To say that spicy food and hot sauce are a few of my favorite things would be an understatement. Anyone who knows me would probably call me a spice addict without any hesitation. In my book, that’s something to be proud of. This world has some seriously fiery flavors for us to experience, and I’m out to try them all. The only problem? You can find hot deliciousness in just about every corner of the world. So I set out to start a list of the top 20.
Now, I’ll be honest, this is a task that would be daunting for anyone, but especially for someone who calls themselves a spicy food lover. It’s definitely a challenge to suss this list out, as clearly it could go on forever and ever. As much as I’ve attempted to be objective, of course the places I’ve been also have an influence on the destinations I’ve chosen. Regardless, it’s a solid starting point for any inspiration you might need for your next foodie getaway – whether you’re a seasoned hot sauce chugger or a newbie looking for a scorching surprise.
So get your taste buds ready for an introduction to the best spots for hot sauce addicts, taking you from the gorgeous beaches of California all the way to the heart of China, and everywhere in between. These sizzling 20 will have you ready to explore the world and all its poppin’ peppers, whether you want to just stick to your backyard or head further afield.
20 California, USA
Let’s start this list off right with one of the best go-to’s in the States for spicy food and hot sauces galore – sweet and sunny Cali. One of the most famous sauces from this west-coast state is loved all around the world…Sriracha, of course! Originating in Thailand and mass produced by a Vietnamese-American entrepreneur, this spicy goodness has hit the market hard, so you can thank Cali for bringing this to fridges and tables worldwide. Besides the obvious, you can get endless kinds of Mexican-inspired spicy foods and hot sauces here with habaneros, jalapeños, arbol, ancho and chipotle chilies. Try the Original Pepper Plant hot sauce, which you’ll find in most Mexican restaurants.
It’s produced in Gilroy, California and goes great on anything from breakfast sandwiches to burritos. Another great Cali fav is Gringo Bandito, started by a member of The Offspring band, offering green, red and super hot varieties. If just testing out hot sauces isn’t enough for you, then plan a trip to Anaheim’s California Hot Sauce Expo in August every year, which features 40 of the best from around the world. You can even get tickets to pair the tastings with craft beers available at the fair. While you’re in the area, head to Hot Licks in Long Beach to stock up on your local favorites of the spiciest sauces around.
Now we’re going to hop on a flight heading west to the giant country that is China. Whether you’re in Shanghai, Chengdu or Sichuan province, you can get a spicy sauced up dish just about anywhere here. Hot and sour soups and dishes are one of my favorites. To try something new, head to a Guizhou-style restaurant and try their hot and sour fish soup, spiced up with local red chili peppers, chili oil and plenty of garlic. Anything Szechuan style is always a great sauce pick when it comes to Chinese dishes – Szechuan prawns make the best combo in my opinion. If you’re not so into seafood, another great Szechuan dish is "saliva chicken," named as such because it’s so heated up with chilies and other spices that it might have you drooling. Hot pots are pretty much available everywhere here, packed with chilies, chili oil and peppercorns. You’ll find great condiments here too, from hot mustard to different styles of chili oil. Places usually have a house sauce, so if you can, just ask for theirs. Although Chinese cuisine isn’t the hottest in the world, all their dishes have plenty of peppered up flavor – and you can always add more chilies!
18 New York, USA
You might not think of this great state as a spot for hot sauce lovers, but as one of the biggest cities in the world, they’ve definitely got you covered on this front. There’s fast food all throughout the city that you can douse in hot sauce, including falafel and even hot dogs, but there are also some neighborhoods you should hit up to get your fix. Number one on my list for foodie spots in general? Brooklyn. And they’ve got it goin’ on when it comes to hot sauces, too. To find all the best and hottest hot sauces, head to the Heatonist, with locations both in Brooklyn and Manhattan. They’ll be able to introduce you to hot sauces you never knew existed (but will now have to get ordered to your house). Try Queen Majesty’s trio of sauces, including Jalapeño Tequila & Lime, Scotch Bonnet & Ginger or Red Habanero & Black Coffee. All made right in New York City, they’ll show you all the funky flavors that inspire spice-obsessed chefs in the Big Apple. If you’re around during the month of April, then you have to get tickets to New York’s Hot Sauce Expo – there’s a “spicy tacos of hell” challenge for god’s sake!
