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Philly Chile Tour: 9 Peppers and Where to Try 'Em

By Danya Henninger
January 21, 2014

Dozens of different kinds of chiles are used in cooking, and each one has a unique flavor, as well as a different level of hotness. We've chosen nine of the tastiest varieties and found a dish that features each one, so you can get your spicy fix without worrying about getting bored. How hot do you like it?

  • Guajillo Chile

    Claim to fame: This relatively mild chile is made by drying the mirasol pepper and is often used in Mexican cooking.
    Scoville rating: 2,500-5,000
    Try it in: Cauliflower Tacos at Taqueria Feliz ($10)
    Tasting notes: Chef Lucio Palazzo fries the hot veggie of the moment, then loads a taco shell with nopales (cactus leaves), guacamole and guajillo salsa at this Manayunk cantina. For extra heat, try the dish paired with the three-chile margarita.

  • Sichuan Pepper

    Claim to fame: One of the ingredients in five-spice powder, this pepper is not actually related to other chiles.
    Scoville rating: 65,000-100,000
    Try it in: Dry Pot Lamb at Han Dynasty ($18)
    Tasting notes: Proprietor Han Chiang and his chefs at this mini-chain know how to bring out the unique flavor of this spice in this dish with bell peppers, mushrooms and bamboo shoots, but beware, heat will sneak up behind the taste and hit you when you least suspect it.

  • Habanero Pepper

    Claim to fame: One of the hottest chiles around, this pepper has a very distinct, floral flavor that is prized in many South American cuisines.
    Scoville rating: 100,000-350,000
    Try it in: Tito Santana Guacamole at El Vez ($11)
    Tasting notes: Like its wrestling-star namesake, this guacamole mix at the Stephen Starr Midtown Village Mexican joint is colorful and exciting, with jicama, habanero, serrano, bell peppers and mango. Try picking up the stone serving bowl - it’s heavier than it looks.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Jalapeño Pepper

    Claim to fame: One of the most common peppers in American cuisine, this chile can vary widely in spicyness.
    Scoville rating: 2,500-10,000
    Try it in: Cheesesteak Taco at Union Taco (two for $8)
    Tasting notes: Pickled and stuffed with pork lomo and Mahon cheese, these peppers add just enough punch to the cheesy short-rib tacos at this Girard Avenue pit stop.

  • Ghost Pepper

    Claim to fame: Also called bhut jolokia, this is one of the hottest peppers known to humans.
    Scoville rating: 850,000-1,000,000
    Try it in: Southern Kua Kling Curry at Circles ($15)
    Tasting notes: “Try only if you dare!” warns the note on the menu at Alex Boonphaya’s Northern Liberties and South Philly Thai dining rooms. The chile is infused into the curry sauce that’s stir-fried with beef. A side of steamed vegetables can help take the edge off.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Hot Cherry Pepper

    Claim to fame: Also called a pimiento, these peppers vary widely in spiciness and are common in Spanish and Portuguese cooking.
    Scoville rating: 500-750
    Try it in: Pimento Cheese at Rex 1516
    Tasting notes: This South Street West dining room is all about Southern cuisine, and there are three ways to try chef Justin Swain’s housemade pimiento cheese: on the signature burger, in the three-cheese grilled cheese, or as the spread on the biscuit plate.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Arbol Chile

    Claim to fame: Also known as the “rat’s tail chile” because of its long, thin appearance, these bright red peppers are often used to decorate wreaths.
    Scoville rating: 15,000-30,000
    Try it in: Jumbo Scallops at Serrano ($25)
    Tasting notes: At this Old City favorite, chef Gina Rodriguez infuses the sauce that surrounds her scallops with the pepper, adding a spicy pick-me-up to the grounded mushroom-sausage-potato base of the dish.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Shishito Pepper

    Claim to fame: You can eat a whole batch of this Japanese chile and not find a single hot one, or you can be surprised with several spicy specimens in a row.
    Scoville rating: 100-1000
    Try it in: Patatas at Bar Ferdinand ($6)
    Tasting notes: Chef David Ansill’s spicy tomato sauce is great for dipping the fried potatoes at this Northern Liberties tapas house, but when you’re ready to pop a pepper in your mouth, make sure the aïoli on the side is ready - in case you do get a hot one. It’s always a gamble with shishitos!

  • Poblano Pepper

    Claim to fame: When it’s dried, this Mexican pepper is known as the ancho chile, and the spiciness can vary quite a bit.
    Scoville rating: 1,000–2,500
    Try it in: Rabbit Chili at Watkins Drinkery ($10)
    Tasting notes: Venture to South Philly to get warmed inside and out with the conejo (rabbit) chili at this bar specializing in unusual meats. In addition to the poblanos, roasted red peppers, white beans and corn make the stew a hearty dish for winter.

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Places Mentioned

Han Dynasty

Chinese • Exton

Food24 Decor19 Service20 Cost$28
 
 
 
Han Dynasty

Chinese • Royersford

Food24 Decor19 Service20 Cost$28
 
 
 
Han Dynasty

Chinese • Powelton Village

Food24 Decor19 Service20 Cost$28
 
 
 
Han Dynasty

Chinese • Old City

Food24 Decor19 Service20 Cost$28
 
 
 
Taqueria Feliz

Mexican • Manayunk

Food24 Decor23 Service23 Cost$28
 
 
 
El Vez

Mexican • Washington Square West

Food24 Decor25 Service22 Cost$39
 
 
 
Circles Contemporary Asian

Thai • Point Breeze

Food24 Decor17 Service20 Cost$24
 
 
 
Circles Contemporary Thai

Thai • Northern Liberties

Food24 Decor17 Service20 Cost$24
 
 
 
Bar Ferdinand

Spanish • Northern Liberties

Food24 Decor23 Service22 Cost$47
 
 
 
 
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