When it's cold outside, a fire in the fireplace is a lovely way to warm up, but it's just not that filling. It's much more satisfying to combat the cold by lighting a fire in the belly. In other words, frigid temperatures are a great excuse to gorge on spicy food. Head to the following restaurants and you'll be sweating soon enough.
India Quality, 484 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-267-4499. indiaquality.com
There are many delicious things to eat at this Kenmore Square Indian restaurant, but it's justifiably renowned for its ferociously hot vindaloo. It comes in chicken, beef, lamb, and shrimp versions. When I order the shrimp, the waiter, thinking to save me from myself, says, "It's hot." I nod and smile. "It's very hot," he says. I tell him that's how I want it, and he looks worried. He can't save me from myself.
But the vindaloo's not just hot for the sake of being hot - it's also spiced with nuance, chunks of mild potato serving as islands of relief, a heady vinegar cloud wafting from its volcanic red surface. Did I mention it's dark red? Like the color nature makes things when it wants to signify "do not consume"?
But you should consume. India Quality's vindaloo purges the sinuses and the tear ducts. Eaten with bites of basmati, it's very, very warming.
Little Q Hot Pot, 1585 Hancock St., Quincy. 617-773-5888. littlequsa.com
Last year I spent part of New Year's Eve here - there's just something festive about sharing a bubbling hot pot with friends. First you select your broth (there are six to choose from, and you can pick one or two) and a server puts a pot of it over the individual burner at your seat. Then you choose what to cook in it - meat, assorted vegetables, fish balls, noodles, and more - and wait for the soup to boil. Each item gets dunked till it's cooked, then slurped up. I'm partial to the black bone chicken broth and the Mongolian veggie broth, but sometimes I mix it up and opt for the mala (spicy) broth. Chilies, cumin, ginseng, and other seasonings I'd be hard-pressed to identify bob in the soup, giving it a numbing Sichuan heat. And the more food you cook in it, the better the soup gets.
Sichuan Garden, 295 Washington St., Brookline. 617-734-1870. sichuan garden2.com
For more of that numbing Sichuan heat, head to this Brookline spot (there's one in Woburn, too). Here your food will either be riddled with flecks of hot peppers or filled with whole dried ones. Sichuan pork dumplings have a smoky-hot flavor from roasted chilies in the vinaigrette, while Sichuan beef soup with soft noodles has a rich-hot flavor from the fatty, tender slices of meat - it's soothing, in an evil sort of way. Or try the Chengdu dry hot chicken, a pile of chilies with some chicken thrown in for fun.
Buk Kyung, 9A Union Square, Somerville. 617-623-7220.
If you're after a more casual heat - the kind that catches in the back of your throat rather than roaring down it - Buk Kyung's Chinese-influenced Korean food will induce pleasant but controllable sniffles. Seafood jambong is a red noodle soup full of squid florets, shrimp, and black fungus with an impressive wingspan. It has a round, warm flavor. Another favorite is the red stew called chigae - get the soft tofu if you're sick and don't have the energy to chew; if you're in good health and want to stay that way, the kimchi offers a concentrated, heady dose of fermented cabbage that feels somehow good for the system.
Tu y Yo, 858 Broadway, Somerville. 617-623-5411. tuyyomexicanfonda.com
Tu y Yo specializes in regional home cooking - "mom's cuisine," as it's called on the menu. Dishes tend to be very flavorful, but not particularly spicy. One exception is the calamares enjitomatados, a plate of squid tentacles and rings swimming in what looks like marinara sauce. Psych! The sauce is made with jalapenos. For a truly incendiary experience, wash it down with a michelada, a beer-based drink containing hot sauce. Tu y Yo's fantastic black beans - dark and deep and served with rice on the side - help soothe the palate.
East Coast Grill, 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-491-6568. eastcoast grill.net
But let's stop messing around. When you really want someone to bring the heat, there's one place to go: East Coast Grill, on Hell Night. A few times a year, the restaurant hosts this three-day spicy bacchanalia, wherein the likes of "Infamous Pasta From HELL" and "Wings of Mass Destruction" are served to initiates who flock here like heat-seeking missiles. Menu items are rated for spiciness with little bomb icons, and you have to sign a waiver when you order Pasta From Hell. The next Hell Night takes place Jan. 28-30; the theme is Disco Inferno - costumes encouraged. If you like sweating and crying while wearing skin-tight leisure suits, make your reservations now. Hell Night books up fast.