Spice may be nice, but spicy is naughty, and that’s much more fun. Besides, Minnesotans aren’t always as nice as everyone says we are. We may have a reputation for preferring bland food, but we can bring the heat with the best of ’em and enjoy it, too. There is no shortage of zingy fare in our area, thanks to avid, creative chefs ready to blow our minds and palates. With sweating brows, scorched tongues and watering eyes, we present to you some of the most exciting and satisfying edible conflagrations in the area.
SPICY CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAPS
You know what’s cool about these lettuce wraps? Literally that: the cool elements of romaine hearts and vegetable slaw, which balance the fiery crack of spice. This is a fun DIY app: Combine the veggies as you choose with chicken tossed in spicy Szechuan barbecue sauce, and roll it up in neutral rice paper. Crushed peanuts jump in with extra salt and crunch. $11.
4725 Highway 61 N., White Bear Lake; 651.426.6611
Sam Thai Cuisine
Sam Thai’s menu has a helpful star system to indicate a dish’s spice level on a scale of one to 10. Hilariously, there is a separate scale for American and Thai palates: Thai “mild” level starts at six, whereas the American “very hot” ends at five. Dishes that are especially good and spicy are indicated on the menu, and you should follow the chef’s suggestion, as always. Among these is gang dang, a red curry with coconut milk, bamboo shoots and basil. Thai red curry paste is an intoxicating mix of ground red chilies, garlic, galangal (Thai ginger) and notably lemongrass, which adds a distinct floral, citrusy note. There is a choice of chicken, shrimp, scallop, beef, pork, tofu and mock duck. $10.95.
4440 Highway 61 N., White Bear Lake; 651.653.9781
JUMBO CHICKEN WINGS
When you need that enlivening jolt to your taste buds, a pile of chicken wings will flip the switch. Order up a bunch of the hot or the Buffalo style and you’ll happily scorch your eyebrows off. Get messy with a vengeance, slurp up the brightly colored sauce and suck every bit from the bones. The wings come with your choice of blue cheese or ranch dressing, either of which doubles as a soothing coolant. $6 for six wings.
106 Wildwood Road, Willernie; 651.426.3668
Roma Restaurant Bar and Market
“Arrabiata” means angry in Italian, as in smoke-coming-out-the-ears hot, and in this case it’s delivered via both black pepper and red chili flakes. The pasta dish was invented in southern Italy where the cuisine tends to be spicier than in the north, and it has become a classic in the pantheon of pasta sauces. The sauce’s base is Roma’s excellent house-made marinara, the pasta is linguine, and the whole dish is studded with good Italian sausage, also made in-house and with a bit of a kick of its own. $14.
460 Stillwater Road, Willernie; 651.653.4733
SPICY CHICKEN BURRITO
If you’re looking for picante, Mexican is a good bet. Casa Lupita makes a mean spicy chicken for taco or burrito filling; a large flour tortilla stuffed with your choice of black or refried beans, spicy chicken and your choice of fixings will deliver a wallop to tongue and gut both. “Fixins” are often the best part, we think; do shell out the extra change for the creamy, mild guacamole, a beautiful counterpoint to the sting of the spicy chicken. $6.35.
1350 Highway 96 E., White Bear Lake; 651.348.7571
Bierstube Steakhouse and Grill
When you think German food, “spicy” doesn’t spring to mind. But it’s there, and at the Bierstube you’ll find it in the mettwurst, a smoked beef sausage made with white pepper and mustard seeds. This is a more sinus-searing heat than the sweaty-brow kind you’d get from chilies, and it is easily calmed with some good German beer. It’s served with tangy sauerkraut. $6.
2670 E. County Road E, White Bear Lake; 651.773.5854