Review: spicy food

I saw that Wendy’s had introduced a new spicy chicken sandwich, and I like spicy stuff, so I had to try it. It had pepper Jack cheese, spicy chipotle sauce, and jalapenos. So how did it measure up?

It wasn’t as spicy as I was hoping for. If you want a mass-market spicy sandwich, I’d opt for the spicy chicken sandwich from Jack In The Box.

Until recently, Silicon Valley had another option: the habanero hamburger. The Prince of Wales Pub recently closed, but for a long time, it was the spiciest burger in the valley. A few years ago, a Googler stumbled across this bit of valley history:

Eating a Habanero Hamburger was once a rite of passage for new and departing operating systems engineers at Silicon Graphics. The tradition is apparently still alive and well in the graphics group. Having set the Silicon Graphics company record for number of Habanero Hamburgers consumed, Brian Totty brought the fine tradition to Inktomi Corporation.

That sounded like a neat idea, so a few years ago several of us Googlers made a pilgrimage to the pub in San Mateo. To make a long story short, the habanero burger was painfully hot. The habanero part referred to a thick red paste that sat atop the burger patty. After we ate the burgers, the staff clued us in on a few tricks: ordering the burger with mayonnaise or a glass of milk would reduce the burn. Knowing that beforehand would have saved a day or two of intestinal discomfort. πŸ™‚ My wife couldn’t believe I was willing to eat an entire burger — but it was a good bonding experience with some fellow Googlers.

The pub is closed now, but there’s a video of someone eating a burger. If you watch it, you can see the burger heat from their facial expressions. The Prince of Wales Pub evidently closed in January 2007; does anyone know where else to get spicy food in Silicon Valley now?

71 Responses to Review: spicy food (Leave a comment)

  1. Dude, you gotta get up to Canada at some point!

    The Cactus Cut Potatoes here will have you sweating under your eyeballs if you put four or five in your mouth at once. Major spice action here.

  2. It was a rite of passage for new employees at Inktomi. As a vegetarian, I thought I’d have a way out but, alas, they served habanero gardenburgers too. As painful as the eating experience was, it was nothing compared to the “exit wounds” to come.

  3. Was this a paid review? How do we know? πŸ™‚

  4. Paid by hamburger πŸ™‚

  5. M.W.A., that sounds nice! I don’t understand why a place called “Boston Pizza” stared in Edmonton, Canada, but there must be some good reason for it. In my experience Canadians are 1.6x politer and smarter than my circle of friends. I always figured it had something to do with the metric system. πŸ™‚ Speaking of Canada, Canadian companies can get AdWords-professional certified now. Is there anything else Google needs to do to make right with Canada? My list is empty now, but I wanted to double-check.

    mad4, I don’t do paid links/reviews. If I say a chicken sandwich is wussy, that’s my take. πŸ™‚

    Ken Norton, I didn’t know how to allude to that diplomatically. I was holding my stomach and moaning the weekend after that burger. Glad to have another Googler on-board with habanero experience.

  6. One of the hottest habanero sauces i have ever tasted is made right down the road from you in Gilroy…. check out Baboon Ass Brand Habanero sauce sometime……. The guy that makes it lives in San Jose… Take a plain burger and put a “small” amount of this stuff on it and a bun……that’s it…….. it will definitley light your you know what on fire…………….

  7. You may already know this, but the milk thing is a good trick with all spicy food (we eat a lot of Indian and Thai food at home). Apparently something to do with the oils in the food not being diluted by water, but it is by water. Or beer, but that way lies hangovers.

  8. I meant milk at the end of the second to last sentence. I told you beer wasn’t good for you.

  9. I think you are going to need to be more specific. You can’t throw a rock up there without hitting a good Indian restaurant (something I really miss). Spicy food isn’t that hard to find.

    A couple of my favorites (keep in mind that I haven’t been up there in a couple of years).

    The Mango Cafe. Palo Alto. (Hamilton I think, but its behind the Borders on University Avenue). The cuisine of Trinidad Y Tabago. The goat curry is blazing hot and really tasty. The chicken is reasonable if you have members of the party that are, well, chicken.

