I like spicy food, a lot. I can’t help but finish whatever is on my plate, despite my level of fullness. I crave it all the time. This sort of addiction can easily become a problem: I don’t want to create a situation in which I can only enjoy food if it’s smothered in something spicy. I hope to avoid this fate.

Lucky for me, we’re not wanting for spicy foods here in C-U. C-U has plenty of Asian and Mexican restaurants offering many spicy options. Initially, this article was going to be a round up of some of my favorite spicy bites, but the task became a little daunting and overwhelming — there are just so many. Instead I opted to limit myself to spicy sauces, the condiments that enhance a dish. I wanted to focus on sauces and condiments that are made by or exclusive to a restaurant; this isn’t an article declaring my love for Frank’s (though I do love it), or Sriracha, or Cholula.

I’m particularly fond of the spicy-tangy combination, and most of the sauces on this list are in that flavor arena. Heat for the sake of heat isn’t always appealing to me. I like being able to taste flavor within the sauce, and also still taste my food. I enjoy the way an acidic, tangy spicy sauce can enhance a dish, bringing together all of the flavors therein. The play of sweet and spicy is most pleasant to my palate, though I understand that it’s not everyone’s preference. 

And, of course: This could easily be a ten-part series, so do keep in mind this is the first pass and not inclusive of all of the options for spicy sauces and salsas in town. Do share your favorites with us in the comments, or via email.

Hot Georgia Peach | Black Dog

Black Dog’s food is good enough that it doesn’t really need sauces, but I find the barbecue sauces to be irresistible. I often use more than is necessary or even appropriate, and I like to order different ones. My favorite of the bunch is the Hot Georgia Peach because it’s spicy and tangy, a little sweet with a little heat. If you’re looking to up the ante, consider the Habanero Reaper, though it’s much spicier and far less sweet (though still a little fruity).

Black Dog 
320 N Chestnut St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

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201 N Broadway Ave
Urbana
11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Jerk Sauce | Caribbean Grill

Caribbean Grill’s jerk sauce is spicy and earthy, robust and flavorful. It saddens me a little that the restaurant no longer fully dresses the protein in the sauce and instead serves it on the side. I understand the position, though. I talk to people all the time who erroneously think that all Caribbean food is spicy. It’s not. No matter — I take the side(s) of jerk sauce and dump it all over my food. Sometimes I even order an extra or two and save them to put on food I make at home. Maybe CG can bring back the bottled sauce? 

Caribbean Grill 
2135 S Neil St
Champaign
M-Sa 11:30 a.m to 8 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m.

Salsa verde | La Mixteca

The first thing I tried at La Mixteca was the enchiladas verdes, chicken enchiladas smothered in a spicy, tangy green sauce. I was warned by the server that they were spicy — and they are — but they’re not so spicy you’ll burn your insides. You can even order a side of the salsa verde for your chips, which is now my go-to order. You can read about other tasty La Mixteca options here

La Mixteca 
510 N Cunningham Ave
Urbana
8 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

Tomatillo salsa | Maize

I like both of Maize’s salsas, but the tomatillo is my favorite. It’s spicy and tangy and a little thick so it really coats a tortilla chip, and doesn’t drip all over or out of a taco. The tomato salsa has a gentle kick, but is a thinner consistency than the tomatillo. And yes, I’ve tried the torta ahogada — it’s wonderful — but that sauce is really only available for that particular sandwich. I like that I can smother all my food in the salsa.

Maize 
60 E Green St
Champaign
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

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100 N Chestnut St
Champaign
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m to 10 p.m.

Salsa verde | Mas Amigos

I’m really excited that Mas Amigos has reopened. It was one of the first restaurants I visited when I moved here a decade ago. Those chips! That green salsa! It’s a delicious, creamy spicy sauce. Served in a squeeze bottle, it’s very easy to ensure you have some salsa on each bite of chip or taco or burrito. If you haven’t tried Mas Amigos yet, I highly recommend it.

Mas Amigos 
705 N Neil St
Champaign
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Buffalo sauce | Watson’s

Buffalo sauce is the ultimate sweet and spicy sauce; there’s a reason it’s the best condiment for chicken wings (even boneless ones). Watson’s is thick and a little creamy (though obviously not made with cream, but definitely with butter); it’s made in house with Texas Pete hot sauce. At Watson’s I usually opt for the Nashville hot, but it can be inconsistent. From here on out, I think I’m going with the Buffalo, with a side of the black pepper ranch (also pictured here) for a cooling effect.

Watson’s 
211 N Neil St
Champaign
T-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mixed sauce | Wood N Hog

It’s only since moving to the Midwest that I’ve begun to appreciate the variety of regional styles of barbecue and the subtleties in differing barbecue sauces. Wood N Hog serves some incredibly delicious barbecued meat, and like Black Dog, the meat doesn’t really need a sauce. But as we’ve established, sauces are fun, and Wood N Hog delivers on the sauce, too. The restaurant serves mild and hot; both are quite sweet, but the hot is rather spicy. I like getting them mixed together so that there’s some heat but still some sweet. That sauce on the turkey tips? Excellent. As a dipping sauce for some fries? Extra excellent.

Wood N Hog 
904 N 4th St
Champaign
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Photos by Jessica Hammie