Best Hot Sauces in the Bay Area

Asian Box, Palo Alto, hot sauce, image

Rice noodles with lime-basil-tossed shrimp goes well with homemade sauces. | Sonya Yu Photography

Road Journals Blog—Traditional restaurants, representing cuisine from many world cultures, have been making their own spicy sauces and salsas for years, with little fanfare.  What’s more, most don’t charge a premium for their food. In tribute to that long-standing tradition, here are some popular and affordable San Francisco Bay Area destinations that make hot sauces worth hearing about.

Asian Box Palo Alto

This “fast-casual” restaurant draws its inspiration from the street food stalls of Asia but boasts the talents of pedigreed San Francisco chef Grace Nguyen. More importantly, they make their own sauces and seasonings, including a version of Sriracha and HotBoxIt sauce made from California-grown Asian peppers that both pair nicely with the highly mixable menu. I get the lime-basil tossed shrimp and rice noodles with plenty of toppings.

Papalote, San Francisco, hot sauces, image

Try the super chicken tacos with roasted tomato salsa at Papalote. | Charlie Wormhoudt

Papalote Two locations in San Francisco

This Mission District staple makes a pureed roasted tomato salsa that is so creamy my lactose intolerant girlfriend had to check the ingredients (it doesn’t contain any dairy). Owners and brothers Victor and Miguel Escobedo are famous for their Triple Threat Burrito (chicken, prawns, and carne asada), which, combined with their salsa, defeated Chef Bobby Flay on his TV show, Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

Pomelo Three locations in San Francisco

A sambal-style sauce popular in south-Asian countries comes standard with some dishes on this diverse global menu. The sauce tastes like a thicker, darker, mellower version of Sriracha, and like its commercial cousin this sauce compliments everything from Pomelo’s Koh Samui to their Cuban-style fried rice with skirt steak.

Sol Food San Rafael

This Puerto Rican restaurant turns out its own medium-hot, vinegar-based pique criollo hot sauce that diners apply liberally to the moist chicken pieces and the salty caldo de gallego soup with ham and beans. Aqueous and orange, pique’s ingredients include pineapple, oregano, and garlic. Sol Food’s atmosphere (lime-green façade, tropical foliage) and cuisine draw a crowd and it’s open late.

Uncle Willie's BBQ and Fish Downtown Oakland
If you’re more inclined towards the other kind of soul food, but are still hankering for heat, there’s ample amounts of each across the bay at Uncle Willie’s. Try this downhome establishment’s Southern-style sweet-and-spicy sauce with their slow-cooked beef brisket. 614 14th St., Oakland, Calif.

Tell us about your favorite piquant pairing at a restaurant.

This blog post was first published in July 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.