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REALLY spicy food in the Bay Area?

So my boyfriend's birthday is on Monday, and he LOVES spicy food. Our fridge always has fresh habaneros and our cupboard is stocked with Dave's Insanity and Mad Dog additives. This is a guy who can handle a lot of heat, and moreover, loves the different tastes of hot peppers. I want find him something truly SPICY to munch on for his birthday dinner.

I looked through some other spicy-related posts, but they were all a few years old. Ideally I want to find a place that is gleefully aware of the spice content of the food and will kick it up a notch for my boyfriend! We live in the South Bay, but suggestions from other areas in the greater Bay are welcomed.

Also, it would be great if habaneros or something different like the naga jolokia is incorporated into some of the food. Any spice 'challenges' where eating some spicy menu item is a rite of passage would be friggin perfect. I'm reading about Prince of Wales pub and that would have been just the ticket, but they're closed.

Thanks so much!

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  1. I don't think it is quite what you're looking for, but I find Ruen Pair in North Berkeley/Albany to be quite spicy, as well as really good Thai food. They definitely ask you how spicy you want, so you can negotiate there.

    I'm curious to see what other replies you get.

    Ruen Pair
    1045 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bryan Gros

      I agree with Bryan, I consider my spice tolerance to be pretty good, but Ruen Pair can make most grown men cry as readily as watching Old Yeller. I like the noodles and sauteed items, avoid any BBQ stuff that doesn't look like it should belong on a Thai menu.

      1. re: nicedragonboy

        I have a very different experience with Ruen Pair. I tried them three times and I got one spicy dish when ordering spicy dishes spicy. I have another friend with the same experience. I don't know if we're getting "round eye spice" treatment there, but just saying Ruen Pair doesn't work for me.

        Sounds like the OP has a rec they like....

    2. The water boiled beef or fish at China Village in Albany is a real spice lovers dish and quite different from your usual spicy Mexican/Southwest food. Also try some of their other dishes which are great. There is a fish soup that is presented with hundreds of peppers floating on top which they remove. The dish is actually not that spicy but is delicious and is a great presentation. Ask the waiter for suggestions if you like it really hot.

      3 Replies
      1. re: slipson

        Agree with this wholeheartedly. I fancy myself capable of handling quite a bit heat and their water boiled beef usually has me teary-eyed and sweating, but the last time I must have taken a breath in just as I was happily taking a bite because the sichuan peppercorn flakes hit the back of my throat and everything went completely numb. I literally could not take a breath at least 10 seconds and it took several minutes to be able to breathe normally again. Quite scary actually, but it's just such a good dish...

        1. re: adrienne156

          I made the mistake of asking for this dish extra spicy once... only once.

          Your BF might enjoy this since it's a different kind of burn from their use of the Sichuan peppercorns. I'd ask the server for recommendations too.

          1. re: SLRossi

            China Village link

            China Village
            1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

      2. Here is your solution: Smoke Eaters in Santa Clara. I haven't been myself, but I saw it featured on Man vs Food. I usually can never get food spicy enough for my tastes, but their 911 challenge looks pretty damn scary. The wings are coated in like a quarter pound of dried habanero and a ton of other stuff, and to win the challenge, you have to eat them with no water and no napkins (so your finger burn, too!), and then you have to wait 5 minutes after eating them all before you can get anything to drink/wipe with. I would think that is the spiciest thing you could get in the whole Bay Area.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Ozumo

          I actually discovered that after asking, and it looks like what I'm going to take him for. I just need to decide whether to go to the one in San Jose or the one in Santa Clara.

          1. re: lmjensen

            Glad you found your choice. This thread is only 5 months old if that fails.

            1. re: lmjensen

              I've tried the 911 challenge wings at Smoke Eaters at the Santa Clara location (back when it was still Cluck U Chicken). My friends and I did not actually attempt the challenge; we just wanted to see how hot it was. Well, I can tell you definitively it was the spiciest thing I had ever tasted (and I'm a chili lover). It actually burned the fingers and lips just to hold and touch the wings. Unfortunately they didn't taste nearly as good as the other wings with lower heat levels at the restaurant. Somehow they added an absurd amount of peppers and forgot the salt and other seasonings or something. :P So it was hot hot hot but otherwise bland. I won't order the 911 wings again, but they were certainly an experience, and it was fun to try them. :) At least there is a Safeway next door where you can pick up some milk to offset the heat.

