Dark Star Hot Sauce Heats Things Up In the Best Way

Hunter Thomas, owner of Padrino and 20 Brix, is on the quest to build a better sriracha.
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Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

We all love the ubiquitous “rooster sauce,” but after emptying his umpteenthsriracha bottle for Padrino chicken wings, restaurateur Hunter Thomas (he owns 20 Brix, too) thought he could do better. Thomas got chile peppers and some insight from a Thai dealer at Findlay Market, then set to work, trying everything from fish sauce to MSG in the mix, including an overabundance of balsamic vinegar that yielded a blackish sauce. “I was in the kitchen with my brother and he said, ‘It tastes good, but it’s really dark,’” says Thomas. “The song ‘Dark Star’ by Grateful Dead was playing, and I was like, ‘There we go.’”

Balsamic didn’t make the final recipe, but the name stuck, and Thomas decided to bottle two versions for mass consumption: a milder sriracha and the ghost pepper–forward Extreme Heat. Dark Star sauces aren’t fermented, as some srirachas are, but rather cooked down significantly, combined with flavors, and pureed for a fiery final product. They’re available at the company’s website, Jungle Jim’s, and select area grocers. Or grab some at the restaurants—Padrino even features a few Dark Star dishes for “inspiration.”

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