Because the heat level of otherwise identical chili-powered dishes can vary greatly daily, and because one person's thermonuclear meltdown is another person's teasing sting, and because some people just plain don't know when to stop - hot sauces are indispensable for ratcheting up the thrill factor for capsaicin heads.

Because the heat level of otherwise identical chili-powered dishes can vary greatly daily, and because one person's thermonuclear meltdown is another person's teasing sting, and because some people just plain don't know when to stop - hot sauces are indispensable for ratcheting up the thrill factor for capsaicin heads.

Here's a few terrific homegrown heat-bringing condiments only available in local restaurants. I like these liquid fires so much I usually take extra back with me - and so have included a few "try this at home" ideas.

El Arepazo

Like a Latino aioli, it's mayo-based, rich, creamy, slightly sweet and the color of avocado flesh. Aside from mayonnaise, its alluring flavors come from garlic, cilantro and a dash of jalapeno. Use it like mayo, sour cream or even butter on sandwiches and starchy stuff such as corn or spuds.

Heat factor: 2 out of 4

Aladdin ' s Eatery

I'd call this bright and lively pale gold concoction an Italian salad dressing on steroids. Basically a volatile vinaigrette, it needs shaking up before delivering its chili-seeded and garlicky oil and vinegar thrust. It's also great as a marinade for chicken or fish.

Heat factor: 3 out of 4

Ray Ray ' s Hog Pit

Watch out, this one means business! Thick, sweet, smooth, smoky and complex, it's Ray Ray's homemade barbecue sauce hopped up on a couple wicked slaps of fire-roasted habaneros. Following its intoxicating molasses/ketchup/zesty sweetness is an ever-increasing and lingering sting, so do not overdo it till you know what you're dealing with. A little flick of this adds a ton of depth to Asian stir-fries.

Heat factor: 3.5 out of 4

Skillet

Warning: recommended only for experienced professionals! This one's fruity and sweet, but before you can say "Call 9-1-1," it'll have your eyes spastically blinking and your stunned nose desperately running as it unloads a wildly explosive wallop of concentrated habenero. Try drizzling a tiny bit into Bloody Marys, chili or even pasta sauces.

Heat factor: 4 out of 4

Northstar Cafe

Comparable to a robust Tabasco sauce with a punch of hot paprika, its big vinegary bite is accompanied by a deep and rich chili-peppery blast. This one is particularly good for balancing out richer dishes or with Mexican, Southwestern and Middle Eastern foods.

Heat factor: 3.5 out of 4

CaJohns Oaxacan Hot Sauce

How could I not include CaJohn - aka the Sultan of Sweat, the Lord of the Fires and the King of Sting - in a piece on hot sauces? I mean he's nationally famous and makes more than 100 zingy condiments (many far off the heat-meter chart of this article!). So though this one is not restaurant-made, it is restaurant-grade. It's cuminy and has a great balance between the heat and the sweet and as its name indicates, is great on all things Mexican.

Heat factor: 3.5 out of 4