Steaming, soothing, and so good it can make your soul sing, soup is simply the best. It's high soup season here in the Valley. We grabbed our spoons (and chopsticks) and bowl-hopped across town to track down some of the best, brightest, and most badass broths. Given the bounty of options, it's almost a shame that soup season is so short here. So seize the bowl while you can.
Here are a few soups you should look up on gray or chilly days this winter.
Linda’s Homemade Tortilla SoupGadzooks Enchiladas & Soup
It starts out all PG-13 at Gadzooks 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.
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 at Zinc Bistro.
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 at Hot Noodles Cold Sake 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.
At this north Phoenix restaurant serving a motley menu of Ukrainian and Polish cuisine, look for what the menu describes as “tripe soup.” Soup & Sausage Bistro offers the hearty, herbaceous, near-medicinal quality of a good bowl of chicken noodle. It’s well seasoned, almost a little briny, and thickened with potatoes and onions. Long, soft strips of tripe float around the bowl like noodles, and every quivering, long-cooked piece represents a gorgeous melding of texture and flavor. It’s the kind of dish you want delivered to your bed after feeling the first nascent chills of a cold move through your body.
Pineapple SoupReathrey Sekong
1312 East Indian School Road
In the ballet of exotic flavors of pineapple, basil, and tamarind, sweetness takes center stage of this soup. Fish and fried garlic flavors edge in more faintly, not apparent until a few sips in, once you've started to unwrap what you’re slurping. Chunks of pineapple, yellow squash, tomato, and willowy lotus roots float in the soup, each with a degree of sweetness. The broth is light and balanced; royal basil and garlic edited its flavor so deftly that the sweet accent didn’t seem odd at all. Chunks of catfish, perfectly cooked, lurk below the fruits and vegetables on the surface. The catfish is delicate, just-cooked, barely flaky, and very satisfying. A perfect soup at Reathrey Sekong.
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.
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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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 is said to have invented the chimichanga. La Piñata, a Phoenix institution, is 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.
New England Clam ChowderThe Salt Cellar
550 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale
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 The Salt Cellar, a 1971-established 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.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on November 30, 2016. It was updated on January 7, 2020.