This little island off of southern Malaysia is where lovers of fusion cuisine should probably go to die. With influences from all around the world but especially China, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, India, America, and so on and so forth – you seriously cannot have a bad meal here. And the best part? You can spice everything up to your heart’s desire. Definitely don’t miss a big bowl of spicy ramen on your visit, which you can always top up with chili oil or powders and paste. Try the “God Fire” ramen from Ikkousha Hakata Ramen, a rich and spicy attack on your palate. Besides ramen, there are a million kinds of noodle dishes here that are made all the more beautiful when doused in spicy chili oils and sauces. If you like fried chicken, then you’ve also got to get some spicy Korean style while you’re here at Chicken Up. For something a little more Singaporean, get some sambal stingray, or “ikan bakar,” a fish lathered in sambal (spicy chili sauce) and then grilled in a banana leaf. Another great local favorite? Mud crab, stir-fried whole and drowning chili and tomato sauce or with dry black pepper. Long Beach Seafood is known for creating the black pepper version in the 50s, but there are plenty of spots around the city you can snag this local delicacy.
Curry, curry and more freaking curry, please! Okay, so this technically isn’t a hot sauce, but it’s a sauce that can be made as spicy as you’re in the mood for and what’s better than that? The green finger chili is the most common in India, but there are loads of other types used throughout many of their dishes.
Their masala spice mixtures can also be ramped up to 'on fire', or 'mild' if you need a break from the hot sauce onslaught. The most famous spicy curry is Vindaloo from the former Portuguese colony of Goa, which can be served with any meat or fish you prefer. Chettinad is also one of the hottest saucy dishes served up here, as well as the Laal Maas from Rajasthan, a spicy red gravy-like curry loaded with Mathania red chilies. But interestingly enough, quite a few of the vegetarian options are the Indian dishes packed with the most punch, most of which originate in the South. Try the “mysore masala dosa,” a pancake covered on the inside with spicy masala sauce or the hot pepper "uttapam," another pancake spicy delight covered in chilies. A British-Indian invention, if you’re up for a challenge try the Phaal curry that’s made with the Bhut Naga Jolokia chili, formerly the hottest chili in the world.
15 Texas, USA
Don’t mess with Texas. It might be cliché, but it’s pretty true when it comes to their cuisine and their basically surefire status as hot sauce sommeliers. With their undeniable ability to sear up some seriously good BBQ, it’s no wonder they’ve got a handle on spicy sauces to smother it all in.
There are BBQ joints all over this state, most of them hawking their own homemade sauces and dips to get your taste buds tingling. Austin is rife with hot spots like Franklin’s BBQ or La Barbecue, both dishing up excellent versions of this southern classic. For a nice mix of flavors head to Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ and try their Tomato Serrano Salsa or House Habanero Mustard. They even do breakfast, smothered in their salsas and sauces which you can pile up with eggs or smoked chorizo. One of my favorite places, Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, is over on the eclectic Rainey Street. An old neighborhood avenue lined with converted houses that are now restaurants and bars, you can’t go wrong here. Try their Drunk Chicken, with Serrano peppers, cilantro and beer, or their jalapeño cheddar brat. They’ve got tons of their own house made sauces like spicy mustard or curry ketchup so you can smother it all up.
You might not have expected to see an African country on the list, but then you’ll need to do some more research if that was the case. Some of the spiciest food in the world is hiding on this giant continent, and it’s cooked up in dishes that are really unlike any other cuisine out there. Many of their creations are heated up by a spice mix called “berbere” filled with chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and a whole lot of other herbs and spices. Many Ethiopian dishes are kinds of stews called “wats,” similar to a curry, with one of the hottest being “doro wat” with chicken and whole boiled eggs. A few other interesting and fiery dishes include “tibs,” with either meat or fish cooked in a pleny of butter and berbere spice or the Ethiopian version of beef tartare called “kifto,” which is also mixed with plenty of berbere (seeing a theme here?). They also make plenty of deliciously creamy and hot-as-hell vegetarian dishes such as their famous lentil or legume stews like “shiro be kibbe.” For a spicy breakfast treat, try “fit fit,” made with their very famous “injera” (sourdough flatbread) that’s usually used instead of silverware, this dish is covered in spices and chilies.
There’s nothing better than the kind of cuisine that’s cultivated on islands, and Barbados will not disappoint you on this front. Two of this little isle's favorite dishes are “cou cou” served with flying fish. Cou cou is kind of like grits but made with cornmeal and okra, served alongside the fried flying fish that’s usually covered in a spiced batter and fried, or it can be steamed. And you’re waiting for the spicy sauce? Well they’ve got it, and this national dish is smothered in it – spicy gravy to warm your heart. They’ve got their own blend of original spices and hot sauces here, created with influences from an African, Spanish, Portuguese and British history. Their famous Bajan pepper sauce is slightly similar to Cajun hot sauce, but has its own kick with a combination of Scotch bonnet peppers, mustard, vinegar, onion, black and hot peppers and turmeric. It’s so delicious you’ll never feel bad about pouring it all over the fresh fish they’re famous for steaming, grilling and frying up here. They’ve also got delicious barbecue, fried chicken, curries and pepperpots, so you will not be short on fiery flavors when deciding what to pick from a menu.