    The Bombay Cafe. El Camino Real across from the San Antonio shopping center. (I think its technically in Los Altos but its hard to tell whats what in that little corner — it might be Mountain View). Indian food. They’ll make it as hot as you like.

    The Red Sea. 1st St, San Jose. Ethiopiah Cuisine. Nothing blazing hot, but a couple of the dishes pack some kick. Rich savory flavors make it worth trying anyway.

  10. Like spicy stuff? My friend bought me this spicy drink …

    Favorite Tequila – 1 part
    Bacardi 151 – 1 part
    Tabasco sauce – 2 parts

    It’s called a prairie fire and will blow your top off!

  11. I had the same experience here in Seattle, I dragged my GF to Wendy’s to try the sandwich. Both of us were disappointed as well.

    We have a really good Spicy BBQ place up here in Seattle. It was a right of passage for Microsoft Employees in the MSIE 4 & 5 team. The restaurants is very tech heavy during lunch hours. I have never worked at MS but I take people to Dixie’s BBQ when they say the keyword spicy. They have this spicy sauce…. well…. it has its own Bumper Sticker. People cry.

    Just Google “Bellevue BBQ” and it is the number one. Give me a call when you are in Seattle and I will take you.


  12. You’ve got me on that Boston Pizza question too, Matt. But it’s some good eatin’ (and Howie Mandel endorses it; any time Howie’s involved with something, lots of goofy fun is bound to follow!)

    Outside of solving the cross-border shipping issues that plague any serious e-commerce types (which isn’t your problem, but if you’re gonna go Google Checkout, perhaps Google Transborder isn’t far behind), I can’t think of much myself.

    The one thing that comes to mind is the issue of basing the origin of a site on its IP or its dotcom. A number of my clients register .com domain names because 1) it’s easier for people to type in and 2) they have international client bases.

    If you could allow webmasters to pick a single country of origin for a TLD, or let them indicate where a contact page is and do area code/postal code/zip code regular expression matching (the latter probably makes the most sense), that’d be the one thing I could see that’s even remotely indigenous to Canada (and even then, that affects a lot of countries besides just Canada).

    But I thank you for the opportunity (I mean that too…it’s always nice to know my opinion is wanted, so mad respek), and if I do think of anything, I will definitely let you know!

  13. There is a place in Scottsdale, AZ called the Carlsbad Tavern. They grind up the habanero and mix it right in the the meat. For some reason they put jalapeno jack on the burger; like the jalapenos are gonna make a difference!

    Ron Levi
    Inneundo Foods

  14. Speaking of new things at Wendy’s – Vanilla Frosty’s are now available!!!

    Speaking of which, why does the password protected WSJ article rank higher than the AOL article of the same text? I find the AOL article more relevant:

  15. Good suggestions, Multi-Worded Adam. Personally, I think that would be a nice addition as well.

  16. Ron Levi, maybe it’s that little extra bit to break the back of your tastebuds. πŸ™‚

    David Dalka, my guess would be backlinks. Both urls would benefit from dropping that session-id-looking stuff though.

    Eric + Kevin Sours, thanks for the awesome suggestions! My mouth is watering just thinking about Silicon Valley spicy goodness. πŸ™‚

  17. I vote for Google Checkout for Canada as well. It’s like every other country in the world has it but no luck up north.

  18. George Nachman

    I haven’t been there yet, but University Chicken in San Jose looks very promising.

  19. Nick – I think the original Nick here, we did just enable Google Checkout for the UK, so that’s a step in the right direction.

  20. Tsk tsk Matt, you need to do your homework.

    The Prince of Wales Pub was replaced by the Swinging Door Pub at the sme location only a few days after it closed, and it still has a habanero hamburger, just a wee bit milder but it will blow the lid off 99.999% of the people that eat it.

    If it’s too wimpy for you, just get a bottle of Dave’s Insanity Sauce,

    I don’t mean the usual bottle of Dave’s either, get the ‘private reserve’ for some serious fire breathing, it’s screaming hot:

    Keep a bottle of it in my fridge, in the box with the caution tape, just to naive people don’t accidentally grab it and kill themselves.

