Some Like It Hot!

Spicy Foods Are A Hot Topic

By Esther Davis McKenna

Have you ever noticed that the spiciest foods come from the hottest climates? It’s not surprising, if you understand the science behind it. Eating a tongue-numbing meal can cool you down as Mother Nature turns up the heat. To put it simply, eating spicy food makes you sweat. Perspiration is the body’s way of cooling itself off. The droplets of liquid that form on the skin will then evaporate. It’s what scientists call thermoregulation–and it’s how your body maintains a healthy core temperature.

If spicy foods fan the flames of your food cravings, then you may be in store for some health benefits as well. Capsaicinoids, which include the compound capsaicin, are the chemical components of peppers that create their spicy taste. According to gastroenterologist Edwin McDonald, M.D., research over the past few years demonstrates that capsaicinoids, and thus, spicy foods, possess several health benefits.

Spicy seasonings do more than tingle your tongue and make your forehead damp. There is evidence that food with a kick can also kickstart weight loss.



According to extensive research by the British Medical Association, spicy food can accelerate the body’s fat-burning mechanisms and folks who eat more spicy foods are likely to have a BMI of 25 and under. In addition, chiles may also affect your hunger, as capsaicin acts on the part of the brain that controls hunger and fullness.

A study from the University of Vermont found that people who regularly ate chile peppers had a 13 percent lower likelihood of death. The researchers also found fiery food eaters are less likely to die of cardiovascular causes like heart attacks and strokes.

According to McDonald, spicy foods don’t cause ulcers—they may actually help. Multiple studies show that capsaicin inhibits acid production in the stomach.

Further research indicates that spicy food might also reduce inflammation. There’s evidence that capsaicin can help combat low-grade inflammation in the gut. Beyond the belly, capsaicin’s inflammation-fighting powers can be found in creams that treat arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Keep in mind that all fiery foods are not created equal. While adding fresh or dried peppers to your diet can have many health benefits, bottled hot sauce and dry seasoning packets can be high in sodium. Check your labels before getting too saucy.

If spicy foods give you stomach pain, think twice about what you put on your plate. Be extra careful if you have irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia, or inflammatory bowel disease as excessive spice may worsen your digestion issues. Remember, while it may be perfectly safe to spice up your life, all things are best in moderation.

What to do if you overdo it? If you need to beat the heat, here are some hot tips to cool your mouth.

Got milk? A protein in dairy called casein not only breaks down capsaicin but washes it away. Acidic drinks also neutralize capsaicin and cool your mouth, so keep your lemonade or orange juice nearby.

In addition, carbohydrates create a physical barrier to heat: a bite of bread, rice or tortilla will help neutralize the afterburn.

If you’re a fan of flaming foods, you will enjoy the following dishes from Galveston eateries suggested by our staff and readers. To hype the heat in any one of the following foods, ask your servers to make it extra spicy.


Café Canela 6105 Stewart Road, Suite C

When guests visit this family-run restaurant, they should expect original, authentic, and spicy Mexican food. Café Canela is owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo Griselda Andrade and Carlos Chavez.

Andrade learned how to cook from her father who assists in the day-to-day operations and keeps busy in the kitchen—he makes all of the sauces and salsas from scratch, using the freshest ingredients.

Originally located on 10th Street at the old Pearl Inn, they moved to their current location in April 2022.

Andrade’s family hails from Mexico City, and she was born and raised in California before moving to Texas. Her husband was born in Guadalajara. The family now lives in La Marque.

“I love Tex-Mex food, but this is not that,” Andrade said. “All of our family recipes originated in Mexico City. We serve only the most authentic Mexican cuisine.”

The salsas are available by request only: you must ask your server for them. Each one has a different spice level which is ironic as Andrade doesn’t eat spicy foods.

“My siblings tease me because I go light on the spice on my own plates. They say I must be adopted,” she said jokingly.

The chips are fried in-house and crispy and hearty enough to stand up to any salsa or the house-made guacamole that will cool your palette down.

