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Chunks of fried chicken are seen mixed with chopped peppers
Chongqing chicken @ Szechuan Chef
Szechuan Chef/Instagram

10 Spicy Portland Dishes That Deliver the Heat

From numbingly spicy Chongqing chicken to chile-inflected Southern Thai ground pork

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Chongqing chicken @ Szechuan Chef
| Szechuan Chef/Instagram

There is something thrilling about food loaded with capsaicin: the immediate alarming of the senses, the tears, runny nose, and endorphins. From laziji to vindaloo, the scorching hot dishes found on this map span a range of cuisines and cultures made by chefs across the Portland Metro area. While Portland is home to a vast selection of spicy dishes, the ones featured on this map are noteworthy due to the sheer magnitude of heat — and creative culinary elements that make these dishes worth the potential pain. Please note that the dishes are not ranked, but listed geographically.

A number of Portland restaurants have resumed onsite service. The level of service offered is indicated on each map point. However, this should not be taken as endorsement for dining in, as there are still safety concerns: for updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID update page. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on restaurants following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Chongqing Chicken at Szechuan Chef

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7007 S Macadam Ave
Portland, OR 97219
(503) 227-3136
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This South Portland Chinese restaurant is where various Sichuan hot pot dishes and soups come to life. The Chongqing chicken, however, stands alone at the top of the heat hierarchy. This dish, also known as laziji, is essentially bits of crispy chicken utterly buried in red chilies and Sichuan peppercorn, balancing tingling mala with the sheer heat of the peppers. The restaurant is open seven days a week for takeout only.

Bits of chicken are seen surrounded but diced peppers
Chong Qing Chicken @ Szechuan Chef
Ron Scott / EPDX

2. Habanero Cheese Balls at Salvador Molly's

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1523 SW Sunset Blvd
Portland, OR 97239
(503) 293-1790
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This cozy and brightly colored Hillsdale restaurant prides itself on bringing together vibrant cuisines from around the world to fill out its menu. But there’s only one item on this menu that will secure patrons a spot on the “Wall of Flame” if eaten. The habanero cheese balls are crispy and gooey fritters that come standing in a small pool of habanero relish. Finish all five along with the sauce — the dish comes with a spoon to help — for a spot on the wall. It is currently open for delivery and takeout only, Tuesday through Sunday.

Fried cheese balls are seen on a white plate with a habanero relish
Habanero Cheese Balls @ Salvador Molly’s
Ron Scott/EPDX

3. Southern Ground Pork at Hat Yai

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1605 NE Killingsworth St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 764-9701
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Ask any Portlander who's had this dish how it was, and they're likely to give an immediate and energetic description of the heat level. Though the bird’s eye chili isn’t visible in the dish, its presence becomes obvious after the first bite. Acidity from lime and lemongrass join in to add brightness to this searing heat. This dish offers a slow burn that continues to build; for relief from the spice, Hat Yai’s coconut mango horchata, made with or without rum, is a worthy salve. It is currently open seven days a week for patio service, as well as for takeout and delivery.

Southern Ground Pork @ Hat Yai
Ron Scott / EPDX

4. Half Chicken at Charlie's Hot Chicken

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611 SE Grant St
Portland, OR 97214

This delivery-only Nashville hot chicken kitchen popped up in Portland in September 2020, and has been going strong serving up tender cuts of crispy and spicy chicken ever since. Level Five, aka the “holy cluck” heat level, brings ghost peppers to the party, which seem fitting for a ghost kitchen. Doug Miriello, the brains behind Dimo’s Apizza on East Burnside, serves up a spicy bird that’s first brined in saltwater, herbs, and then buttermilk with hot sauce before being fried in butter and lard, finally seasoned liberally with ghost pepper, habanero, and cayenne.  It is open from Tuesday to Sunday.

5. Lamb Vindaloo at Dil Se Indian Cuisine

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1201 SW Jefferson St
Portland, OR 97201
(503) 804-5619
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This dish, with historical ties to Portugal and India, has changed over time from a more traditionally tangy sauce to the famous face-melting curry found in restaurants today. This rich and spicy sauce relies on generous doses of red chilies, vinegar, ginger, and cumin, which permeate hearty and moist chunks of lamb and potato. Dil Se is open seven days a week for takeout and delivery, but is not currently offering dine-in service.

6. The Diablo Burrito at Allan's Authentic Mexican Restaurant

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18305 NW West Union Rd
Portland, OR 97229
(503) 629-1764
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The Diablo Burrito almost speaks for itself. Protruding from the top of this two-pound behemoth are two serrano pepper horns, while beneath the wet blanket of bright red guajillo chili sauce lies a burrito filled with sliced New York strip steak, rice, pinto beans, and a legion of peppers: jalapeno, serrano, powdered morita and pequin, habanero, and ghost peppers. A quick YouTube search will reveal a handful of people daring enough to attempt to tackle this beast. Over 3,000 folks have stepped up to the plate, but only a handful were able to complete the challenge. Allan’s is open 7 days a week for takeout, delivery, and dine-in.

