabolism, and help with digestion.
This adds a whole different dimension to the spicy food craze we see these days. The modern culture of spicy food is centered mainly around who can eat the hottest, most intolerable foods. It’s a form of entertainment, with established Youtube channels such as Hot Ones or social media challenges using ghost peppers sticking around surprisingly long.
So what are some of the spiciest foods available in America right now? We’ve compiled a short list for those of you interested in screaming taste buds, or anyone who simply enjoys a little kick to their meals!
Dish: Great Balls of Fire
Location: Salvador Molly’s – Portland, Oregon
Salvador Molly’s totes themselves as “a world of flavors,” with menu items ranging from yuca to po’ boys.
The Great Balls of Fire are one of their main attractions, a feature at their annual fundraiser where all proceeds go to winter heating bills for families in need.
Customers can order 1, 3, or 5 balls depending on how ambitious they’re feeling. The balls are actually habanero cheese fritters, and successfully finishing a plate of five will get you your face on the Hall of Flame.
Dish: Spicy Tuna Rolls
Location: Bushido – Charleston, South Carolina
Bushido is a Japanese restaurant that digs deep into its cultural roots to create their aesthetic.
Bushido translates to “way of the warrior,” and you’ll definitely need to be a warrior to take on their spicy tuna rolls.
The menu lists the ingredients of their roll as rice, cucumber, and hot sauce. Traditional spicy tuna rolls contain tuna, chili oil, mayonnaise, rice vinegar, sriracha and scallions. We can’t be sure what Bushido is doing differently to earn this menu item a place on our Spiciest Foods list, but they’re doing it well.
Dish: Ghost Pepper Wings
Location: Hot Sauce and Panko – San Francisco, California
The ghost pepper, otherwise known as Bhut Jolokia, is one of the most famous hot peppers around. In 2007 Guinness World Records certified the pepper as the world’s hottest chili pepper. It’s roughly 400x hotter than a mild jalapeno, and while that’s impressive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the ghost pepper tastes great.
Hot Sauce and Panko’s current menu isn’t available on their site, but they do have pictures of the wings – and they look surprisingly unintimidating. Don’t let that fool you though. These wings actually combine two of the hottest peppers in the world; ghost peppers and the Carolina reapers.
If you’re looking for an experience and not necessarily flavor, these wings might be the right choice for you.
Dish: Shut the Cluck Up Chicken
Location: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken – Nashville, Tennessee
Hattie B’s has been around since 2012, and for such a short amount of time they’ve really made a name for themselves with their menu.
Shut the Cluck Up is actually a way of ordering their spiciest available dish, whether you’re looking for white meat, dark meat, wings, or half a bird!
We’re impressed with their “burn notice” certification on this menu item, but we also appreciate that customers not visiting for the heat can order Southern, Mild, and Medium as well.
Dish: Dynamite Spicy Challenge
Location: Jitlada – Los Angeles, California
If you’re on a road trip and looking for food-related challenges, stop by Jitlada.
The Dynamite Challenge, created by Chef Tui, is a Southern Thai dish that the diner can customize to their preferences. You have a choice of chicken, beef, pork, squid, scallop, mussel, frog legs, or tofu, according to the menu. For a slightly higher price you can get whole catfish, sea bass, or a lobster tail.
Many people who have attempted this challenge actually have to train at home, so keep that in mind – this isn’t just a quick pit-stop, it’s a meal that required dedication and a serious love of spicy food!
Dish: Four Horsemen Burger
Location: Chunky’s – San Antonio, Texas
The Horseman Burger has, according to Chunky’s site, been dubbed the “hottest burger on the planet” by the Man Vs. Food television show.
The burger is made up of jalapeno, ghost, and serrano peppers, as well as a Habanero sauce. There’s even an age limit for ordering – customers must be over 18 or have a parent/guardian sign the liability waiver.
Dish: Mi-So-Hot Ramen
Location: Ramen Tatsu-ya – Austin, Texas
Ramen has quickly become a favorite in America for its versatility as well as simplicity. Ramen Tatsu-ya decided to up the ante with their Mi-So-Hot ramen dish, a spicy version of the Mi-So-Not dish with pork broth, goma pork, scallions, miso blend, bean sprouts, corn, and napa cabbage.
Ramen Tatsu-ya uses sauces made with Thai chilis, habanero paste, and/or five-chili blends that really pack a punch.
Dish: Fire in Your Hole Wings
Location: Munchies 420 Café – Sarasota, Florida
This dish was also featured on Man vs. Food, and beware: if you take on this challenge and don’t finish, you’ll go on their Wall of Shame.
The meal consists of ten wings dipped in a specially created sauce made with some of the hottest peppers in the world – including the ghost pepper.
Dish: Chiles Toreados Taco
Location: Guisados – Los Angeles, California
Located in West Hollywood, this menu item at Guisados has been called “the spiciest thing [they’ve] ever had” by many customers.
A collection of peppers including habanero, jalapeno, Thai chilis, and serrano are blistered on a grill and served with black beans. Although some diners say they were unable to talk, or their tongue still hurt 15 minutes later, they also highly recommend ordering this item!
Dish: Phaal Curry Challenge
Location: Brick Lane Curry House – New York City, New York
Anyone who manages to finish this plate of curry makes it onto the P’hall of Fame.
Curry has long been known as a spicy dish, and Brick Lane hasn’t held back. They describe their curry as “excruciatingly hot curry, ore pain and sweat than flavor.” The restaurant requires verbal consent to not hold them liable for physical (or emotional) damage.
As an added bonus, finishing the curry will also get you a free bottle of beer and a certificate showing that you’ve completed the challenge.