Chinese food may be easier to find in Squirrel Hill than, well, actual squirrels. But there’s a vast range when it comes to heat. How Lee has been on the corner of Shady and Forbes for a long time, but at some point, they transformed from a standard Chinese-American takeout joint to a serious Sichuan spot serving things like Family Style Beef Tendon with Chili Vinaigrette and Tea-Smoked Duck. Then there are their especially fiery dishes, like Chongqing Fried Dry Hot Chicken — for which chiles seem to be the centerpiece, with the chicken merely a vessel for their delivery.

Udipi Cafe

Every Indian restaurant in Pittsburgh can bring the heat, if you ask them to (and they believe you can take it). Why not go with the very best? This super unpretentious spot — barely upgraded from their styrofoam and plastic cutlery beginnings — is the real deal for spicy vegetarian and vegan South Indian cooking. Don’t skip the giant, pancake-like dosa, with hot chutney if you dare.

Always lots of sauces — some hot, some not — at Udipi. Photo by Erika Gidley.
Always lots of sauces — some hot, some not — at Udipi. Photo by Erika Gidley.

Harris Grill  

The Jamaican Jerk, Just Damn Hot Buffalo and Rick & Morty Szechuan Wubba Lubba Dub Dub (!) wings here boast a fair amount of fiery flavor. However, the Columbian Gum Nummers are piquant enough to pique the most played-out palate. Their philosophy is, “You just have to ask if you want them hotter than hell and we’ll make ‘em burn.” Have a beer, or three, ready.

Tana Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian food isn’t the hottest, but it is fairly spicy — and it’s a spice range that hits different notes than the usual. For a starter at Tana, try Ayib Bemitmita, Ethiopian cottage cheeese mixed with Mitmita (hot pepper powder). Doro Wat is the main chicken dish, simmered slow in Kay Wot Berbere sauce — a spice mixture including basil, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, fenugreek and herbs and spices that are considerably more obscure. The best way to consume the dish is to wrap it up in some soft, spongy injera bread, and eat with your hands.  

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife,...