7. Swimming Fire Fish at Taste of Sichuan

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16261 NW Cornell Rd
Beaverton, OR 97006
(503) 629-7001
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Located off 158th and Hwy 26, this not-so-well-kept-secret consistently produces the best in Sichuan-style cuisine in Beaverton since it opened in 2011. Taste of Sichuan calls itself “Home of the Swimming Fire Fish,” and it’s the spiciest among many other very spicy dishes on the “Wild Side” portion of its menu. This dish is also known more traditionally as Sichuan boiled fish, or Shui Zhu Yu. Here, white fish is lightly poached in seasoned water and then served in exceptionally spicy oil and broth (made with Tien Tsin peppers and Szechuan peppercorns), along with tofu, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. It is currently open for takeout only, seven days a week.

8. Mala Ramen at Kayo's Ramen Bar

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3808 N Williams Ave #124
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 477-6016
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As noted in Eater’s ramen map, the Mala Ramen at Kayo’s is a force to be reckoned with. Kayo’s uses its signature miso pastes in concert with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, chilis, and garlic for a bowl of ramen that’s as punchy as can be. It also serves pints of Kirin Ichiban to help cool the burn. Kayo’s is currently open Monday through Saturday for dine-in, and has delivery and curbside options as well.

A bowl of broth with chilies and spinach
Mala Ramen at Kayo’s Ramen
Ron Scott / EPDX

9. Evil Jungle Recipe Stir Fry at Zaap

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3513 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Portland, OR 97212
(503) 208-3018
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Like many Thai restaurants in this Thai-loaded town, Zaap offers a range of spice levels for its assortment of curries, stir-fries, and noodle dishes. The range at Zaap, which serves Northeastern Thai cuisine, starts at 1 and tops out at 5. The Evil Jungle Recipe stir fry combines veggies and a house red curry, along with basil and cooling coconut milk, to make the spiciest vegetarian dish on this list. Order the dish at a five for takeout or in-house delivery.

10. Papaya Salad at Khao Niew Lao Street Food

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4579 NE Cully Blvd
Portland, OR 97218
(503) 206-8911
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Though Portlanders might be well-versed in traditional Thai dishes such as som tum, also known as papaya salad, it’s less likely that they’re familiar with it’s more funky, fermented Lao counterpart. Khao Niew makes this green papaya salad in a large mortar and pestle called a cloke and sok in Laotian. Freshly ground bird’s eye chilies play with the funky and briny flavors brought by fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste. Khao Niew, located at Cully Central, offers this dish “Lao style” for maximum heat — eat it onsite, or take it to-go.

Papaya salad is seen on a white plate alongside pork rinds and beef jerky
Papaya Salad at Khao Niew
Ron Scott / EPDX

1. Chongqing Chicken at Szechuan Chef

7007 S Macadam Ave, Portland, OR 97219
Bits of chicken are seen surrounded but diced peppers
Chong Qing Chicken @ Szechuan Chef
Ron Scott / EPDX

This South Portland Chinese restaurant is where various Sichuan hot pot dishes and soups come to life. The Chongqing chicken, however, stands alone at the top of the heat hierarchy. This dish, also known as laziji, is essentially bits of crispy chicken utterly buried in red chilies and Sichuan peppercorn, balancing tingling mala with the sheer heat of the peppers. The restaurant is open seven days a week for takeout only.

7007 S Macadam Ave
Portland, OR 97219

2. Habanero Cheese Balls at Salvador Molly's

1523 SW Sunset Blvd, Portland, OR 97239
Fried cheese balls are seen on a white plate with a habanero relish
Habanero Cheese Balls @ Salvador Molly’s
Ron Scott/EPDX

This cozy and brightly colored Hillsdale restaurant prides itself on bringing together vibrant cuisines from around the world to fill out its menu. But there’s only one item on this menu that will secure patrons a spot on the “Wall of Flame” if eaten. The habanero cheese balls are crispy and gooey fritters that come standing in a small pool of habanero relish. Finish all five along with the sauce — the dish comes with a spoon to help — for a spot on the wall. It is currently open for delivery and takeout only, Tuesday through Sunday.

1523 SW Sunset Blvd
Portland, OR 97239

3. Southern Ground Pork at Hat Yai

1605 NE Killingsworth St, Portland, OR 97211
Southern Ground Pork @ Hat Yai
Ron Scott / EPDX

Ask any Portlander who's had this dish how it was, and they're likely to give an immediate and energetic description of the heat level. Though the bird’s eye chili isn’t visible in the dish, its presence becomes obvious after the first bite. Acidity from lime and lemongrass join in to add brightness to this searing heat. This dish offers a slow burn that continues to build; for relief from the spice, Hat Yai’s coconut mango horchata, made with or without rum, is a worthy salve. It is currently open seven days a week for patio service, as well as for takeout and delivery.

