It’s impossible to say just how many Scoville Heat Units are in the hottest dishes in Houston, so we went ahead and developed our very own, extremely arbitrary measurement for rating them: The Hou-ville Scale (humor us, dear reader, just this once). As such, per our very own taste buds, anything under 100,000 Hou-ville Heat Units (HHU) we deem hot but manageable. Anything over that should be ordered with caution, but remember, that heat can really bring out the flavors of any dish, opening up its complexity and making it even more memorable. So don’t be afraid! Just take our word for it. 

Spicy Salmon Poke

Ono Poke | Montrose and Downtown, onopokehouston.com

Poke is first and foremost about fresh fish. Spice is optional. But this small chain welcomes heat in its Hawaiian seafood bowls as a way to contrast the briny freshness of its proteins. Try the house bowl of salmon (pictured at top) with spicy shoyu and spicy mayo sauces, and crushed Hot Cheetos (you know, for the ’gram). Helping you cool off with each bite are diced cucumbers, red onions, green onions, and sesame seeds. Spice Level: 20,000 HHU

Chicken Wings

Griff’s | Montrose, griffsirishpub.com

Ask Houstonians where to get the hottest Buffalo-style chicken wings and you might be directed to this old-school hang where Lone Stars and midnight shots flow. Griff’s uses locally made Big Daddy’s hot sauces for its wings, the hottest consistent flavor being the aptly named Ass Burn. It’s made with habaneros (and Saint Arnold Lawnmower beer), so you’ll get punched just a little. Spice Level: 27,000 HHU

Smoked Pork with Dried White Chile Peppers

Spicy Hunan | Asia Town, spicy-hunan-chinese-restaurant.business.site

Hunan cuisine is more fragrant and colorful than Sichuan, and its spice tends to be a bit more layered. At the tucked-away Spicy Hunan in Asia Town, that holds true with a number of traditional dishes. In this one, tender slices of salty pork with crisp skin mingle with hot peppers and crunchy vegetables on the sweet side. Spice Level: 43,000 HHU

Image: Julie Soefer

Laal Maas

Musaafer | Galleria, musaaferhouston.com

While not the hottest Indian curry dish around (we’ll get there), laal maas with its deeply satisfying heat and smoky goat meat, is nonetheless a delight. The main ingredient is a fragrant, flavorful chile called Mathania which grows only in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The interplay between creamy, warming curry and stout, smoky meat is pretty satisfying. Spice Level: 49,000 HHU

Wet Mango Habanero Wings

Monkey’s Tail | Northside, monkeystailhou.com

After sipping on a boozy juice pouch at this buzzy bar, you might want something savory. And if you want a kick with it, reach for the mango habanero wings. This is definitely a lip-coating sauce, as the habanero pureed into the mix will stick with you for about an hour. Use some blue cheese or ranch to help dull the pain. Spice Level: 54,000 HHU

Image: Jenn Duncan

Shabu Shabu Lamb

Hu’s Cooking | University Place, huscooking.com

Hot tip for those wanting the most heat out of tongue-tingling Sichuan cuisine: Look for big pots or bowls glistening with a sheen of red chile oil. In this hotpot dish, tender and thinly sliced lamb is served in a fiery, oily broth. Cooling mint leaves and a heaping side of white rice will help balance the blaze. Spice Level: 63,000 HHU

Spicy Boiled Beef

Wula Buhuan | Energy Corridor, wulahouston.com

The Sichuan bonanza continues with this mouth-numbing bowl of thin-sliced beef with chopped chiles—including Facing Heaven peppers which can reach up to 50,000 SHU— and peppercorns in shimmering chile oil. Once again, use the rice: After swallowing a nice chopstick-full of the glistening beef, get some of that starch into your mouth quickly. It’ll all feel good. Spice Level: 68,000 HHU

Hot & Spicy Chicken

The Tore Ore | H-Mart, Spring Branch

Though gochu peppers have only around 1,500 Scoville units each, some Korean dishes can really alter an evening—like traditional double-fried Korean fried chicken known for its coating of gochu-based sauce. The sticky sauce applied to the fried wings and drumsticks at this stand inside the Spring Branch H-Mart will tangle your tongue; by the end, the heat will be all over your lips and fingers (though pros know to ask for gloves when ordering). It’s serious, perplexing, and so tasty. Spice Level: 75,000 HHU