Although this Asian country might not have quite as spicy cuisine as some of its neighbors, it still deserves a place on this list. To put it simply, their cooking is so fresh, with clean flavors and savory goodness that any kind of spicy additions just make it all pop that much more. Balance is a very important factor in Vietnamese dishes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re forgetting the spicy addition to their meals. Many of the best spicy dishes originate in the central Huế region with soups like “Bún bò Huế,” a spicy beef concoction heated up with dried chilies (of which you can always add more of), or the spicy meatballs stuffed with vermicelli called “Nem nguội.” They like to balance spicy hints with sour notes, which is where you’ll get the feisty version of the Vietnamese hot pot called “Lẩu.” Definitely be on the lookout for the many versions of “Nước chấm,” and ask for the spiciest version they have. This is great for dipping anything from meats to spring rolls, or just pouring over your Phở noodle soups or grilled meat dishes. And lest we forget, do not miss out on their spicy peanut sauce. Whenever you’re in need of an additional kick, just ask for more chilies!
11 Midwest, USA
What’s the Midwest doing on this list? Okay, I won’t lie – I was born in the Midwest, so I might be biased… But that’s all the more reason to let you in on the spicy little secrets that are tucked away in America’s breadbasket. There’s way more going on in flyover country than just hot dogs, deep-dish pizza and steaks. Take for example Omaha, Nebraska in third place for the highest density of bars in the country – and there’s plenty of bar food to be had with it, along with a plethora of restaurants. You pretty much can’t go anywhere here without finding a selection of hot sauces on every table. Try the locally made Crazy Gringa hot sauces like the Ghost Pepper or Scotch Bonnet Pineapple.
Just across the river, Iowa’s gettin’ it hot in here with Lola’s Fine Hot Sauce flavors like Carolina Reaper and Trinidad Scorpion, all made in the capital, Des Moines, and started in small batches at a local farmer’s market. And the big sister to these Midwest gems, Chicago’s a no-messin’-around go-getter when it comes to hot sauces, like the Furious Spoon’s Asian-influenced Fury Sauce, Antique Taco’s Habanero sauce with apple-cider vinger and carrots, and Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits fire attack with Fresno chilies and garlic.
10 South Africa
Africa is a continent brimming with spicy flavors and unique dishes, and South Africa is a beautiful place to introduce these new tastes to your palate. Although they’ve had plenty of British, Portuguese, Indian and Malaysian influences, they also have a strong connection to indigenous cuisine. Curries are a dish you’ll find just about anywhere, and they’re so good you’ll be craving more. Try the Cape Malay curry sauce with Saldanha Bay mussels at SeaBreeze Fish & Shell in metropolitan Cape Town – it’s a creamy, spicy, balanced treat for your mouth. And you should definitely start with a Bloody Mary oyster shot, because these guys are farmed all around the Cape and you won’t get much fresher than this.
As far as condiments, they’ve got you covered throughout the country with sauces like “chakalaka,” a spicy tomato and bean relish, and the all-encompassing Peri-Peri sauce (go for the extra hot with African Bird’s Eye chili). The local fast food chain here, Nando’s, makes some pretty good versions of this. Chili sauces are also popular here, and most places will have their own special creations, so just request their hottest sauce and you’ll be in heaven. Spicy Durban curry is a hot and saucy treat you shouldn’t miss. Don’t be too shy to ask them to make it extra hot for you – the more chilies the merrier!
Indonesia has had countless influences from around the world with more than 300 ethnic groups calling this island archipelago home. With such a great mix, the food is extremely balanced and features many options for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. They love to load dishes up with spicy sambal chili sauces with shrimp paste, and there are so many different versions of this sauce you’ll almost be trying a new kind at every meal. Their Bumbu kacang (peanut sauce) has a nice kick to it and is commonly served atop “Gado-gado,” a generous dish with veggies, potatoes, fried tofu and tempeh. You can find this distinctive meal in just about every corner of the country.