1605 NE Killingsworth St
Portland, OR 97211

4. Half Chicken at Charlie's Hot Chicken

611 SE Grant St, Portland, OR 97214

This delivery-only Nashville hot chicken kitchen popped up in Portland in September 2020, and has been going strong serving up tender cuts of crispy and spicy chicken ever since. Level Five, aka the “holy cluck” heat level, brings ghost peppers to the party, which seem fitting for a ghost kitchen. Doug Miriello, the brains behind Dimo’s Apizza on East Burnside, serves up a spicy bird that’s first brined in saltwater, herbs, and then buttermilk with hot sauce before being fried in butter and lard, finally seasoned liberally with ghost pepper, habanero, and cayenne.  It is open from Tuesday to Sunday.

611 SE Grant St
Portland, OR 97214

5. Lamb Vindaloo at Dil Se Indian Cuisine

1201 SW Jefferson St, Portland, OR 97201

This dish, with historical ties to Portugal and India, has changed over time from a more traditionally tangy sauce to the famous face-melting curry found in restaurants today. This rich and spicy sauce relies on generous doses of red chilies, vinegar, ginger, and cumin, which permeate hearty and moist chunks of lamb and potato. Dil Se is open seven days a week for takeout and delivery, but is not currently offering dine-in service.

1201 SW Jefferson St
Portland, OR 97201

6. The Diablo Burrito at Allan's Authentic Mexican Restaurant

18305 NW West Union Rd, Portland, OR 97229

The Diablo Burrito almost speaks for itself. Protruding from the top of this two-pound behemoth are two serrano pepper horns, while beneath the wet blanket of bright red guajillo chili sauce lies a burrito filled with sliced New York strip steak, rice, pinto beans, and a legion of peppers: jalapeno, serrano, powdered morita and pequin, habanero, and ghost peppers. A quick YouTube search will reveal a handful of people daring enough to attempt to tackle this beast. Over 3,000 folks have stepped up to the plate, but only a handful were able to complete the challenge. Allan’s is open 7 days a week for takeout, delivery, and dine-in.

18305 NW West Union Rd
Portland, OR 97229

7. Swimming Fire Fish at Taste of Sichuan

16261 NW Cornell Rd, Beaverton, OR 97006

Located off 158th and Hwy 26, this not-so-well-kept-secret consistently produces the best in Sichuan-style cuisine in Beaverton since it opened in 2011. Taste of Sichuan calls itself “Home of the Swimming Fire Fish,” and it’s the spiciest among many other very spicy dishes on the “Wild Side” portion of its menu. This dish is also known more traditionally as Sichuan boiled fish, or Shui Zhu Yu. Here, white fish is lightly poached in seasoned water and then served in exceptionally spicy oil and broth (made with Tien Tsin peppers and Szechuan peppercorns), along with tofu, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. It is currently open for takeout only, seven days a week.

16261 NW Cornell Rd
Beaverton, OR 97006

8. Mala Ramen at Kayo's Ramen Bar

3808 N Williams Ave #124, Portland, OR 97227
A bowl of broth with chilies and spinach
Mala Ramen at Kayo’s Ramen
Ron Scott / EPDX

As noted in Eater’s ramen map, the Mala Ramen at Kayo’s is a force to be reckoned with. Kayo’s uses its signature miso pastes in concert with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, chilis, and garlic for a bowl of ramen that’s as punchy as can be. It also serves pints of Kirin Ichiban to help cool the burn. Kayo’s is currently open Monday through Saturday for dine-in, and has delivery and curbside options as well.

3808 N Williams Ave #124
Portland, OR 97227

9. Evil Jungle Recipe Stir Fry at Zaap

3513 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR 97212

Like many Thai restaurants in this Thai-loaded town, Zaap offers a range of spice levels for its assortment of curries, stir-fries, and noodle dishes. The range at Zaap, which serves Northeastern Thai cuisine, starts at 1 and tops out at 5. The Evil Jungle Recipe stir fry combines veggies and a house red curry, along with basil and cooling coconut milk, to make the spiciest vegetarian dish on this list. Order the dish at a five for takeout or in-house delivery.

3513 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Portland, OR 97212

10. Papaya Salad at Khao Niew Lao Street Food

4579 NE Cully Blvd, Portland, OR 97218
Papaya salad is seen on a white plate alongside pork rinds and beef jerky
Papaya Salad at Khao Niew
Ron Scott / EPDX

Though Portlanders might be well-versed in traditional Thai dishes such as som tum, also known as papaya salad, it’s less likely that they’re familiar with it’s more funky, fermented Lao counterpart. Khao Niew makes this green papaya salad in a large mortar and pestle called a cloke and sok in Laotian. Freshly ground bird’s eye chilies play with the funky and briny flavors brought by fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste. Khao Niew, located at Cully Central, offers this dish “Lao style” for maximum heat — eat it onsite, or take it to-go.

4579 NE Cully Blvd
Portland, OR 97218

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