Like books or movies, hot sauces can be great for many different reasons. Though most mass-produced bottles tend toward some blunt combination of tang, salt, and heat, more thoughtfully made hot sauces go deeper. Some exalt the pepper. Some exalt one aspect of the pepper, maybe fruit or smoke. Some rage with a giant flowing heat that all other elements work to restrain. Some are more neutral, going with a wide range of foods. Some are fruit-forward, heat flaring more on the side.
The possibilities are vast, and these five eateries make great hot sauces that seize them in unique ways.
New Wave Market
7120 East Sixth Avenue, Suite 19, Scottsdale
For another $1, you can add a tin of crimson hot sauce to your breakfast or lunch order at New Wave Market. This sauce is viscous and slow to pour, showing whole round seeds through a surface that quickly turns opaque. Country and Sergio Velador craft this hot sauce by lacto-fermenting Fresno chiles. The gentle fermentation serves to quell the fire some, resulting in a sauce that spotlights the vegetal, robust, deep secret nature of the pepper. There is some tang, but not much. The current of heat washes low. This is a neutral sauce that won’t bring an overly interfering flavor to your egg sandwich, even with a massive dunk.
Asadero Norte De Sonora
122 North 16th Street
You can smell the charcoal burning at this Sonoran Mexican eatery before you enter, but you can’t detect something just as flavorful as the chicken thigh meat and carne asada that come off the grill: a vivid red salsa with true heat. Yes, this is a salsa at Asadero Norte De Sonora. Though salsas don’t fully overlap with hot sauces, the word “salsa” means “sauce,” and this is one of the top hot salsas in town. In terms of flavor, this is a more neutral salsa. The tang, earthy vegetal vibes of chile de arbol, and fruity flavors that come from the pepper rather than the addition of the fruit balance. Over them comes, raging as your salsa cup lowers, a merciless heat.
Island Sensation Cuisine
830 East Indian School Road
At this low-key Jamaican restaurant, the Campbell family blends a wildly tropical hot sauce from yellow habaneros. Like other Jamaican restaurant owners in town, they lament the local absence of good Scotch bonnets, one of the Caribbean’s greatest chiles. Yellow habanero subs in just fine at Island Sensation Cuisine, given the nature of this pulpy amber hot sauce, which is about the consistency of marmalade. It opens with a sharp note of fruit and sweetness, taking you like an icy shiver. The flavors of pineapple and mango explode through the sweetness. From here, a full heat rises and sears your tongue and mouth, pulsing.
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The Clever Koi
4236 North Central Avenue
The wide ranging Asian-inspired food that Joshua James and Nicholas Campisano plate, bowl, and bun at The Clever Koi demands a versatile hot sauce. They blend two. Though both are really solid, the more memorable of the duo is a green-yellow sauce made from jalapenos. The absence of roasting makes this hot sauce clean, vegetal, and pepper-forward. It has a bracing green flavor that matches the color, one that almost gives the feeling that there's cilantro in the mix, but there is none, nor any other herb. Just peppers and your standard aromatics lay out the red carpet for the jalapeno. You get a little sugar. You get the slight tang of rice vinegar. But this sauce is a beautiful straightaway jalapeno, one that zaps your tongue.
928 East Pierce Street
Executive Chef Doug Robson is the mind behind one of the great salsa lineups in town. Though he’ll lose about half a squeeze bottle of his salsa verde every time some of us eat at Gallo, our favorite salsa of his lately has been a smooth, russet-orange habanero salsa, the hottest one he does. Robson ferments a uniformly blended mash of yellow habanero, turmeric, garlic, onions, and carrots. The salsa takes the color of the carrots, which pull out the fruity nuances of the pepper through their rooty sweetness. This sauce is all over the map: fruity, earthy, tangy, vegetal, and hot. The hearty, full-throated heat, though, is nicely balanced.