    Now Sneaker’s in San Carlos also has a jalapeno and habanero burger, not a sauce on top, it’s actual rings of peppers on top of a good sized burger and it packs a nice bite. I find a combo jalapeno/habanero burger the best choice as you still get some solid heat but not enough to cause any permanent harm.

  21. Hey IncrediBILL, I need to get one of those burgers. Where is that place located? I’m really tired of Habanero stuff that is not even hot. Chevy’s is guilty of throwing th habanero name around without the heat to back it up. Even the habanero sauce on their tables are mostly mango and things other that habanero.

    If you wanna try a sauce that compares to Dave’s Check this stuff out:

    It hits you with a ton of flavor; then takes the top of your head off!

  22. Two totally different types of burger so it’s hard to compare, but I prefer the Sneakers version with fresh pepper slices other that those dripping in habanero sauce.

    The places with habanero burgers are:

    Swinging Door Pub, 106 E. 25th Ave., San Mateo

    Sneakers, 1163 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos

    I love Cajun food too and don’t know any good places in the Bay Area any more as both places I used to go to closed years ago and La Creole is kinda lame.

  23. To clarify, I think that was my question, Matt, why does a password protected, fee site (in this case not even showing an article preview with the key words) show up in the results at all? It’s not a good user experience.

  24. I wonder is Matt wears his Inigo outfit when he goes out to consume spicy stuff?

  25. Matt,

    When a subcription has recently run out – you get a cloaked page without the summary content. Just an FYI.

  26. I’m thinking that Bay Area spicy food lovers should band together and go to a new place once a month just to be in the company of others that like a nice burn as most of my friends and wife simply can’t relate.

    I would tentatively call this group the “Bay Area Ring of Fire” and anyone that’s eaten enough of this stuff will understand the ‘ring of fire’ reference.

  27. Oh yes, the revived a painful memory from Inktomi days. While not in the same league as the habanero burger at Prince of Wales, I would recommend Osha Thai Noodle Cafe in San Francisco for some good spicy food.

  28. IncrediBILL, there’s a private reserve hot sauce? That’s pretty wild. I didn’t think it could get 3x hotter. I had no idea you were a fan of spicy food.

    Aaron Pratt, “You are a spicy sandwich. You are made of hamburger. Prepare to be eaten!” πŸ™‚

    Thanks, Rahul! Now I need an excuse to get up into the city..

  29. mad4’s comment made me LOL!

    Whoah, eCopt’s Prairie Fire recipe makes it look like you use 2 shot-glasses worth of Tabasco…shouldn’t it be 2 dashes? Want to make sure so nobody hurts themselves… πŸ™‚

    An eulogy is needed for Burrito Real on Rengstorff–they sold to another entity recently πŸ™ They had a nice array of salsas up to ‘Fire.’ I suppose you could still go to La Costena for some Fire.

  30. Nathan Schrenk

    The engineering team at Be, Inc (creators of BeOS) had a tradition of visiting the Prince of Wales pub to eat Habanero Hamburgers to celebrate product releases. Perhaps an ex-SGI engineer brought the tradition over to Be (maybe Dominic Giampaulo?) My most vivid memory of eating one of those painfully hot burgers was that eating the last two bites to finish the burger was harder than eating all the previous bites combined, since by the end my mouth felt like it had chemical burns. But it was a great bonding experience, and it was highly amusing to watch a few of the other engineers eat two or more Habanero Hamburgers at a sitting.

    One aspect of the Habanero Hamburger experience that I haven’t seen mentioned here is the bright orange/red bumper sticker that came with the burger. It said something like “I survived the Habanero Hamburger / Prince of Wales Pub / San Mateo, CA”. I’m sorry to hear that the Prince of Wales has closed their doors.

  31. Matt, I’ve had jalapeno soaked martinis, I’m a wild man when it comes to spice. Email me any time you feel like getting a cast iron stomach posse together to go knock down some habaneros!

    Um, Brian, tobasco isn’t hot, it’s barely heat unless you dump a few tablespoons on something, and then it’s marginal at best.