Rojas salsa is pickled carrots and jalapeños with onions and garlic and is “as spicy as the jalapeños are on a particular day,” Andrade said. “Some days the rojas is spicier than others.”

The tomatillo sauce is made from a small, round, and green Mexican husked tomato-like fruit that is grilled with garlic, onions and a special spice mix and then blended. This salsa has a medium spice.

The chile de arbol is made from a specific Mexican chile pepper that is small but packs a surprising amount of heat into its small frame—they have a heat index between 15,000 and 30,000 on the Scoville heat scale. Size matters when choosing a chile pepper. “The smaller they come, the hotter they can be,” Andrade said.

The matcha salsa is made from a fragrant blend of toasted chiles, garlic, peanuts, sesame seeds, and olive oil and is the spiciest of the four sauces.

The plates at Café Canela come in ample servings; often enough for two. We suggest ordering the salsas on the side along with an entrée. Try each salsa with a different bite of food to find your favorite.

Spicy Kimchee 



Fish Company Taco
1914 23rd Street

Spicy KimcheeThis award-winning seafood restaurant uses locally caught fish that are certified James Beard Smart Catch. This means that all of the seafood served at Fish Company Taco is sustainable, not overfished, and is line caught.

Chef-owner Daya Myers-Hurt says her food is influenced by her life experiences. “My training is French. I grew up in Amarillo which has a large immigrant population from Nigeria and Thailand. And I’ve worked as head chef at some of Houston’s top-shelf Asian restaurants.”

Myers-Hurt takes all of that experience and combines it with classic southern and Gulf Coast cuisines to create a truly unique menu. In fact, it’s a menu that has won many awards since debuting in June of 2018.

Coastal Living Magazine named them one of the top 15 seafood dives in the country. Fish Company Taco has won best fish tacos and best kept secret from local publications and is ranked 15 on Yelp’s Best of 100 Taco Shops. Most recently, they were voted Favorite Fusion and awarded third place People’s Choice at the Texas Restaurant Association’s Galveston Chapter Epicurean Evening in April 2023.

Their kimchi puree is house-made, using the freshest ingredients. All broths are vegetarian. The fish or shrimp is grilled separately and added to the broth where it will finish poaching. This process helps keep the integrity of the protein.

“When we build a bowl, we grill the fish separately and add the protein to the clear, spicy broth with gochujang and aromatics and an additional mushroom broth so it’s not a muddy mess,” Myers-Hurt said.

“We take the idea of a pretty standard kimchi-jjigae—a stew-like Korean dish made with cabbage, tofu and aromatics—and refine it.” The kimchi soup has enough spice to numb the lips and can be served as a complete vegetarian meal if requested.

Seawall Cuisine
500 Seawall Boulevard, Suite 220

Head chef Jason Lin and his sister Mandy run this little gem of a restaurant that serves Chinese and Japanese-style fare. Seawall Cuisine is tucked into the far-east end shopping center, next to Russo’s NY Pizza. Order your food spicy to extra spicy if you think you can handle it.

This hard-working brother and sister team are on hand seven days a week. The seafood sashimi salad features poke-style tuna, yellowtail and salmon tossed in yuzu—a sauce made from a Japanese citrus fruit—over mixed greens with a house-made spicy kimchi dressing.


Sky Bar Steak & Sushi
2105 Postoffice Street

This popular Japanese restaurant is part of the Galveston Restaurant Group and offers up the spiciest option we sampled for this feature: the Habanero Roll created by general manager and executive chef Joaquin Villegas. It is stuffed with seared tuna and grilled shrimp and topped with a chile sauce that will light you up. This dish is definitely not geared toward the mild mannered.

Villegas suggests you place the bottom of the roll onto the tongue first, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the spice of the sauce made from fresh, diced habanero peppers. Villegas has worked at Sky Bar since they opened, nearly 20 years ago. He says the younger crowd usually goes for the spicier choices.

Young Jacob Hart, son of one of the owners, is a fan of fiery food, said Villegas. He strives to create dishes that will satisfy the teen and his other customers who have an adventurous palette.

