The Spiciest Dishes in Los Angeles

Tastes like burning

Batter's Box of fried chicken wings at Howlin' Ray's

 |  Photo:  Joshua Lurie

Diners have different tolerance levels when it comes to spice. Whether it’s the mouth numbing effect of Szechuan peppercorns, a ferocious habanero burn or the beads of sweat that will inevitably drip down your forehead as result of sinus-clearing hot wings, Los Angeles has it all. Discover LA’s most intimidating dishes, each uniquely intense, which complement dineL.A.’s Spiciest Restaurants story. Are you up to the capsaicin-fueled challenge?

Atomic Hot Wings at Alondra's | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Alondra's Hot Wings

The legendary gangsters that line the wall of this Paramount wingery aren’t nearly as menacing as the plate of Atomic Hot Wings, which require a waiver and are listed above “Suicide” on the menu. Provide your signature, confirming that you are purchasing the wings “of your own free will.” Minutes later a waitress brings a plastic basket of wings to your table that are submerged in flame-red hot sauce and wafting with pain. Attack, ignore the sinus discomfort and sweat and don’t let up until you’ve picked the chicken bones clean. No, ranch dressing and raw vegetables don’t help. Apparently people aren’t so afraid of spice, since Alondra Hot Wings has expanded to Alhambra and Montebello.

Shrimp Topolobampo at Babita Mexicuisine | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Babita Mexicuisine

Chef Roberto Berrelleza’s refined Mexican cooking is a lot more interesting than the San Gabriel dining room lined with worn wood panels and empty tequila bottles. Babita Mexicuisine’s spiciest creation is undoubtedly sautéed shrimp “Topolobampo,” named for a small town in Sinaloa that’s known for this particular crustacean. Berrelleza sautés sweet shrimp in an incendiary sauce crafted from pico de gallo, “super hot habanero,” mustard, tomato and white wine. The colorful plate is garnished with a pink flower, purple cauliflower and a crispy tortilla shell packed with silky black beans.

Liar’s Fuego Steak Melt at Blue Palms Brewhouse | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Blue Palms Brewhouse

The Liar’s Club was a famous bar in Mission Beach. It’s also where Blue Palms proprietor Brian Lenzo fell for craft beer and the Fuego Steak Melt. At his Hollywood beer bar, Lenzo riffs on the famously fiery sandwich, promising, “This is not for the weak.” The Liar’s Fuego Steak Melt involves five types of chilies. Sautéed Serrano and jalapeno join roasted Anaheim strips. Prime Rib comes folded with diced pop & wop peppers (pickled Hungarian wax peppers). The devastating sandwich also touts house-made chipotle aioli and Pepper Jack cheese. Toasted sourdough comes studded with jalapeno and cheddar. The garnish: a single roasted habanero, if you dare. Lenzo suggests pairing the balanced sandwich with a hoppy IPA, which are always flowing.

Guisado's Tacos

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Guisados Tacos

Armando de la Torre has turned Guisados into a trusted taco brand at five locations around L.A. Stews are piled on thick corn tortillas made with masa sourced from brother Eddie in Boyle Heights. Their blackboard menu touts options like Chiles Toreados, the only taco that rates three chile peppers. This taco features a thick, griddled tortilla graced with earthy black beans, orange habanero salsa, shaved red onion, and five varieties of roasted chiles: green Thai, Fresno, jalapeno, serrano and habanero. The resulting spice bomb induces hiccups, clears sinuses and tingles taste buds well past the last bite.

Batter's Box of fried chicken wings at Howlin' Ray's

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Howlin’ Ray’s

Johnny Zone and wife Amanda Chapman turned up the heat on Chinatown’s Far East Plaza with the 2016 opening of Howlin’ Ray’s, their fiery fried chicken concept that started as a truck. They were inspired by Nashville’s famous hot chicken, a dish made famous at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and celebrated at spots like Zone favorite Hattie B’s. Fried chicken utilizes a proprietary pepper blend that includes classic cayenne, habanero and more modern adrenaline inducers like Carolina Reaper and ghost. Possible spice levels range from “country,” which falls short of mild, to “howlin’,” a spice level that’s liable to burn a hole in your cheek. Get a whole bird or pieces of your choice. Howlin’ Ray’s also serves a terrific fried chicken sandwich with juicy breast meat on a buttered bun with cabbage slaw, pickles and spicy “comeback sauce” crafted with ingredients like chile powder and paprika. Balm your tongue with sides like creamy macaroni salad or cider vinegar slaw. On weekends, they serve chicken and waffles.

Ringburner at Lucifer's Pizza | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Lucifer’s Pizza

Adam Borich started serving pizza from a conveyor belt in Los Feliz starting in 2008. He later expanded to Melrose, planting Lucifer’s around the corner from Pink’s Hot Dogs. The Hollywood branch is more centrally located, housing a black facade, picnic table seating, and provocative posters. The spiciest pizza is the Ringburner, combining pepperoni, jalapenos, black pepper, red bell pepper, and red pepper flakes. Not all pizzas are inherently incendiary, but you can specify spice levels ranging from zero to blazing. Medium involves a fresh-roasted chile sauce made using a proprietary blend. Blazing adds fresh black pepper and chile flakes to the fiery mix. They apply hot sauce to the crust before baking hot flavor into the pizza. You can even ignite a humble Margherita.

Red & Beef Burrito at Lupe's #2 | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Lupe’s #2

The late Adeline “Tuchie” Portillo opened this burrito stand in East L.A. in 1972, and Lupe’s #2 has remained family owned and operated ever since. The open-air destination resides near a Gold Line stop and the 710 freeway. The space features a speckled Formica counter with red cushioned stools, and shaded picnic tables in back. Lupe’s serves a deluxe bean and cheese burrito with larded refried beans and molten yellow cheese, but the even better is Red & Beef, featuring tender beef chunks slathered with fierce red salsa. Their Green & Beef burrito is tame by comparison.

Spicy BBQ Restaurant by Nong & Family

Chiang Mai native Nong Sriyana features northern Thai dishes at her six-table restaurant in an East Hollywood strip mall. Grilled serrano dressing involves strips of smoky pepper with charred skins, seeds and all, folded with tomato, onion and garlic. The spicy but manageable dip comes topped with scallions and cilantro. Pinch sticky rice to snag Serrano with an impromptu utensil. Nong’s niece Kay recommends a lemonade chaser.

Yup Dduk LA | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Yup Dduk LA

Yup Dduk LA ignites Koreatown’s Key Center on a daily basis. This branch of a Korean rice cake chain features wood tables, red metal chairs, and pulsing K-Pop. Yup dduk stars cylindrical rice cakes and fish cake strips slathered in chile sauce. “Extra mild” rates a single chile pepper on a five chile pepper scale. Even mild is still tongue tingling. Yup O is a variation with more fish cakes and fewer rice cakes. Add ingredients like molten mozzarella cheese, deep fried SPAM and ramen noodles. Yup Dduk LA is also home to the #KtownSpicyChallenge, depicted on a sign with chile-slathered rice cakes and steam spewing from a woman’s head. Partake if you dare, and receive a hand fan printed with "ktown spicy challenge complete” for your efforts. Boneless chicken feet are also popular.