Mapping the way to five of Chicago’s spiciest restaurants

By Harrison Liao
Medill Reports

In a way, the term “spicy food” is a misnomer. Adding heat to a dish is a global game changer for the palate but  can be achieved with myriad techniques and ingredients – from herbs to pastes and sauces to fresh chili peppers and peppercorns. Spice, in this sense, can taste and mean something different for almost everyone.

Here in Chicago, that diversity finds zesty representation in the city’s culinary subculture of spicy food. There is no committee of judges or unified industry association to deliberates on whether to serve something hot – and when it’s hot enough. But many Chicago restaurants feature spiciness somewhere on the menu, all for different reasons.

Every spicy dish, it turns out, has a back story. Here are a few of them you can encounter as you trek to restaurants across the city.

Photo at top: Spice Map – Chicago graphic design. (Designed on Canva.com by Harrison Liao/MEDILL)