I love spicy food. The fresh spice of jalapeños in homemade pico de gallo, the buzzing heat of cayenne in Hungarian goulash, and the lingering sting of Jamaican jerk seasoning are the flavors of my childhood, and since my youth, my tolerance and appreciation for spice have been steadily growing.
When I moved on campus for the first time this semester, I was surprised by the lack of spice in any of the meal options at the dining halls. They probably cater to a large portion of the student body who may not appreciate the levels of heat I’m used to. I quickly realized that if I wanted spice, I needed to find it myself — and I’m proud to report that through extensive research and investigation, I have developed a list of restaurants with cheap, tasty, and (most importantly) spicy meals that you can swing by in between classes, after a long week of papers and p-sets, or even on dates!
But without further ado, here is my list of spicy hits!
Tiger Noodles: Perfect for friends with dietary restrictions
Tiger Noodles has a wide range of dishes for all tastes. It’s located at 252 Nassau Street (a bit further down Nassau than Hoagie Haven). If you are or you’re going out with friends who are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or who have other dietary restrictions, this is a good place to try!
In addition to the classic General Tso’s chicken and fried rice, two spicier dishes I would recommend are the Sichuan Wontons in Spicy Sauce ($5.50) and the Sichuan Noodles (Spicy Ground Pork) ($9.00). The wontons are served in a peanut sauce with tons of rich flavor and a delicious pork filling, and they’re great to share! The Sichuan noodles are also divine, based around a silky, bouncy wheat noodle slathered in a spicy sauce that is less peanut-y than the wontons and has a bit more sesame, umami flavor.
Thai Village: Best if you want to customize your spice
Located at 235 Nassau Street, right next to Ficus, Thai Village has a cozy, almost nostalgic environment to it. Their menu choices are truly expansive, and the best thing about them is that you can customize your spice level! The levels range from mild to spicy to extra hot — all of which live up to their labels!
My favorite dishes so far are the Red Curry ($14.95+ depending on protein choice, $10.95 during lunch special until 2 p.m.) and the Curry Fried Rice ($12.95+ depending on protein choice, $7.95 during lunch special until 2 p.m.). The red curry is classically creamy, fresh, and includes succulent chunks of pineapple — which may seem weird at first but actually balance perfectly with the spice of the sauce. The curry fried rice is a bit atypical for fried rice, but the flavor is unbeatable. It’s warm and comforting but also has an incredibly unique spice blend that I honestly could not place. I would gladly go to the mat on this one — seriously, try it.
As I mentioned above, I think the lunch specials are incredibly worth it at Thai Village because they come with a choice of a small salad, soup, or spring roll and are significantly cheaper than their dinner-sized counterparts. I will also say that every time I get takeout from Thai Village, the food lasts me for 2-3 meals, depending on my appetite.
And as a bonus: the Thai Iced Tea ($2.50) is a great cooling drink with a complex flavor, made with specially seasoned Ceylon tea and condensed milk, and the delicate floral creaminess of the drink pairs perfectly with a spicy dish.
Taste of Mexico: You’ve gotta try the spicy salsa verde
Tucked in an alleyway between the Christian Science Reading Room and Lil Thai Pin, Taste of Mexico is one of the hidden gems of Princeton restaurants. It’s situated down a small alleyway, and the vibes inside are impeccable. It has a vibrant family feel and an authentic presence that reminds me of so many Mexican restaurants from my childhood. The dishes here are not as specifically spicy as at other restaurants, but they can be dressed up with sides to customize your desired level of spice.
The best condiment you can ask for is the spicy salsa verde (with cilantro, tomatillo, and jalapeños), which has a ton of fresh, crisp flavor. It adds verve to any dish, but I particularly recommend the Flautas de Pollo ($9.95), which are crispy rolled tortillas filled with juicy, shredded chicken and slathered in fresh crema, lettuce, pico de gallo, and queso fresco. All of the entree platters come with beans and rice, and with the added spice of the salsa verde, everything sings with flavor.
I also highly recommend the lunch specials here, because they provide perfect portions (for me personally) at significantly lower prices during the day. The 2 Tamales ($7.95) are delicious paired with extra jalapeños and salsa verde.
Bonus round, part two: The Horchata Agua Fresca ($2.50), made with rice milk and cinnamon, is a delicious pairing with the spicier dishes. I could enjoy its light texture and subtle flavor any day of the week.
Mamouns’s Falafel: Ideal for a quick lunch between classes
The atmosphere in Mamoun’s, located at 20 Witherspoon Street, is warm, fun, and casual. The restaurant stretches back from the door into a large eating area, with the order counter at the very back. The lacquered wooden tables are enclosed by exposed-brick walls and framed sepia photographs. The crown jewel of Mamoun’s Falafel is, obviously, the Falafel Sandwich ($4.95), which comes packed with lettuce, tomatoes, tahini, and perfectly crispy fried balls of falafel, which are made of ground chickpeas, fava beans, and herbs. The service is quick, and the sandwiches are convenient to take to-go, plus the restaurant is almost as close to campus as you can be.
The crucial thing to ask for at Mamoun’s is their free hot sauce. It’s punchy, incredibly spicy, and gives a kind of dry, smoky heat that no other hot sauce I’ve ever tried has had. It comes in little condiment containers, so you can pour however much as you want on your sandwich. But beware — it’s a lingering burn!
Chenai Chimney: Perfect for a picnic with friends
Chennai Chimney, located at 19 Chambers Street, has delicious Indian food — and the best part is, you can customize your level of spice! Like Thai Village, you can choose spicy, medium, or mild for any dish, so you can take out with friends and not have to worry whether everyone has the same spice tolerance. It’s a bit tucked away from most other restaurants, but still very close to campus — worth a little trek back and forth to your dorm if it means hot, fresh, delicious curry. My favorite entree is the Paneer Tikka Masala ($14.95), with tender cubes of soft paneer cheese — which tastes a bit like tofu, but so much better (in my opinion). All of the curries are richly spiced and delicious — go crazy!
Chennai Chimney is on the pricier side, though, so if you’re really craving curry but not craving an empty wallet, I would recommend splitting a Curry Family Pack ($32.99+) with some friends — depending on appetites, it can easily feed 5–7 people!
Food and the act of eating is such a communal and community-building thing, and my hope with this piece is to give you some ideas of where to go with friends to get some refreshing, flavorful spicy food near campus. Whether you go out to Mamoun’s for a quick lunch or sit down at Tiger Noodles for a long meal full of great conversation and great food, I hope you will experience the same level of comfort and happiness that I do every time I taste the warm, spicy flavors of my youth. You don’t have to splurge to get delicious spicy food, especially if you try the lunch specials at Thai Village or Taste of Mexico, or get a big Family Pack at Chennai Chimney with friends!