    Trust me, I use tabasco instead of gravy on mashed potatoes πŸ™‚

    For burritos it’s always La Bamba @ Rengstorff & Middlefield – may not be the hotest, but I think they are the tastiest on the Peninsula with La Pinata in San Mateo coming a close second.

  32. Oh man, this reminded me of a funny habanero story….I love spicy food too, and whatever I’m eating I like to spice it up with either red pepper flakes, jalapenos, habernos, whatever…. Well, I was with my then “just started dating” girlfriend, and we were up in my TV room watching some movie. She started getting fidgity and picked up my closed can of habanero powder I had up there thinking it was some sort of candle in a nice tin. It being real dark in the room, she opened the lid and took a BIG sniff of it….basically macing herself… I’ve never seen eyes water for so long in my life. Priceless, absolutely priceless.

    (unrelated, but habanero in paste form is brutally hot. I’ve had it on fajitas before…ooooouch)

  33. Hot food – Indian

    Ask your Brit Or Indian Googlers where the good Indian Resurants are – there must be at laest one in SV by now. – But dont go for a phal first time out πŸ™‚

    Oh you might want to watch the “Going for an English” sketch first

  34. I tried the Wendy’s sandwich last week and was pretty disappointed. Not a “I’ll never go back to Wendy’s” disappointed but rather a “next time I’ll just get a burger” disappointed.

  35. Hey Matt,

    I actually thought of something Google could do to make things a little better in Canada (well, not so much thought of as discovered by accident) and it pertains to Google Maps.

    Some of the more common tourist traps and entertainment locations aren’t available in Google Maps. Here’s a list of 5:

    Fallsview Casino Resort (
    Casino Rama (
    Casino Windsor (

    Come to think of it, it would be good to find any of the casinos on Google Maps, since the winnings aren’t taxable here (at least in Ontario…not sure about other provinces).

    GM Place, Vancouver (
    The Skylon, NIagara Falls’ CN Tower knockoff (

    I knew I’d come up with something. I should have expected it to be something I never intended to, though.

  36. IncrediBILL,
    LA Bamaba is at Rengstorff and Old Middlefield (which is a block up from Middlefield).

    La Bamba is a great place. I almost mentioned it, but it isn’t really very spicy unless you load up with the peppers yourself.

    (When I was there, I lived literally around the corner from this place)

  37. SXSW partygoers were treated to “Austin’s newfound underground tradition”, habanero-laced and truly Nuclear Tacos, at this year’s SXSW:


    Apparently these culinary confections also push the limits on what is considered “HOT.”

    Also, Wendy’s Jalapeno Double Melts of last year were not to be missed.

  38. >> Speaking of Canada, Canadian companies can get AdWords-professional certified now.

    Sweet. That always annoyed me, just about every country in the world had it cept us Canadians.

  39. Matt,

    Try St. John’s in Santa Clara near Fry’s. They have a Beg For Mercy burger that’s pretty dang good. It won’t make you cry or anything, but it’s got a great spice level.

    Their burgers are some of the best in the Valley anyway, so it’s worth the trip.

    But if you really want to bond with your co-workers while scorching both your body’s input AND output, look no further than University Chicken’s 911 Challenge. We used to do this at with the engineers as a bonding experience, and I guarantee it’ll lay you low.

    Here’s a YouTube video of the process:

  40. You guys should be out jogging instead of glamourizing eating dead animals by dousing them with variouis hot sauces.

  41. Matt – That sandwich was weak you are right,

    I have even loaded extra sauce and jalopenos on it, and its still weak

    Tasty, but just not hot enough :=)

  42. @John A. Davis

    We jog, er RUN, to the bathroom after eating dead animals doused in hot sauces. Therefore, spicy coated dead animals actually increases physical activity in our otherwise sedentary lifestyles.

