Siam Central Thai Kitchen presents regional Thai cuisine “with the side effect of happiness and the downside of forgetting time.” One fiercely fiery and flavorful bite of either of two traditional Southern Thai dishes suggested by owner Pavade Plarykal—both with “Siam” in the name—might make you forget everything. Sa-tor Siam includes ground chicken and pork, squid, shrimp, shrimp paste, pickled garlic, “stinky beans,” and Thai chiles. Kua-kring Siam combines ground pork and a special dry curry. Dishes with spicy in the name—e.g., Spicy Seafood Combination—warrant caution, too.
25571 JERONIMO ROAD, MISSION VIEJO, 949-600-7730
Yup Dduk promises Korea’s spiciest street food at 500 locations worldwide. Its name translates to “bizarrely spicy rice cakes.” Heat from “extra mild” to “challenge” derives from Ttangcho peppers; “mild” equates to the spiciest ramen at Asian markets. The signature dish comes with rice cake, fish cake, tiny sausages, cabbage, and green onion topped with mozzarella cheese; add-ons include deep-fried Spam. Find noodle blood sausage among “must-add sides to survive”; a more original menu offers boneless chicken feet; “calm yourself” with banana milk.
4515 CAMPUS DRIVE, IRVINE, 949-617-5620
Hot N Chili, in a little plaza in Old Town San Clemente, offers northern India’s Punjabi cuisine—dishes such as goat karahi, lamb vindaloo, butter chicken, and tandoori prawns. Say it like you mean it if you want extra hot; if you underestimate your preference, you can order a side of Hot N Chili Famous Hot Sauce. The mixed Indian pickles are intense. Hot tip: You can bring in beer, wine, or cocktails from the Peruvian restaurant next door.
111 W. AVENIDA PALIZADA, SAN CLEMENTE, 949-299-2781
Chef Dave Kopushyan and three friends started Dave’s Hot Chicken with a pop-up in an East Hollywood parking lot. Now there are nearly 50 locations in the U.S. and Canada, including this mural-splashed spot in Costa Mesa, one of two that have opened this year in Orange County. Tenders, with a bread slice and pickles, and sliders, with kale slaw and pickles, come in seven levels of heat from no spice and “lite mild” to the Reaper. Keep a Dave’s real-ice-cream milkshake handy if you skew hot.
3030 HARBOR BLVD., COSTA MESA, 714-805-8933