              Also, I tried some leftover wings the day after, and they lost *a lot* of their kick from being in the frig overnight.

              1. re: madoka

                they lost *a lot* of their kick from being in the frig overnight.
                Either that or your nerve endings had not regenerated yet.

                1. re: madoka

                  thanks for the info! I figure I'll take him to most of these places at one point or another, but I think the 911 challenge would be a fun birthday thing just because it'll give him a chance to be all macho-man and get a shirt and we can cheer him on. The other stuff sounds more delicious but less exciting as a social outing.

                  Thanks everyone for the great responses!

                  1. re: lmjensen

                    Please let us know how it goes! I'll be interested to see if he's succesful at the challenge!

                    1. re: lmjensen

                      Where did you go?

                      SmokeEaters Hot Wings
                      2565 The, Alameda Santa Clara, CA

                      29 S 3rd St, San Jose, CA

              2. Here's a recent thread on spicy food. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/597981

                I think since you mentioned that he liked different peppers that he would like China Village. There's a lot more to their spicing than just heat. If you talk to the manager -- Mr. Yao -- he can steer you to some of the hottest stuff, and possible also some dishes that might be "off menu" (some of their cooks, and Mr. Yao himself, have special dishes they don't put on the menu). Might even be worth calling ahead and planning something special.

                1. I would also suggest Vientiane for something unusual.
                  It's "downhome" Laotian food. I've made the mistake of ordering the Lao style green papaya salad and asked for it spicy, and it was near inedible for me.

                  Here's an old chowhound thread on the place:

                  Vientian Cafe
                  3801 Allendale Ave, Oakland, CA 94619

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: kungful

                    Ruen Pair and Sabuy Sabuy II. Ruen Pair's hottest is really something that can make you convulse at the table, yet somehow want more because the flavor is good. I like the food at Sabuy Sabuy II better, however. Just make sure the owner (Bert) knows that you mean spicy, and you really mean it.

                    1. re: lmnopm

                      Agree on Ruen Pair. The key is to know who's cooking. When the dad is cooking and I order "Thai spicy," it's too much even for me.

                      1. re: lmnopm

                        Holy cow-- I just got back from lunch at Ruen Pair. I ordered the Tom Yum noodle soup and asked for it "extra spicy" The waitress gave me a look like I was crazy, then said "If it's too hot we can't fix it" I guess people have complained and/or sent back food 'cause it was too hot. Anyway, I love spice and heat, and this was intense. The heat just kept building. Although VERY hot overall, the broth was very flavorful (could be a bit more sour) and the noodles tender. I kept eating more despite the near pain. My lips are still tingling and are red as are my nostrils. Definitely one for my record books (especially the last few spoonfuls of broth with the settled peppers). Funny that pickled habeneros for example don't really phase me, but this meal really did... in a good way. I'll be back for sure. The waitress was really good about refilling me water, I sure needed it.

                        1. re: gakerty

                          Ruen Pair link

                          Ruen Pair
                          1045 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                        2. re: lmnopm

                          Since we're dragging up this old thread again, just wanted to comment that I tried Ruen Pair after seeing this and you guys are RIGHT. I've been able to easily handle spicy foods everywhere, but when you say it here they mean it. I ordered a couple of dishes at their spiciest level and by bite four we were all in tears and hiccuping. But the flavors were so good that we powered through the pain and really enjoyed our meal. Once you start, you can't stop anyway because the fire just builds in your mouth if you pause. I loved it!

                          Ruen Pair
                          1045 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                          1. re: lmnopm

                            If we're dredging up this old thread, I'll say I had three meals at Ruen Pair and nothing was spicy. Some had a little kick, but nothing was thai hot. One friend in that area had said RP was hot, one said it wasn't, my experience was *no*. My definition of hot is when the pain is so searing that your vision blanks out for a few seconds on every bite. A particular thai meal along a river in Chang Mai was the hottest thai I've ever had.

