Off the Eaten Path

Eat the Heat: Spicy Food in NYC

The seven spiciest spots in the city.

A runny nose, burning eyes, and numb tongue—just the occupational hazards of eating your way through NYC’s spiciest spots. These meals will set your mouth (and heart) on fire, but we guarantee it will be worth it.

Traditional Chinese Platters at Szechuan House

spicy food nyc
Feast your eyes (and palate) on this whole tilapia at Szechuan House. / Photo by Jean Schwarzwalder

The tiny Chinese province of Sichuan may lack in square mileage, but it more than makes up for it in flavor. With mouth-tingling peppercorns laced in most traditional dishes, not to mention an abundance of common ingredients preserved in chili oil, have a jug of water on hand. There are only a handful of traditional Sichuan-focused Chinese establishments in the boroughs, the majority residing in Flushing, so it’s best to start at the most time-honored. Regulars have been ordering numbingly delicious platters like cumin-covered lamb and roasted fish swimming in hot chili oil since 1985, so the restaurant’s longevity is proof that your stomach will eventually recover from the burning sensation. 133-47 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing

Hot Chicken at The Meat Hook

This Nashville specialty is rarely found this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, but trust these Brooklyn butchers to do it justice. Typical to tradition, the team marinates its chicken thighs in plenty of heat before frying it off. Steering away from its Music City counterparts, which usually toss their birds in plenty of cayenne, the Kings County version is coated in spicy duck fat. Threes Brewing, 333 Douglass Street, Gowanus

Cocktails at Mace

Forget about cooling off with a cocktail at this spice-driven bar. The matchbook-size libation lounge from owner Greg Boehm shakes and stirs all of its sips with exotic aromatics and herbs. Your lips should certainly proceed with caution when they encounter the Wasabi (infused in the tequila and the salt that rims your glass) and Ghost Chili, where a slight tincture of chili is intertwined with coconut milk and a white-cocoa-and-fat-washed aquavit. 505 East 12th Street (between Avenues A and B), East Village

spicy food nyc
And you thought cocktails were meant to cool you down… / Photo courtesy of Mace

Wings at Mission Chinese

Danny Bowien is considered a revolutionary when it comes to modern Chinese cooking. The main case for that is (literally) presented on a platter with an explosive take on the beloved bro bar snack, the Chongqing chicken wings. These bad boys are buried underneath a pile of red-hot chili peppers and wrapped up in a fried coating of cayenne, cumin, cardamom, crushed cloves, and Sichuan peppercorns. 171 East Broadway (between Rutgers and Jefferson Streets), Lower East Side

A Grand Hot Sauce Tasting at Heatonist

spicy food nyc
Can you handle this buffet of heat? / Photo courtesy of Heatonist 

Prefer choosing your own spicy adventure? Then head to Williamsburg and let the “purveyors of fine hot sauce” steer you in the right direction. Heat-seekers of all kinds can try any of the 100-plus bottles lining the shop’s shelves, ranging from tame (Seed Ranch’s umami bomb) to borderline dangerous (The Last Dab, made in collaboration with food blog First We Feast and Guinness World Record holder Smokin’ Ed Currie). 121 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg

Fiery Soup at Buka

Drinking bone broth is so 2015. A new year means turning over a new (uziza) leaf, so send your metabolism into overdrive with this Nigerian nook’s pepper soup. What sets this drinking soup apart, aside from the generous amount of Scotch bonnets in the broth, is its usage of the entire animal—so don’t be surprised if you have a catfish head staring right into your soul as you’re slurping up your bowl. 946 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill

Larb at Sripriphai

A quick trip on the 7 train will drop you off steps from Sripriphai Tipmanee’s temple of authentic Thai cooking, so settling for an average bowl of pad see ew in Queens is not an option. Locals and adventurous tourists will agree that turning up the heat is the best approach to conquering this Woodside mainstay. Kick things off with a sweat-inducing portion of larb, a traditional Isan salad of minced meat mixed with lime juice, mint, and plenty of dried chili. 64-13 39th Avenue, Woodside

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