A Guide To Spicy Food In Metro Phoenix

Mapo tofu at Chengdu Delight.EXPAND
Mapo tofu at Chengdu Delight.
Jackie Mercandetti

A lot of people associate spicy food with the winter months, equating piquant heat with an all-over warming effect. But, as it turns out, there's a reason that some of the world's spiciest foods come from the hottest regions.

Research shows that the "gustatory facial sweating" that one experiences after eating something particularly fiery actually activates a cooling effect. To that end, we created this guide to surviving Phoenix’s infamous summer temperatures with hot-as-hell dishes that will definitely put a sheen on your forehead.

If dishes like mega diablo hot wings and harissa-laced Tunisian sausages aren't spicy enough for you, then there are always ghost peppers, which you can find at the annual Roosevelt Row Chile Pepper Festival in the fall or in the spice mix for the Ghost Death wings at Booty’s Wings in Surprise and the Angry Ghost seasonings at Angry Crab Shack.

Homeboy's hot sauces come in three flavors: habanero, verde, and jalapeño.
Homeboy's hot sauces come in three flavors: habanero, verde, and jalapeño.
Lauren Saria

Hometown Heroes: Mexican, New Mexican, and Local Sauce

Consisting of gourmet tacos and burros and handmade quesas, central Phoenix’s La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop (with an additional location in Glendale) has a varied menu of Mexican-inspired dishes. Spicier arrangements include the Mayan cochinita pibil taco ( roasted pork shoulder and achiote rojo slow-cooked in banana leaves and topped with salsa habanera Maya). La Santisima is also home to a massive, colorful salsa bar fully stocked with house-made Mexican salsas.

The Glendale-based Molly's Tamales features some spicier menu items, including the spicy salmon (which you can also order without the chili if you're not up to the challenge), along with the spicy beef and spicy chicken – both made with jalapeños, onions, and tomatoes. Tamales may be ordered by phone or email, and come as singles or by the dozen.

Around since 1972, Someburros (with multiple locations in central Arizona) offers a Sonoran-style Mexican menu with several items labeled as "picante." One of the breakfast specials is the El Diablo Scramble, which consists of chorizo, jalapeños, white onions, and potatoes all scrambled with eggs. It is a dish that begs to be doused with a final lashing of hot sauce. Another house special is the Crudo Burro, consisting of machaca beef with a spicy, light green tomatillo sauce. There are also jalapeños available as a side, and house hot sauce sold in half pints, full pints, and quarts.

New Mexican
One of the Richardson's restaurants, Rokerij, offers red-hot dishes like the Rokerij steak with jalapeño Hollandaise;  the Sandia Chicken Pasta, which features a green chile linguine, roasted peppers, and red pepper sauce; the Chimayo Chicken with poblano chiles and Asiago cheese, glazed with Sriracha red chile; and the Richardson’s Combo: a jalapeño Benedict smothered with jalapeño Hollandaise and your choice of red or green chile.

With two locations in Scottsdale, Jalapeño Inferno has a section of the dinner menu titled “Some Like It Hot!” There you'll find Enchiladas Nuevo Mexico covered in red enchilada and “inferno” sauces, and Courtney’s Burrito, which comes likewise smothered in Inferno sauce and topped with chile “rajas.”

With locations in uptown and south-central Phoenix, Los Dos Molinos offers some famously hot salsas along with spicy dishes like the carne adovada burro (comes with chunks of pork marinated in red chili); the red chile corn tamale; and the Victoria’s chicken chili plate, all of which come with a choice of New Mexico red chile or smokin' hot Hatch Valley green chile.

When it comes to hot-enough-to-make-you-sweat gourmet sauces, Saucy Lips Foods offers several flavors with the spicy pepper label, including Habanero and Carrot, Ghost Pepper and Tamarind, and Jalapeño Green Apple, available at the Open Air Market at Phoenix Public Market. Another scorching option is Los Muertos Salsa, based out of Glendale, whose tagline is “where chips go to die.” Find jars of their stuff at the Uptown Farmers’ Market.

And for the absolute hottest habanero-inspired hot sauces, turn to Homeboy Hot Sauce, which comes in three flavors: habanero, verde, and jalapeño. Grab a bottle at Pane Bianco or the Gilbert Farmers’ Market, or drizzle it on a dish while dining at The Farm at South Mountain, Okra, or Pig & Pickle.

The Mega Diablo wings at Zzeeks Pizza & Wings might melt your face off.EXPAND
The Mega Diablo wings at Zzeeks Pizza & Wings might melt your face off.
Lauren Cusimano

All-American Hotties: Appetizers, Burgers, and Wings

Starters are a good way to awaken your taste buds for what’s about to come, especially if it’s hot. Consider warming up with some Hell’s Fire Chips – homemade potato chips drizzled with hot sauce and melted bleu cheese – at AZ/88 in Scottsdale. In the West Valley, with locations in Buckeye and Surprise, Booty's Wings offers Loaded Buffalo Gold Fries – a pile of crispy, double-cooked French fries hidden under a blanket of spicy cheddar jack cheese, bacon, jalapeños, ranch dressing, and buffalo gold sauce.

The cash-only college town staple that is The Chuckbox brings the atmosphere as well as the heat (and we’re not just talking about the wood-fired grill you have to wait next to) with the Tijuana Torpedo. The burger comes with the eatery’s iconic beef patty topped with jalapeño jack cheese and a green chile. You can take things up a step further at the mixings bar by adding jalapeños and Arizona Gunslinger hot sauce.

Other burgers that pack some heat include the Habanero Cheeseburger from the super-kitschy Carlsbad Tavern in Scottsdale, which has ground habanero chili mixed in with the burger patty that's topped with jalapeño jack cheese, as well as the El Diablo burger, which is served with fire-roasted jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo at Zinburger in Gilbert, Scottsdale, and Biltmore Fashion Park.

Chicken wings are an obvious barometer of one’s heat tolerance. Do you go for mild, medium, or straight to the extra hot, suicide, and other beyond-hot levels? The Valley has more than a few eateries with wing flavors to test your mettle, including the Extra Hot Zipps Wings at any Zipps Sports Grill, Suicide heat level wings at any Long Wong’s, the Brutal Damatos Wings at Shady Park, and Toxic wings at ATL Wings.

With locations in Tempe, Ahwatukee, and Chandler, Zzeeks Pizza & Wings offers the ultimate test with their wing option tossed in  Arizona Gunslinger’s Mega Diablo Extra Hot Pepper Sauce. Don’t be surprised if you start to sweat, then start to feel a little loopy, then feel shivering cold after a few of these babies, because the guy behind the counter at Zzeeks probably gave you fair warning that they were going to “melt your face off.”

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