  43. While not actually a restaurant, an excellent purveyor of spicy food items in the Bay Area is Oriental Lucky Mart, in Oakland, CA. In spite of the peculiar name, it’s a store with not only Asian but also Indian, African, and Caribbean food items. If you want authentic hot jerk sauce by the bottle or the bucket, go to these guys, and get the Jamaican Country Style. This is what the ORIGINAL Mango Cafe owners (not the current owners, who are Korean) used as the starting point for their jerk sauce…

    If you want to blow your d*mn head off with something lethally spicy, go to Oriental Lucky Mart look for the dried scotch bonnet powder. I bought a plastic baggy of this stuff about 10 years ago, and put it in the trunk of my car… by the time I drove from Oakland to Palo Alto, I had to open the windows because my eyes were watering and I was coughing. I had a Nigerian friend (hardcore chilihead) who took a sniff of the stuff and fell to his knees on the kitchen floor… You could probably weaponize this stuff. They also have dried habanero powder, but it’s not nearly so deadly.

    If you want better (though not hotter, alas) goat curry than today’s Mango, head down to Willow Road just east of 101, for “Back a Yard” (, my new favorite jamaican food in the Palo Alto/Menlo area. Much better than what Mango’s doing now. If you want it hotter, add some habanero or scotch bonnet sauce. But really, if you do goat right you don’t have to make it lethal to cover up the gamy-ness. Goat is good… goat works.

    (Disclosure: I knew the original Mango Cafe owners, back in the early 1990s. Been in touch as recently as a month ago. Nice folks. Not West Indians, but smart enough to bring in West Indians for advice on recipes etc.. So I’m partial.)

  44. Hey Matt, you gotta visit Hyderabad sometime man if you like spicy food. You get about 150 consumable things with which you can set your tongue on fire

  45. Funny post that brings back memories. I am an ex Inkomite, living in Queensland Australia. Tasted nothing like it, before or since!

  46. Sounds like you and your google friends need to come up to MSFT-land and meet The Man!

  47. I’ve added the review to BlogSoop πŸ˜‰

  48. Thanks for your information here. Here is some more to this topic

  49. Jesse Brooks


    You have to try the 911 Challenge at University Chicken in Santa Clara.

    Rules are:
    -Must sign liability waiver before you begin
    -10 minutes to finish 12 buffalo wings, covered in extremely hot sauce
    -No napkins or drinks
    -Once you finish your 12 wings, you must sit in the chair for 5 minutes (still with no drinks or napkins)
    -If you complete the challenge, you get a t-shirt

    If you feel like that is too extreme, you can just order their chicken at the level of spicy desired. The chicken is actually really good quality and the atmosphere is a lot of fun (they even have foosball, which would be a hit with the Googlers).

  50. One of the hottest habanero sauces i have ever tasted is made right down the road from you in Gilroy…. check out Baboon Ass Brand Habanero sauce sometime

  51. spicy chicken sandwiches at both th places looks great — each of them have their own flavours

  52. Once, I tried some sort of spicy past plain. It burned so much that I drank all the milk at the restraunt (where I tried it), and started drinking the 1/2 and 1/2. Be carefull!

  53. I like chicken recipes… cool post you have matt. πŸ™‚

  54. Whoaahhh… googlers are really cool πŸ™‚

  55. No spicy food. I like earth food.

  56. i dont like spicy food

  57. spicy chicken sandwich? i love Beijing Duck. My favorite dish

  58. Am a big fan of the old spicy foods. Speeds up your metabolism too, so can help you lose weight at same time!

  59. Hello Matt Cutt

    I did a thing but it’s very spicy …. Do You know ” swiss fondue ” ?
    Have a taste … Don’t forget your humoristic spirit, because I’m a bit provocating you he he he but it’s just spicy … I talk about cheese and sex and Matt Cutt….

    Would you take one second to verify that My joke about your sex life is acceptable ? I always associate food and sex not you ?

  60. Hello Matt ! Don’t pay ANY attention to the last post, the one from my friend Zepo. She is a surrealistic artist, she is from Switzerland and she is fond of your SEO blog. In fact, as you know I am myself surprisingly fond of your blog.

    ps: all the best, from the SEO Sphere Forum’s webmasters

  61. HEllo Matt Cutt

    dont’ listening the Portail Du Web, beaucause he is not speeking about food

    My Friend Fred is a big one * seo man for me. One thing is sure, He’s Kidding you. Really I’m joung seo artist player. see the results : On the request ” fondue seo”

    ho sorry I would say look at the request : ” techniques seo ” Today : I’m on the first page but not Fred. Kiss U Fred.
    Have a good Week Matt Cutts, and come to see me when you’ll come in In Switzerland.