Lamb Vindaloo

London Sizzler | Mahatma Gandhi District, londonsizzler.com

The word “vindaloo” comes from the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos, a dish of pork marinated in garlic and wine. The Goans of Western India got a hold of it and spiced it furiously, and today’s dish remains truer to that modification. At London Sizzler the vindaloo is spiked with loads of red chiles, and while that meat is fork tender, the curry will have you loosening your collar for sure. Spice Level: 76,000 HHU

Gomen Watt

Lucy Ethiopian Lounge | Mahatma Gandhi District, lucyhouston.com

Gomen watt, a spiced collard greens stew, is typically boosted by cardamom, chile peppers, and cumin. At Lucy’s the Ethiopian staple gets a Texas twist, braised in a spicy barbecue sauce made of a bunch of jalapeños, plus all those other spices. The greens are typically served with potatoes or other starches to help fend off the heat. The result is a bite that might actually cause little sweat beads to form. Spice Level: 84,000 HHU

Spicy Vietcajun Crawfish

Crawfish and Noodles | Asia Town, crawfishandnoodles.com

There are things you must know before eating chef-owner Trong Nguyen’s spiciest in-house mudbug offering. One: Have rubber gloves. Two: Wear a bib. Three: Don’t think too much. Four: Have potatoes ready for the occasional starchy breather from this blast of chiles and garlic— the ultimate in Viet-Cajun boils. Spice Level: 100,000 HHU

Tsukumen

Tiger Den | Asia Town, tigerdentx.com

For this ramen dish, cooled, cooked noodles are separate from the hot soup, and the eater dunks them in before eating—common in Japan but not so much in America. At Tiger Den the creamy 20-hour pork broth comes with a surprise—a pretty darn spicy rush of chiles. Take a dip. Spice Level: 111,000 HHU

Image: Jenn Duncan

Hotbokki Wings

Seoulside Wings | Spring Branch, seoulsidewings.com

The sauce that coats these Korean-style (double fried) chicken wings is a little like the kind that covers the rice cakes known as tteokbokki: slightly saccharine but mostly ablaze with gochujang and coarse gochugaru chile flake. Spice Level: 155,000 HHU

Phaal Curry

Ashiana Indian Restaurant | Briar Forest, ashianahouston.site

Lest you think vindaloo is the peak of the South Asian heat mountain, may we introduce you to phaal? It’s actually a Bangladeshi-British creation that uses a variety of peppers similar in ferocity—scotch bonnet, habanero, and in some cases even ghost peppers—for a puree-thick, tomato-sweet but ultimately scorching red sauce that, at Ashiana, coats your choice of meat (goat!) and will have you clearing your throat. Spice Level: 167,000 HHU

Image: Jenn Duncan

Holy Spicy Shrimp Wontons

Wanna Bao | Midtown, facebook.com

Most dishes on Wanna Bao’s menu are listed with one or two red chile peppers to designate spicier affairs. But the shrimp and pork wontons, drenched in a combination of Thai chile and Sichuan sauces, come with a warning: Five peppers! Pace yourself as you cut into the steamed wontons revealing a ball of porcine goodness within, and heap on some of the “salsa” of chopped pepper skins and seeds served atop the wontons … if you dare. Spice Level: 182,000 HHU

Spicy Bun Bo Hue

Two Bowls | Asia Town, facebook.com

Bun bo hue is always spicy, but Two Bowls’s version of the popular Vietnamese beef and noodle soup is a little extra. Here, plenty of chile oil is added for a bright red broth that puts a thick gloss on the meat and soaks into the vermicelli (or if you’d like, ramen or pho noodles). Want to go for the gold? If you finish the restaurant’s massive “XXX-tra spicy” challenge bowl in less than 30 minutes—a YouTuber ate it in just over 10 minutes in early 2021—it’s free. Spice Level: 199,000 HHU

Image: Jenn Duncan

Asun and Jollof Rice

Aria Suya Kitchen | Mid-West, ariasuyakitchen.com

Nigerian and tribal Western African food can be smoky, mild, or a hallucination-induced spirit journey—it’s all about preference. At Aria Suya, asun (stewed goat meat) is slow-cooked in a highly red-peppery concoction that coats every fiber of the meat. Cool down with plantains and a slightly less spicy tomato-and-onion based jollof rice before you start talking to shaman-like coyotes. Spice Level: 219,000 HHU

