It was a heat-seeking mission — and a dangerous one. Chow Bella's contributors dispersed through the Valley, in search of the hottest, tastiest, and most creative culinary offerings. Read on at your risk.
Desert Tears at Carefree Station: "Do you like spicy food?" This will be the (seemingly) innocent question you're asked after ordering the aptly named Desert Tears at Carefree Station (7212 Ho Hum Rd., Carefree, 480-488-8182, www.carefreestation.com). These four fresh jalapeños, blanched and stuffed (two with chorizo and blue cheese and two with shrimp and spiced cheeses) will make you suffer: the chorizo and blue cheese with a slow, sinful burning and the shrimp and spiced cheeses with the first hell-hot bite. Well into consumption, there may be a moment, when you're wiping the sweat from your brow or the tears from your eyes, that you'll wish you were given more warning. No matter — you will enjoy them — even as you're draining your umpteenth glass of water or, hours later, still feeling them in the depths of your soul, burning like embers of Hell's eternal fire. — Laura Hahnefeld
Evil Jungle Noodles at Thai Rama: Thai Rama's Evil Jungle Noodles offers a choice of meats (I like the shrimp) with tons of veggies and rice noodles in a fiery coconut and chili broth. At Thai Rama (1221 W. Camelback Rd., 602-285-1123, www.thai-rama-az.com), the servers ask you (for any dish) whether you would like mild, medium, hot or Thai hot one through five. In other words, the five levels of Thai hot begin where American hot ends. If you do not specify, the Evil Jungle Noodle dish comes out as a Thai hot 1. This level gives me a light sweat yet still allows the flavors of the other ingredients to shine. The basil, bell peppers, and sweet coconut flavors become intensified. I've had many super-spicy dishes that burn the flavors right out of everything else in the bowl, but this dish is well done. Thai Rama offers a $1 draft beer (Kirin or Sapporo) that helps cool the mouth off. The best part about this broth (what Anthony Bourdain would call a hellbroth) is that upon leaving the air-conditioned building to go out in the 115-degree Phoenix heat, you don't feel quite as hot. — Michelle Martinez
New Times cafe review
Shishito Peppers and a Fiery Mandarin Martini at Jade Bar: It's the end of the summer, and it's damn near impossible to be happy around here. That's why we suggest a spot located high up on Camelback Mountain. Oh, c'mon, silly, not to jump from — to remind us what loving our desert lives feels like. Jade Bar at Sanctuary Resort and Spa (5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley, 480-948-2100, www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com) has a mountaintop view beautiful enough to make us quit our bitching and a spicy dish with a cocktail counterpart that brings the kind of heat you find only in the desert. Jade Bar's shishito peppers tossed in a sweet and savory caramel sauce is the perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous view. And might we recommend the Fiery Mandarin martini shaken with Serrano chiles to round out the evening? — Nicole Smith
Soondobo at Chodang: Soondobo is a ridiculously spicy stew that looks like a bowl of molten lava with chunks of tofu and beef poking through the bubbling surface. Chodang (501 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler, 480-855-7712) serves several varieties of this popular dish, including one that is seafood-based. Accompanying each bowl is a stone pot filled with fresh rice and at least six different pickled sides. The best way to consume soondobo is with a spoon, taking a bit of rice and drowning it in a spoonful of stew. The sides are there to comfort your palate in between thermonuclear mouthfuls of stew and rice. — Ando Muneno
Suicide Wings at NY Boyz Subs & Wings: If you live in Tempe, you probably have driven by this wing shop (2070 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, 480-773-6588, www.nyboyzsubz.com) a million times on your way to Mesa without ever giving it a second glance — hell, it took NY Boyz' getting the first-place trophy at Wingstock (the annual chicken wing/music festival) in April before I even considered venturing inside. Don't expect the "boyz" to be remotely nice to you (and God forbid you mention the price discrepancies on their website), but I'll take the abuse for a dozen of their rich and spicy hot wings with homemade blue cheese. If you're really looking for some heat, or maybe you need to find a creative way to make rent, give their suicide wing challenge a go. — Shannon Armour
Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup at Fired Up Grill: If you get a cold this winter and need a remedy, look no further than Fired Up Grill's spicy chicken noodle soup, the Chandler restaurant's fiery twist on your Nana's classic cure-all. The broth at Fired Up Grill (7131 W. Ray Rd., Chandler, 480-940-4040, www.firedupgrill.com) is made using serrano and jalapeño peppers, then filled with chicken guisado, pasta, corn, carrots, celery, and cilantro. The kicked-up version of this timeless dish grew out of owner Joe Busone's well-known love of the spicy. Busone — the same man whose fiercely loyal staff staged the famous Buca di Beppo walkout of 2008 — eats ghost pepper sandwiches without breaking a sweat. Ghost peppers are available in the kitchen for daredevil diners who want their soup fired up another notch, but Busone has your best interests at heart: As he tells his servers, "Ask 'em one more time." Either way, pack your Puffs-to-go for the spicy sniffles; this savory soup is sure to clear out your sinuses. — Amanda Kehrberg
Bombay Street Dog at Boulders on Broadway: Boulders on Broadway (530 W. Broadway Rd., Tempe, 480-921-9431, www.bouldersonbroadway.com) has a summer special called the Bombay Street Dog. It is a quarter-pound hot dog, butterflied and grilled and placed in a flatbread (kind of like naan, but not as authentic) topped with house-made Indian-style lime pickle, shredded lettuce, mango chutney, and sriracha. Paired with a cold beer and Boulders' housemade potato chips, the Bombay Street Dog is a knockout meal anytime. I certainly hope they decide to keep it around during the winter months, as well. — Michelle Martinez
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Jerk Chicken at A Taste of the Caribbean: When you think spicy food, Mexican food and a variety of Asian dishes come to mind, but what really sets my mouth ablaze is jerk chicken. Taste of the Caribbean's (219 E. Baseline Rd., Tempe, 480-275-5334, www.atasteofthecaribbean.com) signature dish is hands down some of the spiciest fare I've ever tasted. Whatever blend of chiles they use in the Jamaican jerk seasoning, it brings the heat. Succulent juicy chicken rubbed in allspice, cinnamon, thyme, cloves, and their secret blend of chiles routinely has me sweating like a whore in church, but I keep going back for more. Snag a cooling glass of sorrel while you're there. The hibiscus flower beverage studded with cloves helps cool the jerk chicken fire.— Erica O'Neil
Papaya Salad at Lemon Grass Thai Cafe: Forget about curry and pad Thai; the spiciest Thai dish I've ever tasted is the meek-sounding papaya salad from Lemon Grass Thai Cafe (818 W. Broadway Rd., Tempe, 480-967-9121, www.lemongrassthaicafe.net). First off, it's not the ripe tropical fruit that you think it is. Thai papaya salad (som-tum) is made with shredded green papaya and mixed with tiny salty shrimp, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and a tangy lime dressing. Sounds refreshing, right? Wrong. Lemon Grass takes this refreshing combination and lights it on fire with a blend of chiles that even had our native Thai dinner guests sweating. I now know what "Thai hot" tastes like: fire. — Erica O'Neil
Habanero Cheeseburger at Carlsbad Tavern: Habaneros are known to pack a punch, but the spicy peppers also have a slightly sweet flavor that cuts through the heat. Not that you would know that from the habanero cheeseburger at Carlsbad Tavern (3313 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-970-8164, www.carlsbadtavern.com). Not every burger is served with a glass of milk on the side, and not every burger comes with a disclaimer along the lines of "may cause temporary blindness or loss of hearing." Your eyes will water, you'll break out into a sweat, you may experience a hallucinogenic trip like Homer Simpson after eating a ghost chile. Despite all that, we still think it burns so good. — Erica O'Neil