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13 Hotspots for Spicy Food in San Francisco

From stinging Portuguese to numbing Sichuan cuisine

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Chili peppers originated in South America between the Amazon and the Andes more than 15,000 years ago. Since then, they’ve traveled around the world via colonial trade routes. Tracking their trajectory, from South America via the colonial powers to the world, offers an edible lesson in colonialism and a primer on global trade.

Here in San Francisco, we’re lucky enough to have a United Nations’ worth of global cuisines, many of which feature the potent sting of chilies. Here are 13 of our favorite local restaurants for spicy food — think of them as destinations for hosting your own personal fire festival for your mouth. Of course, spice tolerances vary — one person’s hot is another’s not — so don’t hesitate to ask to turn down or amp up the heat depending on your predilection.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Viva Goa Indian Cuisine

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2420 Lombard St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 440-2600
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The south Indian state of Goa was once a Portuguese colony, and its cuisine represents a blending of the area’s colonial past with its incredible access to seafood and love for spices. At Viva Goa, you can explore the unique combination of Hindu and Catholic cuisines through the lens of coastal India. Try the lamb Xacutti (a complex curry with white sesame seeds, coconut, and chilis), ambot tik (literally “sour hot,” a tangy, spicy curry usually made with prawns or fish), and vindaloo, one of the most iconic Goan curries. Vindaloo gets its name from the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos — meat in wine vinegar and garlic.

2. Hot Sauce and Panko To Go

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1468 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 359-1908
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The name pretty much sums it up. This no-frills storefront in Nob Hill sells two things: hot sauce and fried chicken wings to go. There are no seats, no waiters, and they encourage you to bring your own water, because you might need it. If you’re feeling flirty, try the Buffalo; if you’re feeling adventurous, aim for Earl’s; and if you’re feeling reckless, try the Ghost Pepper wings, made with Carolina Reapers. The menu brags about the Reaper’s 1.4 million “scoville heat units” - a measure of spice (in comparison, Jalapeños are in the low thousands, Habañeros closer to 300,000.) You may need more than just water: Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

3. The Bird

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115 New Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 872-9825
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With Hotbird temporarily out of commission, the options for Nashville Hot Chicken are pretty limited in these parts. But Super Duper spinoff sandwich shop the Bird makes a well-loved and well-spiced fried chicken sandwich that doesn’t disappoint, using a berbere spice blend to borrow as much from East Africa as Tennessee. Nestled in a soft bun with apple slaw, pickles, and mayonnaise, this tender, juicy meat isn’t going to melt your face off, but it’s likely to warm your lips and your belly.

Aubrie Pick

4. DOSA on Fillmore

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1700 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 441-3672
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One of the most iconic Indian restaurants in San Francisco, and now with a spinoff location in Oakland, Dosa specializes in South Indian cuisine. Its namesake dish, dosa, is a crepe-like pancake made of rice and lentils, stuffed with a number of options and served alongside chutneys, fresh coconut, and sambar. If you’re at the Valencia location, try the habañero-mango masala dosa, with a habañero chile chutney. The heat builds and builds, but with a wonderful fruity warmth behind it. And you can’t miss the mixed chile uttapam — a thicker pancake served with four different kinds of chiles. If (when?) the heat catches up to you, don’t forget to order a side of cooling cucumber-yogurt raita.

Kassie Borreson

5. Yemen Kitchen

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219 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 214-3575
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In the heart of the Tenderloin you’ll find Yemen Kitchen, a snug, warm spot owned by Abdul Al-Rammah. Bring a group and try everything on the menu, but for your spicy fix go for the saltah, one of the national dishes of Yemen. It’s a meat stew served bubbling hot with a float of frothy fenugreek sauce (better than any modernist foam), served with a flatbread called tawah. For some extra heat, ask for an extra bowl of sahawiq (also known as zhug or s’hoog), a hot sauce made from red or green chilies, garlic, coriander, and spices.

6. Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen

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1130 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94158
(415) 655-9344
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While the East Bay has many more options for great Ethiopian food than the city proper, Tadu Kitchen’s two locations in the Tenderloin and Mission Bay are solid choices for injera, stews, and more. To experience some East African heat, order the special kitfo — it’s either raw or rare ground beef (though you can ordered it cooked to any degree), marinated in spicy mitmita, a chili powder, and served with ayib, a mild, crumbly cheese. For vegetarians, try the firfir or vegetarian banatuvegetables and tangy injera bread are tossed in a spicy berbere sauce.

7. Szechuan Cuisine

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1920 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 661-8322
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Home to one of the most famously spicy cuisines in the world, Sichuan (or Szechuan) Province is in the center of China, right on an ancient trading route. When chilies arrived from South America, they found a home in the muggy climate; Traditional Chinese medicine said their warming nature rebalanced bodily humidity. While the cool, foggy Outer Sunset could hardly be called humid, it’s another great place to rebalance your internal temperature with Sichuan food, and straightforwardly-named Szechuan Cuisine is making some of the best in town. Get your mouth ready for the distinctive mala combination of spicy and numbing: Red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns working together to create a buzz you won’t soon forget.

8. Piri Pica

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590 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 800-7994
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Spicy foods are not common throughout western Europe, but Portugal is one of the exceptions: Colonialism and trade brought chilies to the country, and they’ve held on to the heat. Chef Telmo Faria’s recipes at Piri Pica (“piri” referring to a biting Brazilian chili; ‘pica’ Portuguese for sting) shows the full range of Portugal’s love for spice: order your bird “piri-piri” if you like a little heat; “pica! pica! pica!” for the full sting.

9. Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine

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710 Florida St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 814-2920
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In between the birthday chants and the waiters hawking plates of today’s special, you’ll have the opportunity to try some of the spiciest dishes in the city at Farmhouse Kitchen. One in particular can earn you a ticket to Bangkok: the restaurant is currently holding its second “Thai Spicy challenge,” a no-holds barred firefight against a few wings and a plate of noodles. If you want to win, you’ll have to beat the current leader on the creepily bug-eyed wall of fame, who completed the challenge in 5 minutes, 12 seconds. But mind the rules: You must be 21+, finish the plate within 15 minutes, and there’s no “reversal” allowed — we’ll let you decipher that for yourself.

10. Señor Sisig

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990 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

It’s not 100 percent Filipino, and it’s not 100 precent, but if you take a chance and order your burrito “hella spicy,” you’ll get something 100 percent San Franciscan and a 1,000 percent spicy. Señor Sisig has gone from one food truck to six since 2010, a meteoric success story in the competitive world of food trucks. You know you’ve done it right when your burrito is delivered with a handwritten label of “hella hella hella spicy :)” Hot news for Señor Sisig fans: a brick-and-mortar location is coming to the Mission hella soon.

Senor Sisig

11. Toyose

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3814 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 731-0232
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Late-night Korean in a converted garage in the Outer Sunset, you say? We’re in. In fact, Toyose on Noriega feels like a parallel universe in which it’s always late night, no matter what time you go. Feel free to be distracted by the cheese corn (it’s exactly what it sounds like), but if you want to hit the hot stuff, go for the wings, the kimchi soup, and the cold buckwheat noodles.

12. Taqueria Cancun

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3211 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 550-1414

The magic spice at local taqueria chain Taqueria Cancun is in the salsas, especially the salsa verde. Batches may vary (the jalapeños may be hotter or not by season and ripeness) but the overall effect of ordering your burrito or tacos with extra jalapeños and a side of salsa verde adds layers of warmth, like dressing up for a cool day out in the city. Hot tip: the recipe was published by the Cooking Channel: Make it at home and amp up the jalapeños if you like it like that.

13. Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant

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3132 Vicente St
San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 564-3481
Visit Website

This cozy spot in the city’s western reaches specializes in dishes from the far west of China, known for Islamic culture and halal cuisine. wYou can’t not order the dish called “Extremely Hot Pepper,” the Chinese characters for which (辣死你) literally translate as “spicy death” or “so spicy you die.” Theoretically it’s more condiment than dish — a pile of chilies dwarfs the dish’s other components, making it a perfect complement to other, less spicy dishes.

1. Viva Goa Indian Cuisine

2420 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123

The south Indian state of Goa was once a Portuguese colony, and its cuisine represents a blending of the area’s colonial past with its incredible access to seafood and love for spices. At Viva Goa, you can explore the unique combination of Hindu and Catholic cuisines through the lens of coastal India. Try the lamb Xacutti (a complex curry with white sesame seeds, coconut, and chilis), ambot tik (literally “sour hot,” a tangy, spicy curry usually made with prawns or fish), and vindaloo, one of the most iconic Goan curries. Vindaloo gets its name from the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos — meat in wine vinegar and garlic.

2420 Lombard St
San Francisco, CA 94123

2. Hot Sauce and Panko To Go

1468 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

The name pretty much sums it up. This no-frills storefront in Nob Hill sells two things: hot sauce and fried chicken wings to go. There are no seats, no waiters, and they encourage you to bring your own water, because you might need it. If you’re feeling flirty, try the Buffalo; if you’re feeling adventurous, aim for Earl’s; and if you’re feeling reckless, try the Ghost Pepper wings, made with Carolina Reapers. The menu brags about the Reaper’s 1.4 million “scoville heat units” - a measure of spice (in comparison, Jalapeños are in the low thousands, Habañeros closer to 300,000.) You may need more than just water: Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

1468 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109

3. The Bird

115 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105
Aubrie Pick

With Hotbird temporarily out of commission, the options for Nashville Hot Chicken are pretty limited in these parts. But Super Duper spinoff sandwich shop the Bird makes a well-loved and well-spiced fried chicken sandwich that doesn’t disappoint, using a berbere spice blend to borrow as much from East Africa as Tennessee. Nestled in a soft bun with apple slaw, pickles, and mayonnaise, this tender, juicy meat isn’t going to melt your face off, but it’s likely to warm your lips and your belly.

115 New Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94105

4. DOSA on Fillmore

1700 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115
Kassie Borreson

One of the most iconic Indian restaurants in San Francisco, and now with a spinoff location in Oakland, Dosa specializes in South Indian cuisine. Its namesake dish, dosa, is a crepe-like pancake made of rice and lentils, stuffed with a number of options and served alongside chutneys, fresh coconut, and sambar. If you’re at the Valencia location, try the habañero-mango masala dosa, with a habañero chile chutney. The heat builds and builds, but with a wonderful fruity warmth behind it. And you can’t miss the mixed chile uttapam — a thicker pancake served with four different kinds of chiles. If (when?) the heat catches up to you, don’t forget to order a side of cooling cucumber-yogurt raita.

1700 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115

5. Yemen Kitchen

219 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

In the heart of the Tenderloin you’ll find Yemen Kitchen, a snug, warm spot owned by Abdul Al-Rammah. Bring a group and try everything on the menu, but for your spicy fix go for the saltah, one of the national dishes of Yemen. It’s a meat stew served bubbling hot with a float of frothy fenugreek sauce (better than any modernist foam), served with a flatbread called tawah. For some extra heat, ask for an extra bowl of sahawiq (also known as zhug or s’hoog), a hot sauce made from red or green chilies, garlic, coriander, and spices.

219 Jones St
San Francisco, CA 94102

6. Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen

1130 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94158

While the East Bay has many more options for great Ethiopian food than the city proper, Tadu Kitchen’s two locations in the Tenderloin and Mission Bay are solid choices for injera, stews, and more. To experience some East African heat, order the special kitfo — it’s either raw or rare ground beef (though you can ordered it cooked to any degree), marinated in spicy mitmita, a chili powder, and served with ayib, a mild, crumbly cheese. For vegetarians, try the firfir or vegetarian banatuvegetables and tangy injera bread are tossed in a spicy berbere sauce.

