For true foodies, spicy is not only about the Scoville Scale but also about a chef’s ability to infuse heat into the flavors of great, fresh ingredients to create a moment of exquisite inferno in your mouth. Here in the South Bay, our diversity of cultures supports a variety of ways to experience that moment. Gathered here a few of South Bay’s best hot eats for you to try.
998 N 4th St
San Jose, CA 95112
You simply cannot say “no heat, please” when ordering at this little hole-in-the-wall family restaurant along the edges of downtown San Jose. It’s the ultimate unassuming restaurant, found in a questionable area with no pretense to glory, no MSG and all-fresh cooking. Spices might vary slightly day-to-day depending on the cook’s mood, but for the most part, count on food ranging from zing to super-zowie. Leave your tender-tummy friends at home for this outing. A red chili pepper guides the diner to those spicy dishes and at this place, most dishes are accompanied by that fiery symbol. No matter what you’re looking for, spicy is what you’ll get. Song’s Special includes a little taste of everything – including heat – with prawns, scallops, chicken and vegetables in a hot bean sauce.
Related: Best Indian Food In San Francisco
Taste Buds Indian Food
673 Grape Ave
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
The South Bay’s large Indian population brings a bonus to the rest of the community in the form of hundreds of Indian restaurants, from very tiny to catering-hall size locations. If you’re a novice to Indian cooking, get a good sense of the more popular cuisines at Taste Buds Indian Food. The restaurant offers a broad sampling of the subtle, distinct spicing at its lunch buffet. But if you already know your way around the often fiery food, go for dinner and ask for the spicy versions of Chicken Tikka Masala, Eggplant Masala or Lamb Curry.
154 Jackson St
San Jose, CA 95112
This small Korean restaurant in San Jose’s Japantown is a local spot that fans share reluctantly, for fear of getting pushed out. You can find mildly and moderately spiced dishes that are quite tasty, but if your taste buds are ready to be revved, order Omogari’s Kimchi Jun-Gol, or the Oh-Jing-Ah Bo-Kum (squid and vegetables). And don’t be too quick to dismiss the menu-marked “moderately spiced” spicy tofu soup as somewhat wimpy. It may not be inferno quality, but if you’re looking for a good, sweat-inducing mouthful of soup, most variations of this dish will fit the bill.
855 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94301
The perfect concept meets the perfect place: gluten-free, Asian fast food created by chefs in the style of Asian street food. This Palo Alto eatery, opened in March of 2012, is the first of what is planned as a larger group of concept restaurants using high-quality, quick-cook ingredients. Spice it to your liking through the HotBoxIt sauce (Asian peppers/peppercorns/chili oil) or take an insider tip from the chef and ask for this: six spice blend grilled chicken, rice noodles, wok-spiced vegetables, extra jalapeños, lime squeeze, no oil fish sauce and Miss Jones’ sriracha sauce. It’s heat with a breath of heaven.
10650 S De Anza Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
Just what we need to keep those nearby Apple employees in gear for the next big ideas: the hot, hotter and hottest wings at Smoke Eaters are made fresh with no MSG and no trans fats. But you don’t need to be a techie millionaire to eat here. All of this intense spiciness is pretty much cheap heats. Wings are 55 cents all day on Tuesdays and tenders are a buck all day on Thursdays. The Santa Clara location is closing in summer, 2012 but you can still head to Cupertino if you think you’re tough enough for the Hellfire Challenge: 12-hellish wings in 10 minutes. No drinks, no napkins.
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Marketing communications professional Amy Rabinovitz is a Bay Area writer who has lived in Marin County, San Francisco and now resides in Silicon Valley where, for 15 years, she has been a digital and social media marketer. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.