Taste This! Spicy Picks and Summery Cocktails

It's an optimistic time of year. The days are noticeably longer and temperatures are getting warmer. Not that you need to rely on the weather to heat things up—a spicy bite or sip can do the trick just as well.

Maybe you're a novice who's adventurous enough to step out of your comfort zone and kick things up a notch. Or you fall on the other end of the spectrum, an unabashed spice fiend who just can't get enough of the hot stuff.

No matter what your level of spice tolerance is, we’re giving you a variety of satisfying options that will warm your belly and add some pizzazz to your plate (or glass). And because requesting just the right amount is often the hardest call to make, we've doled out a bit of advice on that, too.

BLiS Blast! Hot Wings, Food Dance (401 E. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo)

Classic comfort food suddenly feels a bit upscale—and on fire. Locally focused eatery Food Dance serves up farm chicken with Gorgonzola remoulade and BliS Blast! hot pepper sauce, made up of a 'secret' blend of chipotle, arbol and cayenne chilies, along with some unique barrel-aged flavors. You know this is the good stuff.

Peanut Noodle Curry, Angel's Thai Café (136 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids)

There are lots of options to choose from at Angel's Thai Café, and anything can be made to your level of spicy taste (from a scale of 1-10). We recommend the Peanut Noodle Curry, a dish that's typically sweet and mild. Ramping up this combo of broccoli, bean sprouts, bell peppers and green beans—all stir fried in a peanut curry sauce—adds some edge to it. (Just don't ask for higher than 8.)

(Spicy) Beet Margarita, Terra (1429 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids)

Quite possibly Terra's most beloved and out-of-the-ordinary cocktail, the Beet Margarita blends together Sauza Blanco tequila, cointreau, pickled beet juice and hand-pressed lemon and lime juice for a distinctly handcrafted flavor. The bartender might inquire if you want it spicy; ask for a splash and you'll avoid overpowering all of the other good flavors in this drink.

If you decide to stay for a snack or meal, consider requesting some of Terra's homemade hot sauce as a topper (to most anything). Not for the faint of heart.

I've Got a Gal, Old Dog Tavern (402 E Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo)

Another cocktail that cranks up the 'interesting' factor, especially with a tagline of sweet 'n' spicy, just like the gals in Kalamazoo. Muddled habanero pepper gets tossed in with Journeyman, White Rye Whiskey, pineapple juice, fresh-squeezed lime juice and simple syrup. Yep, this is a drink that's got a whole lot going on.

Gambas Asadas Al Fuego, San Chez Bistro (38 W. Fulton, Grand Rapids)

Here’s a dish that's light on spice (more zing than ‘dang!’) and, we’re guessing, delicious no matter what your culinary tastes might be. A skillet of spicy fire-roasted shrimp doused in banana mustard cream is accompanied by fluffy white rice that's perfect for soaking it all up.

If you're in the mood for another spicy shareable, order the Medjool Rellenas Picantes. These stuffed dates become spectacular with the addition of lamb, chorizo, bacon, beef and spicy harissa sauce.

Spicy Bark, Grocer's Daughter Chocolate at the Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids)

Spice doesn't have to be segregated from sweets. A 70 percent dark chocolate bar gets a new personality with ancho chili, aleppo pepper and guajillo chili. As if that weren’t enough, this treat is covered in guajillo chili powder, cocoa nibs and smoked sea salt. Equally scrumptious as dessert or an afternoon snack.

Summery Cocktails

We all have our favorites when it comes to booze, and, we get it, frou-frou cocktails may not be at the top of your list. But you can get away with ordering them in the summer, so hey, why not get into the seasonal spirit?

We think it's a good time to lighten up your drink with some refreshingly fun flavors. You'll feel like you're on vacation, even if you're just out on the town.

Here's a list of specialty cocktails that will put you in a sunny mood—and they might even inspire you to create your own summery concoctions at home.

Coconut Lime Mojito, Rockwells Republic (45 S Division Ave, Grand Rapids)

Get a taste of the tropics with this unique take on a classic warm-weather drink. It's got Bacardi Limon, Malibu, lime drop, and fresh mint. Drop in on a Wednesday and enjoy this (or any other) mojito for just $5. 9pm-midnight only.

Wild Dog Lemonade, The Wild Dog Grille (24 Center St, Douglas)

It's not summer without lemonade. Childhood nostalgia suddenly feels all grown-up with this libation. Lemon-lime soda is joined by Jack Daniels, triple sec, and sour mix for a taste that's both refreshing and just a bit rowdy. The perfect ending to a Lake Michigan beach day.

Strawberry Peach Sangria, City Flats Hotel (24 E 8th St, Holland)

If the word 'sangria' conjures up the cheap punch-y version known to college house parties, this one's bound to impress. It's got White Zinfandel, Peach Schnapps, strawberry puree, Sprite, and fresh fruit. For round two, try the Pineapple Mango Sangria, another great choice with Pinot Grigio, Pineapple Van Gogh Vodka, mango puree, ginger ale, and fresh fruit.

Republic Margarita, Fajita Republic Cantina (2183 East Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids)

Here’s your classic with just a bit more zest—house reposado tequila and orange liquer shaken with a house-made limeade. If you're up for something a little different to wash down your order of chips and guacamole, try the Beer-garita instead. It's listed as a "house margarita with an upside down Coronita." You just might be upside down after a few!

Mint Julep, Food Dance (401 E Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo)

Just because you're not at the Kentucky Derby doesn’t mean you can't enjoy its traditional drink of choice. This cocktail has the only three ingredients you'll need: bourbon, sugar, and fresh mint. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the longest days of the year.