    See You and Support the SeoContest2008 – SphΓ¨re πŸ™‚

    Bizal !

  62. Indian is definitely hot, in the UK the most popular restaurant dish is chicken tikka masala (not fish and chips or roast beef and yorkshire puddings would you believe), personally I prefer a vindaloo, now that is hot. Actually had a chicken phall once that was too hot to eat.

    However, the hottest food in the world is in Northern Thailand. I was travelling in a remote hill tribe area with some friends including little Steve (he’s the short guy in Guy Ritchies ‘Snatch’). We stumbled upon a familly (about 25 of them) having a meal by a river as it was a religious holiday. Now I like hot food and Thai whiskey but out of a selection of 30 dishes, I could only eat about 3. Honestly, most of the dishes were just chillis with something added, not the other way arround. The thai whiskey soon soothed things though. Another little fact, up until a couple of years ago, Sang Thip (the most popular Thai Whiskey) ,contained 30 chemical ingredients that are banned in Europe and the USA. It’s main competitor was brewed in lead vats, that stuff was great but not if you drank too much. A friend of mine did in Koh Phan Yang and was ill for 3 days in a major fashion.

    Ohhhh for the old days!

  63. Matt,

    It sounds like your old digs have a new name but, they are still able to conduct “rites of passage” ceremonies. Give the “new old place” a try and let us know if you are set.

    In the mean time, I have been cooking with “Da Bomb” for years in some of my favorite home recipes. Habenero has a “flavor of hot” and a unique “heat curve” that a lot of us love. Da Bomb makes a great addition to the ”Fiery Steak Sticks” from Stephen Raichlen. Be forewarned, I use a toothpick to extract the goo from the bottle and carefully stir it into the pepper sauce mixture. Yum!

    Get some and try it…


  64. I LOVE spicy food… bummed about that burger joint shutting down.. I would have visited it today (visiting San Fran right now).

    A little etymology for you.. did you know that the habanero pepper was named after La Habana which is the city of Havana (in English) in Cuba.

    For me the habanero is just a bit too hot for me though!

    Your trusty philologist

  65. Lots of talk about Habaneros here… don’t get me wrong, they are very hot! but there is much, much worse!

    Check out the Naga Jolokia on wikipedia, this has recently been crowned the hottest chilli in the world at well over 3 times the heat of most habeneros….

    For reference, average hab is around 300,000 scoville units. Naga Jolokia is just over 1,000,000…….

    You can buy some stuff called Pure Pain Paste which is just Nagas and oil. No extract like many sauces so this is the hottest natural taste you can get.

    The flavour is impressive, very smokey, you can detect it even when massively diluted (thats how i know :o) )

    Anyway, highly recommended, very hot! I’m growing some now!

  66. If you want to know what spicy is, you must try Georgian food (country, not US state). This is by far the spiciest kitchen in the world, I mean all they eat is spicy and they say its good for man health… πŸ™‚ So I’m a fan… There’s some spots in LA if you want to check it out πŸ™‚

  67. this is a reply to bryan’s comment:

    if you want to to know the real meaning of spicy, try Bicol Express of the Philippines. Made from the coconut milk and lots of chilis. That’s the spiciest food the world has to offer.


  68. Spicy foods are great to speed up your metabolism which will aid in losing weight and help in burning a few extra calories.

  69. Matt, looks like it is very late to comment now. You should really try the combination of Chettinad Chicken Curry (a spicy South Indian preparation) alongwith a large glass of sweet leban. A great combo to taste spice and still feel very nice !

  70. For a real taste of spicy food, you’ve got to visit us here in South Africa. Durban is hot food central!

  71. I won’t mention any brands. But some USA based chilli extract hot sauce producers make some amazing sauces in strengths that will floor even the hardest of chilli fans.