For some meatier dishes, go for the “rendang” steak dish that’s simmered in a spicy red chili sauce. For a lighter snack, try their “kerak telor,” which is basically a spicy omelette fried with rice and dished up with shredded coconut. As I said, sambal is in abundance here, so you can enjoy pretty much any dish with endless hot sauce flavors, starting from mild and working your way up to hot as the sun. As always, just ask around everywhere you go for their hottest sambal – I dare you.
8 Florida, USA
With so many Caribbean and Latin American influences, this state is hot like fire and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Not only do all these cuisines bring the heat, but they’ve got a serious love for hot sauce down here, so you’re covered on all sides of the hot sauce hustle. One dish I can’t get enough of in general – ceviche. And to kick it up a notch, they’ve got spicy-as-all-hell versions. Try the Ceviche Anconero at CVI.CHE 105 for a refreshing Peruvian punch to the mouth with aji limo chilies and rocoto peppers. As you might know, the Cubano is a highly worshipped sandwich here, and I’m going to go ahead and go out on a limb and suggest you smother this in some of Florida’s best hot sauces. Take for example Tabañero: this Florida-produced habanero hot sauce comes in three versions, but I’d opt for the extra hot picante.
Wanting something a little more dangerous? How about some Smack My A** And Call Me Sally sauce from Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex taco shop, with locations throughout the state. You’ll find this go-to on tables everywhere too, along with tons of other hot sauce breeds highly influenced by steamy Caribbean island flavors.
With a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, European and Indian influences, the cuisine in Malaysia is definitely focused largely around curries, but they’re amping it up to the next level here. The one thing that a kitchen can basically not exist without is the chili pepper – they take their spice seriously here, and you’ll be able to taste it in almost every dish. Start off with the Laksa curry, a spicy Chinese influenced noodle soup with curry and sambal, or the “Ayam masak mereh,” a spicy tomato chicken dish, both equally saucy and hot. One of my favorites it the “Pasembur,” a plate of spicy fried crab or other seafood with cucumber, potatoes, bean sprouts and other garnish in a deliciously nutty and spicy sauce. They also make tons of spicy soups here like “Asam laksa,” also highly recommended. You can get lots of satay here, or skewered and grilled meat, generally served with a spicy peanut sauce – always a satisfying snack. As is common in many of Malaysia’s neighboring island countries, sambal, or chili sauce, is a very common condiment here and is a great addition to any dish. They’ve got plenty of versions, similar to Indonesia, but each has its own distinct taste. Why not try them all?
South America isn’t dropping the ball on the hot sauce field, and Peru is a serious player of heat force to be reckoned with. Tucked away on the western coast of the gorgeous South American continent, their cuisine is one-of-a-kind cooking you won’t find many comparisons to, except in places where they’ve left a mark on the food scene (like Miami). Their spicy ceviche cannot be missed, or should I simply say “ceviche.” Each version differs a bit, but aji limo chili is a key ingredient every time. Another hot dish that can’t be missed is their “rocoto relleno” or spicy pepper stuffed with beef, spices and herbs. Oh, and this isn’t your mom’s average stuffed pepper, no, the rocoto chili packs a punch that’s about ten times hotter than a normal jalapeño. But not to worry (or get too excited) though, it’s topped with queso fresco to take the edge off. Another great go-to is the “Papas a la Huancaina” or potatoes covered in spicy cheese sauce. This one is actually pretty balanced, but the best part about Peruvian cuisine is that there’s never a shortage of chilies or hot salsas. Keep an eye out for “ají charapita” salsas (some of the hottest), or just request to have the house hot sauce – you might have to insist that you love spicy food, but just go for it!
Jah makin’ me sweat, man. Too much? Okay, you’re right, but the spicy food here definitely isn’t. One of my favorite peppers is from Jamaica – the wonderfully amazing Scotch bonnet. Probably the country’s most famous dish where this pepper shines and scorches is in their Jerk chicken. Even spicier than this hot chicken fantasy? You’ve got to get down on some Jamaican curry goat, said to be the spiciest dish in the country. The spicy sauce this meat is simmered in will totally hit the spot, and maybe even have you thirsty for a brew. Again, we can thank the Scotch bonnet. It’s served with potatoes, rice and coconut milk to balance things a bit, but let’s be honest, it’s all about the peppers here. In general, Jamaicans are pros at grilling, so you can get down on some spicy grilled goodness just about anywhere on the island. The Jerk pork is supposed to be amazing at Scotchies in Montego Bay, plus you can hang and dig in right by the water. Besides spicy grilled meats and stews, you can also enjoy the beautiful Scotch bonnet in its almost pure form – there are hot sauces galore that feature this gem of a pepper, and you’ll be able to find the good stuff all over Jamaica.
