Steaming, soothing, and so good it can make your soul sing, soup is the best, and it's finally soup season in the Valley. (Or close, anyway.) We grabbed our spoons (and chopsticks) and bowl-hopped across town to find the best, brightest, and most badass broths. Don’t burn your tongue!
Tantanmen at SoSoBa
SoSoBa, the newest RoRo restaurant, is a bit of an anomaly. It oozes a hipster vibe, yet the staff are as nice as they come. It calls itself a noodle shop, yet boasts blasphemies like mac 'n' cheese balls, albeit delicious ones. And it displays “People On Yelp Hate Us” stickers like badges of honor — despite rave reviews. But this is about the soup, which makes total sense. The Tantanmen bowl packs in hoisin ground pork, bamboo shoots, scallions, soft egg, and just the right amount of ramen noodles into a slightly spicy sesame-chili broth. Each chopstick-to-mouth slurp is a taste punch in the face. Fire it up even more with ballsy house-made hot sauces and absolutely wash it down with an Osaka Smash or any of the crafty cocktails.
Linda’s Homemade Tortilla Soup at Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup
It starts out all PG-13 as the tomato-based broth with standard issue carrots, celery, and onion gets ladled into a clay pot, but the party kicks up a notch as you work your way down the assembly line. Toss in some melt-in-your-mouth guajillo-braised short ribs and the creamiest cornbread, go bison and sautéed spinach, or double down on meat with roasted chicken and green chili pork shoulder. After getting doused in a hefty handful of cheese, it slides into the fire and emerges all hot and bothered and ready for the cold fixins. You can keep it cool with vinaigrette slaw and pico or go for the hot salsa. If you’re feeling really naughty, top it with an over-easy egg and chunky guac.
Onion Soup Gratinee at Zinc Bistro
This classic French soup is an experience in excavation. Once your spoon dives below the flotilla of gooey gruyere and sliced baguette, it goes deep into a brothy nirvana of nuanced flavors: you get a hit of Worcestershire, then notes of sherry and red wine, all tucked into a venerable stock of veal and chicken. And onions, of course — loads of onions. Each bite promises strings of cheesy goodness cascading from spoon to mouth, oodles of onions, and closed-eye sighs to savor it all. Pair it with a Chardonnay on the patio for a full Parisian experience.
Tofu Soup at Chodang Tofu & BBQ
Two myths to clear up. First, contrary to popular opinion, there are plenty of amazing ethnic restaurants in the Valley, and second, Korean food is so much more than kimchi. Enter Chodang in Chandler. The interior is cheesy in the best way — the ceiling is painted to look like clouds while Bob Ross-esque artwork adorns the walls — and the tofu soup is a revelation. Pick your poison (clam, dumpling, mushroom, beef, kimchi …) and your spice level, and your server will roll out a boiling volcano of beefy broth teeming with tofu. Opt for the tableside egg crack and watch the protein-packed potion turn cloudy. It comes with a symphony of sides, some that work in the soup (yes to the pickled veg and salty seaweed) and some that don’t (no to apple-mayo salad).
Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup at Beckett’s Table
We’ve all tasted a red pepper and tomato soup and thought, Meh. It’s pretty tough to completely wreck the combo, but it’s also near impossible to raise it to refined status. Chef Justin Beckett pulls it off. The creamy blend of tangy tomatoes and smoky roasted red peppers arrives Jackson Pollock-style, swirled with a savory drizzle of white wine beurre blanc and a smattering of dehydrated corn kernels. This place is too posh to lick the bowl, so ask for a side of Asiago dinner rolls, a cheese-topped biscuit bun with chunks of sundried tomatoes, for sopping. There’s also a killer grilled cheese-soup combo on the menu worth its weight in cheese and pancetta.
Goma Ramen at Hot Noodles Cold Sake
Chef Joshua Hebert paid his ramen dues. He spent time in Japan honing his soup skills and then perfected the noodle bowl at Posh restaurant’s pop-up ramen nights before opening the small and simple traditional ramen shop in Scottsdale. All the bowls are the bomb, but goma is by far the crowd fave: a steaming siren of salty, porky panache artfully arranged with pork spears, nori, leeks, bean sprouts, scallions, bok choy, sesame seeds, and noodles cooked to perfection. When your chopsticks fish out all the solids, you and the broth can have alone time to truly savor the layers of flavor. Your lips will leave salty and singing.
Any Soup at China Chili Restaurant
The toughest part at China Chili is picking just one soup. The staff has the same problem. Ask five servers and you’ll get five different answers. If you’re craving the comfort of chicken noodle, the Won Ton’s chicken broth and hearty dumpling landmines of minced pork and shrimp won’t disappoint. If you’re thirsting for dinner theater, the Sizzling Rice Soup arrives with a snap, crackle, and pop. And if you want something that goes beyond traditional Chinese, Chicken Corn Chowder with feathery brushstrokes of egg blossoms is delicately delicious and slightly Southwestern. In short, there’s no wrong choice.
Coconut Soup at Thai E-San
More event than basic bowl, when the fiery tureen of scorching-hot goodness arrives at the table, you’ll take notice. Yes, that is an actual flame in the middle. Thankfully, the spectacle doesn’t trump the taste. The ultimate date soup, the double serving comes with your pick of protein (chicken and beef are the obvious choices, but squid, mussels, and scallops are also up for grabs), plus mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro. But the star of the show here is the broth, the perfect harmony of lemon, chili paste, fish sauce, and coconut milk. Ladle it up and luxuriate. Even if your Bumble match sucks, the soup won’t.
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New England Clam Chowder at the Salt Cellar
Chowder from scratch isn’t the norm in the Valley. Heck, chowder at all is rare, and even then, chances are good that the clams have come out of a can. Not so at Salt Cellar, a 45-year fixture built bunker-style in south Scottsdale (the restaurant is literally underground). Like the restaurant itself, the rich, warming bowl of chowder hasn’t been fancified, fusioned, or gentrified; its DNA is still very much intact and apparent in its salty bits of bacon, hunks of potato, and generous hits of fresh clams. The result: a smoky, tangy, creamy consistency that’ll instantly teleport you to New England. And of course, it comes with a side of oyster crackers.
Albondigas Soup at La Piñata
Meatball soup is a mainstay at Valley Mexican joints, but this ain’t just any Albondigas. The soothing, substantial bowl isn’t shy on carrots, cabbage, green beans, onions, zucchini, mouthful-sized meatballs, or comfort. It has that simmer-on-the-stove-all-day familiarity only an abuela can deliver. Not that surprising, since it comes out of the eatery that invented the chimichanga, a Phoenix institution now housed in a hipper hood — the Seventh Avenue location’s interior is bright and open with funky light fixtures and a campy cocktail menu — yet the food hasn’t lost any of its homespun charm.