X-Spicy Style Crawfish

Crawfish Café | Asia Town and Heights, crawfishcafe.com

Is this the spiciest crawfish in Houston? It certainly numbs the lips and fingers in no time flat. To maximize suffering, get the Kickin’ Cajun flavor in X-Spicy heat, a garlicky, lemony, chile-packed boil with juices that will undoubtedly assault your taste buds as you suck in the meat. Can you even handle it? Spice Level: 207,000 HHU

Mala Pot Roasted Tilapia

Mala Sichuan Bistro | multiple locations, malasichuan.com

The specialty of Chengdu, a Chinese city in the heart of Sichuan, is a peppered and crispy fish over a red sea. At Mala, the iconic eatery that taught Houston how to truly partake in Sichuan and redefined what it means to eat spicy grub, it’s more than just a sizzling-hot dish—it’s a classic where a slow-roasted fish is topped with the whole nine: garlic, ginger, scallions, Sichuan chile sauce and dried peppers (those Facing Heaven wonders again), and of course, peppercorns. A bed of noodles underneath soaks up all that peppery broth.  Spice Level: 234,000 HHU

Image: Jenn Duncan

The Sammich

Mico’s Hot Chicken | Heights, micoshotchicken.com

No matter where you order it, Nashville hot chicken is going to be hot. There are plenty of good versions out there, but none is more delicious (and customizable in terms of heat) as the one at  fun Heights outpost Mico’s, whose line can sometimes rival the one at Nashville’s own Hattie B’s. Order X-Hot for the full fire-breathing treatment balanced by toppings of cooling dill pickles and mayo-based slaw, plus a lightly browned brioche bun to keep everything together. Including your happiness. Spice Level: 303,000 HHU

Spicy Chicken Noodles

Thai Gourmet | Mid-West, thaigourmethouston.com

If you want to feel like a god at this legendary temple for heat, ask for extra Thai hot—hotter than what’s listed on the menu. A number of dishes will bring on hot flashes under these conditions, but we recommend this savory mix of chopped, seasoned white meat and veggies in yellow curry over flat, wide noodles and iceberg lettuce. Actually you may feel more like a mere mortal in a whole lot of pain. Spice Level: 370,000 HHU

Mirchon Ka Salan

Himalaya | Mahatma Gandhi District, himalayarestauranthouston.com

Chef-owner Kaiser Lashkari isn’t joking with this Hyderabadi dish—mixing Turkish, Arabic, and Mughal cuisines and using 67 ingredients in total to shriek-inducing perfection. Enormous green chile peppers are cooked in a red-chile-pepper curry that takes four hours to prepare. Hang in for the whole thing, even if you lose two pounds of sweat in the process, because the chef put a lot into this one. Spice Level: 410,000 HHU

Image: Courtesy photo 

Tiger Hot Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Tiger Noodle House | Katy and Rice Village, tigernoodletexas.com

The restaurant used to challenge people to finish its ghost-pepper-oil inflected noodle soup with sliced beef, chiles, veggies, and scallions in 30 minutes, but Covid-19 halted the fun for now. Still, you can order the soup at “level-three” heat, which is served with 15 times the amount of ghost pepper oil than they’d normally add. Enjoy every last bite—10 minutes apart and openly weeping. Spice Level: 650,000 HHU

Firehouse Burger

Lankford Grocery & Market | Fourth Ward, lankfordgrocery.weebly.com

When Guy Fieri took a hefty bite of the Firehouse Burger at this Houston mainstay back in 2009, he forever cemented the legacy of this meaty monster. Eydie Prior’s hellishly homemade concoction—a nearly smashed half-pound beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion—includes  cayenne butter, habanero sauce, and sliced raw jalapeños that require a good 10 to 15 minutes to fully recover from, stack of wadded tissues be damned. Spice Level: 490,000 HHU

Image: Jenn Duncan

Som Tum

Asia Market Thai Lao Food | Heights, asiamarketthailaofoods.com

The homey restaurant on Main Street allows guests to customize their heat level, but “hot” is probably as high as a passing heat lover should go when ordering the traditional Laosian som tum (papaya salad), today a classic and popular Thai street food. Shredded papaya soaks up sweet, fragrant fish sauce that’s been mixed with a ground paste of raw red Thai chiles (which can get up to 100,000 SHU each), dried shrimp, palm sugar, long beans and lime, an eye-singeing experience. Caution: “Thai hot” is brutal and “raging volcano” may turn your insides to lava. Spice Level: 1,000,000 HHU

Check out the hottest dish in town here.