Good lord, this state has got it goin’ on when it comes to spicy deliciousness. With a specific blend of cultures that really hasn’t happened in many other places in the world, Cajun and Creole cooking team up to make the fiery cuisine in this state to die for. One of the best hot dishes here you can’t go without is Jambalaya. Popular around the world in many different takes, this one-pot stew lets the andouille sausage and shellfish shine with an herb and spice mix that makes every flavor pop. Gumbo is another amazing seafood and meat stew that hits the spot when it comes to heat factor. Both of these pair perfectly with more hot sauce shaken liberally on top. Everyone knows Louisiana Hot Sauce and Tabasco, but go for the local’s favorite, Crystal. A NOLA must that also goes well on just about anything is the D.a.T. Sauce, produced in Morgan City, LA.
There are lots of local hot sauces around, so just go spelunking. Another dish you can’t miss for its heat factor? Shrimp Creole, cooked in a tomatoey sauce with plenty of hot peppers. Lordy, have we landed in heaven? In the feisty southern belle that is Louisiana, it’s just about the case.
Korea is seriously not messing around when it comes to spicy food – they put it in everything, and always serve every dish with multiple little spicy condiment dishes like kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) and many of the like. Every Korean dish I’ve ever had has impressed me with its mixture of fresh herbs, spices and heat that packs a real smack in the face at times. It’s hard to tell you where to start, because you can have anything you want spicy, you just have to ask. “Buldak” or fire chicken has become popular in recent years, barbecued and doused in a serious chili sauce. “Nakji bokkeum” is stir-fried octopus again loaded with red pepper sauce, a delicious and blazing seafood affair. If you want to basically lose your voice, then opt for the “Onnuriye Donkatsu,” a pork dish served up in a restaurant by the same name in Seoul. If you actually manage to finish this plate, the owner will put you up on the wall of fame. But most importantly while in Korea, don’t forget to indulge in their famously spicy ramen or “ramyun.” Unlike their Japanese neighbors, they take the spice factor in this soup to a whole new level, which you can always kick up a notch with “gochujang,” a spicy-sweet fermented chili sauce you’ll find everywhere.
I have to say that I feel so lucky to have grown up so close to this breathtaking country and with their cuisine’s influence all around me. This is some of the best spicy food in the world, and it’s perfected with its own distinct local touches and twists throughout the entire country. Peppers are king here, and if you’re into spicy food, then you’ve honestly found paradise. Fresh, dried, fried and saucy chilies are in just about everything, and the salsa possibilities are endless. Try as many spicy soups as you can, like “pozole," "chilate de pollo” or “sopa de camarones,” or any soup which you can always heat up with fresh cut chilies they serve with it. Definitely get down on some green chili, habanero or chipotle salsas (the hottest), and don’t forget it’s not just the amazingly spicy main dishes and salsas to be had here – Mexicans also worship their hot sauces, the queen of which is clearly Valentina. You’ll find this hot kick of a sauce everywhere from street food stalls to beachside tables, or in your Michelada (a spicy beer and tomato beverage with plenty of spice). My favorite versions? Definitely try some street fruit like watermelon doused in Valentina, Tajin classic seasoning and lime, or go a little loco with a “Dorilocos” snack, your pick of Doritos smothered in hot sauce – hell yeah! I told you it’s paradise.
I fell in love with Thailand’s cuisine at a young age, and our relationship was elevated to the next level when I visited this gorgeous country. It’s the perfect mix of cities, jungles, quaint villages and golden temples – and unbelievably mouthwatering food. This is the only place in the world I can officially say I ate spicy meals in for two weeks straight (I’d have gone on longer if I had more vacay days). Sit down at a street-side cafe in Bangkok and chow down on some spicy green curry, or the amazing “Tom yum,” a hot and sour pepper and lime balanced soup usually with seafood. You can’t go anywhere here without finding the delicious fresh chopped chilies, fish sauce and chili powder on every table, so load ‘em up if you’re feeling lively. Panang curry is one of the hottest, along with the peanuty Massaman, but one of my favorite dishes I had was “Khao soy.” This one is most popular in the northern city of Chiang Mai, loaded with egg noodles, seafood and fried noodles on top, it will totally wake your senses up (and is best loaded with fresh and hot chilies on top).
For something you wouldn’t expect to be spicy but might make your taste buds implode depending on how hardcore you are, get yourself some green papaya salad. I’ve only ever had the real version of this in Thailand, and it’s the hottest most gratifying fruity mix I’ve ever had in my life, finished off with chilies, peanuts and asparagus beans. All the chilies? Yes, please!