                            The hottest food I've ever had is Phal Curry from Sweet Palace outside Bradford, England. Too bad Phal can't be had outside England ( and diminishes as you get further from Bradford).

                            Let me finally say that all of Mexico gets huge props in my book for hot eating, but is often eating simple, fresh pepper preperations. While there's a purity and joy to the mexican way ---- and mexicans eat this way constantly ---- I have to give props to dishes like Phal that sneak up on you and have complicated intensity.

                            Ruen Pair
                            1045 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I don't like Thai Hot, so I didn't ask for it thai hot. I asked for 'very spicy' and got bland.

                                I like food with a solid kick that brings a slight tear to the eye and some flush to the skin, but with depth and texture. If all a thai restaurant does is bland or thai hot, nothing in-between, they're not for me. I have my favorite 5 thai places that do what I like in the south peninsula.

                                And, of course there's somewhere in NY that serves Phal! How silly of me. I will say if you like food chowhound style and you make it to the UK, Bradford is worth a trip. London indian just doesn't cut it.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  i'm confused then, I thought you were looking for something hot from them that would bring a tear to your eye. if that's the case, why not ask for "thai hot", because they do not hold back if you let them know you can handle it.

                                  1. re: nicedragonboy

                                    Yes. *a* tear. That's what I call 'spicy'. Thai Hot is blinding, acutely painful, and not that much fun - I can eat it, but I don't find it that pleasant - especially the next morning. I was not able to get them to make the food simply *spicy*. I don't think any of the hot thai dishes should ever be made without a fair sized kick.

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      I'm with you, BB. Love the fire but must have the flavors. Example being the Hmong New Year celebration held down here every post Xmas thru New Years. First year, got the authentic Green Papaya Salad, they had to use a fire extinguisher on me... but loved the flavors. Next year was able to communicate with the lovely lady doing the mashing to just put in half the normal peppers. Still kicked my ass but I was able to enjoy it.

                                  2. re: bbulkow

                                    There was a place that served Phal on Man vs. Food -- think it may have been in NY.

                              2. Coming to this topic only now, but FWIW, after decades of eating spicy food in the Bay Area and testing (and finding) my limits, the dishes I've encountered the very hottest have always been Thai or thereabouts. That region has a tradition of fiery foods much hotter than, say, Sichuan or Latin America. The key point is that they normally numb it way down for US customers. If you ask for dishes very hot, you often get "gringo hot" which is still numbed down from "Thai hot." The small but deadly Thai phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, aka bird's-eye pepper, widely known by a less appetizing Thai nickname) is part of the cooking tradition (and is used sometimes there as a prank on gullible foreigners) and like other good very hot peppers it has rich flavor, not just heat.

                                Once a co-worker from Mexico -- who could stand far hotter food than most people in the Bay Area -- demanded "Thai hot" in an exquisite stir-fry rice-noodle dish at a good Thai restaurant for lunch. I, carelessly, went along with it. BOTH of us were indisposed all afternoon, and wiser for it.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  The hottest dish I've had around here is the papaya salad at Wat Mongkolratanaram. If you order it spicy, they make it Thai spicy. I'm the only person I know who likes it.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    "Thai hot" is no joke. I'm used to a way ramped up heat level in Asian foods - my mom is the queen of chilis! But Thai hot is too hot for me - esp. when a Thai person orders it! I

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I will give only one counterexample: I once had a hot pimento in the "some are hot, some are not" peppers at Cesar, and that was as hot as anything I've eaten - although it was only one pepper and over quickly, there's something about how you eat them, and how it surprises you, that I find most amusing. The pepper literally took my vision away for a few seconds.

                                      Re: Ruen Pair: so, what, you're supposed to call up and ask who is cooking? I'm not going all the way over there for whoever I've gotten the three times I tried.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        I love spicy food -- I haven't yet found a dish in a Thai, Korean, Indian or Schezuan restaurant that I couldn't easily handle (and I seek out super spicy food).