The spicy edamame is infused with a citrus, vinegar, and soy combination and is one of the most popular dishes served in the restaurant. The edamame has a medium spice, but you can order it extra spicy to bring a better burn.


Texas Tail Distillery
2416 Post Office Street

In 2018, owners Nick Droege and Greg Truex moved their Dallas-based, fully functional distillery to Galveston. Originally housed on Seawall Boulevard, they moved into their own building on Postoffice Street two years ago and was named the Small Business of the Year by the Galveston Chamber of Commerce in 2022.

Texas Tail Distillery prides themselves on using locally grown, raw materials in small bottle batches which enables them to deliver the smoothest spirits.

“We’re raising the bar on quality cocktails and taking the taste to the next level,” general manager Lani Wilson said. “We distill our vodka six times before infusing it with local peppers grown by PintaPeppers.”

As peppers vary in spice level so, too, does the infused vodkas. Wilson says their grower crossbreeds many peppers and some of them are too hot to handle with naked hands. They pour their distilled spirits into mason jars containing chiles with varying degrees of heat. The vodka infuses from four days to two weeks.

Droege says most folks order the spicy spirits on a dare but are surprised at how well balanced they are. “Our spicy cocktails have depth and are really flavorful, but they won’t knock your socks off,” he said.

The Texas Heat is made with jalapeño-infused vodka, jalapeño simple syrup, watermelon juice, muddled jalapeños, sweet and sour mix, and garnished with watermelon and jalapeño slices. The Cowboy Lemonade is made with jalapeño-infused vodka, jalapeño-infused simple syrup, fresh cucumber, and lemon.

The Bloody Mary is made with vegetable-infused vodka (tomato, onion, garlic, lemon, dill, celery, and cucumbers), your choice of spicy vodka with desired heat, a dash of Worcestershire and tabasco, fresh lime, and Zing Zang. The rim is lined with a Cajun spice and garnished with a briny snack.

All Texas Tail vodkas, whiskeys, bourbons and shines are distilled and bottled in Galveston and available in 500 stores across the state.




Venados Cantina @ Buck’s West
16510 Termini-San Luis Pass Road in Jamaica Beach

Head chef Abelardo “A.B.” Garza created the recipe for this classic staple using fresh, never frozen, chicken wings that are seasoned and marinated overnight in a special blend of spices. Venados means “male deer” in Spanish; meant to be a play on the name of the bars also owned by the Buck brothers—Buckshot Saloon and Buck’s West.

The spicy wings at Venados Cantina are sauced two ways—with a mango habanero or a Buffalo sauce. Assorted fresh chiles and bell peppers, cilantro, onion, and garlic are cooked down and mango puree and habaneros are added. The Buffalo sauce is also made in-house from assorted fresh chiles and cooked down with a vinegar base. The wings are meaty, served as a generous portion, and have a medium to high spice level.

Long-time island residents, business partners and brothers, Joey and Tim Buck opened Buck’s West in a strip space in Jamaica Beach in 2003. In 2022, they built out the commercial space just down the road in Jamaica Beach.

At that time, they moved Buck’s West into their new building and opened Venados Cantina, serving coastal Tex-Mex cuisine. Tim’s wife Melanie Quiroga-Buck stepped in as general manager of the restaurant in March of 2023.


Viet Cajun Seafood & Pho House
8910 Seawall Boulevard, Suite E

Husband-and-wife team Kim Pisith Meak and Puthly Da Phuon bought Viet-Cajun Seafood and Pho house from their aunt in early 2023.

The restaurant opened in 2020 at the height of the COVID lockdown, but it is now running at full speed and is often crowded for a good reason; the food is incredibly flavorful and hits high marks for super spice seekers.

The extra spicy crawfish will have you mopping your brow in minutes. This dish is a ten-out-of-ten on the spice scale and is usually available through June, depending on the crawfish season. As is usually the case when ordering crawfish, there is an extra charge for sausage, corn, and potatoes.