1130 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94158

7. Szechuan Cuisine

1920 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

Home to one of the most famously spicy cuisines in the world, Sichuan (or Szechuan) Province is in the center of China, right on an ancient trading route. When chilies arrived from South America, they found a home in the muggy climate; Traditional Chinese medicine said their warming nature rebalanced bodily humidity. While the cool, foggy Outer Sunset could hardly be called humid, it’s another great place to rebalance your internal temperature with Sichuan food, and straightforwardly-named Szechuan Cuisine is making some of the best in town. Get your mouth ready for the distinctive mala combination of spicy and numbing: Red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns working together to create a buzz you won’t soon forget.

1920 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122

8. Piri Pica

590 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Spicy foods are not common throughout western Europe, but Portugal is one of the exceptions: Colonialism and trade brought chilies to the country, and they’ve held on to the heat. Chef Telmo Faria’s recipes at Piri Pica (“piri” referring to a biting Brazilian chili; ‘pica’ Portuguese for sting) shows the full range of Portugal’s love for spice: order your bird “piri-piri” if you like a little heat; “pica! pica! pica!” for the full sting.

590 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

9. Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine

710 Florida St, San Francisco, CA 94110

In between the birthday chants and the waiters hawking plates of today’s special, you’ll have the opportunity to try some of the spiciest dishes in the city at Farmhouse Kitchen. One in particular can earn you a ticket to Bangkok: the restaurant is currently holding its second “Thai Spicy challenge,” a no-holds barred firefight against a few wings and a plate of noodles. If you want to win, you’ll have to beat the current leader on the creepily bug-eyed wall of fame, who completed the challenge in 5 minutes, 12 seconds. But mind the rules: You must be 21+, finish the plate within 15 minutes, and there’s no “reversal” allowed — we’ll let you decipher that for yourself.

710 Florida St
San Francisco, CA 94110

10. Señor Sisig

990 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Senor Sisig

It’s not 100 percent Filipino, and it’s not 100 precent, but if you take a chance and order your burrito “hella spicy,” you’ll get something 100 percent San Franciscan and a 1,000 percent spicy. Señor Sisig has gone from one food truck to six since 2010, a meteoric success story in the competitive world of food trucks. You know you’ve done it right when your burrito is delivered with a handwritten label of “hella hella hella spicy :)” Hot news for Señor Sisig fans: a brick-and-mortar location is coming to the Mission hella soon.

990 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

11. Toyose

3814 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122

Late-night Korean in a converted garage in the Outer Sunset, you say? We’re in. In fact, Toyose on Noriega feels like a parallel universe in which it’s always late night, no matter what time you go. Feel free to be distracted by the cheese corn (it’s exactly what it sounds like), but if you want to hit the hot stuff, go for the wings, the kimchi soup, and the cold buckwheat noodles.

3814 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122

12. Taqueria Cancun

3211 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

The magic spice at local taqueria chain Taqueria Cancun is in the salsas, especially the salsa verde. Batches may vary (the jalapeños may be hotter or not by season and ripeness) but the overall effect of ordering your burrito or tacos with extra jalapeños and a side of salsa verde adds layers of warmth, like dressing up for a cool day out in the city. Hot tip: the recipe was published by the Cooking Channel: Make it at home and amp up the jalapeños if you like it like that.

3211 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

13. Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant

3132 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116

This cozy spot in the city’s western reaches specializes in dishes from the far west of China, known for Islamic culture and halal cuisine. wYou can’t not order the dish called “Extremely Hot Pepper,” the Chinese characters for which (辣死你) literally translate as “spicy death” or “so spicy you die.” Theoretically it’s more condiment than dish — a pile of chilies dwarfs the dish’s other components, making it a perfect complement to other, less spicy dishes.

3132 Vicente St
San Francisco, CA 94116

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