                                        The spiciest dishes (by far -- in fact, the only time that I've had something kick my butt) I've ever eaten have been in Mexico -- but ironically it's hard to find a Mexican restaurant that don't serve "American Hot" food in the US-- it's all watered down from what you might get back in the home country.

                                        Also worthy to note, ALL chilli peppers originate in the New World, and were spread from here (well,from Mexico and parts of Central America) to the rest of the world via the Spanish trade routes during the times of the Spanish Empire.

                                        Mexicans eat more spicy food per capita than anyone else in the world, by far, (they're off the charts in fact) -- so it's no surprise that your Mexican coworker could handle spices better than most if not all.

                                        At any rate, the hottest thing I've ever put in my mouth was a "toreado style" serrano pepper -- which again I've only seen in Mexico (though I've asked for it by name in Mexican restaurants in the US -- they just don't cater to the spice seeker).

                                        I haven't yet tried the 911 Clukc U wings, nor have I done something foolish, like eating a raw habanero pepper -- of course, nothing hotter exists in the planet (your "Thai" pepper -- along with Papaya -- it's not really native to Thailand -- is actually related to the Habanero and native to Mexico).

                                        1. re: chowhound_quino

                                          Here's is the new standard at 1000000 Scovill units twice Habeneros.
                                          Bhut Jolokia, ghost pepper.

                                      2. Spices and Spices 2 in the Inner Richmond hold up to their name. They also have stinky tofu, if that is of interest.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: realspear

                                          There's also Spices!3 in Oakland. I haven't found any of the their dishes as spicy as some that I've had at China Village.

                                        2. The hottest dish I've had in SF was Extremely Hot Pepper at Old Mandarin Islamic. As I recall -- it was a while ago -- it was several types of chili stir-fried with a bit of ground meat and egg. I could only eat a few bites at one sitting, with piles of rice.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: david kaplan

                                            When I've had it, it was roughly equal parts fresh chiles and egg. That's a great dish for chile lovers. Pick out the bitter dried red chiles, though.

                                          2. 'My thai' in Fremont. They have a wall of flame.

                                            34265 Fremont Blvd Fremont, CA 94555-3300

                                            1. MARNEE THAI in San Francisco has delicious and spicy food. Most very spicy and too much for everyone I know. I love panangs but have to think twice for any of them here, but yummy. Great food, and service is good, too. We go to the one on ninth street near lincoln way next to the park. Across the street from PARK CHOW, btw - a best choice too, but not for spicy food.

                                              1. You say you're in the South Bay? Then you're possibly already familiar with Hunan Taste in San Jose. I order everything mild there, yet still find myself sweating and blowing my nose. Once my husband ordered a dish "medium", and I could take no more than one bite. I'm not a sissy about spicy foods, but I don't think I'm up to the Dave's Insanity level either.

                                                Hunan Taste is a kind of hole in the wall, family-owned, but I like the cooking and and the people.

                                                Hunan Taste
                                                998 N. 4th Street
                                                San Jose


                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: teela brown

                                                  Hunan Taste link

                                                  Hunan Taste
                                                  998 N 4th St, San Jose, CA 95112

                                                2. please try thai house express. get the tom yum goong and ask for it thai hot and let us know if your boyfriend likes it hotter than that. i personally could not eat it, it was that hot. that's probably the spiciest dish i've had in the bay area.

                                                  Thai House Express
                                                  901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                  1. Sai Jai Thai Restaurant in SF Tenderloin has teh best spicy thai dishes. Just ask for thai style hot and they will craft one up to juice your systems! They are famous for their papaya salad, so go for that!

                                                    Sai Jai Thai Restaurant
                                                    771 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: pattypatlv

                                                      second sai jai thai. if you want not only spicy food, but also often-not-eaten food, get the raw shrimp salad

                                                      make sure to get a thai iced coffee to wash it down with

                                                    2. I can't think of anything I've had that's hotter than the Extremely Hot Pepper at Old Mandarin Islamic.