Is it soup yet? We think so — especially as the snowflakes swirl and the ice builds up on city streets. Not only is soup a hot meal on a cold day, it feeds the heart with childhood memories of nourishing food. Here are ten great places for a warming bowl, from spicy Asian sizzlers to Midwestern home-style warmers. Soup's on!
1. Duck Chao at V Express
333 South Federal Boulevard
Many Asian countries have a version of rice soup or porridge that's a way to extend a portion of rice or offer a warming meal to those in need of culinary comfort. Vietnam’s rendition, chao, adds colorful elements that enliven the tastebuds. V Express cooks up the dish in two styles: chao ga and chao vit, made with chicken and duck, respectively. This is also a breakfast mainstay, and luckily, V Express opens at 10 a.m. daily. The duck chao as served at V Express is much thinner than Chinese congee; a cloudy broth hides rice and chunks of duck (complete with bones, so be careful). A good stir brings matchsticks of ginger and onion to the surface and disperses a raft of cracked black pepper and rau ram, a Vietnamese herb with a pungent, musky flavor similar to that of cilantro. This chao comes with a side of dipping sauce, made with fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, ginger and dried red-chile flakes to up the flavor another notch or two.
2. Mexican Soups at El Chingon
4326 Tennyson Street
At El Chingon, the flavors of dried chiles shine in soups like a smoky, creamy camarón bistro soup made with chipotles or a hearty posole bolstered with lamb shoulder. Chef David Lopez captures the soul of Mexico while introducing modern cooking techniques. Head inside the homey Berkeley bungalow for a delicious dive into bowls guaranteed to melt away the winter frost.
3. Flavorsome Ramen at Sera's Ramen Enclave
3472 West 32nd Avenue
Sera Nguyen opened this laid-back West Highland noodle joint in the former Bang! spot (3472 West 32nd Avenue) in May and has been making fans ever since — even more since the weather turned frigid. All it takes is one bowl of Nguyen's comforting ramen to seal the deal, and a noodle bowl called Flavorsome Ramen did it for us. The $14 bowl contains a rich but not heavy oxtail broth and hearty, tender chunks of pulled, braised oxtail. Leeks and fried shallots melt into the bowl so that you hardly know they're there, but the flavor works to add the slightest piquant twist and fresh crunch to the broth's luscious umami nuances. Nguyen tops the bowl with a pile of dainty, raw enoki mushrooms, some slices of pink-and-white fish cake and a butter-lettuce cup filled with bright-orange masago (Japanese fish roe). Of course, there's also the pile of thick, curly, buttery noodles that do such a good job of absorbing the flavor and fat of the meat.
4. Toomkha at US Thai Cafe
5228 West 25th Avenue, Edgewater
Nuclear heat is usually the draw at this Edgewater cafe, but the yellow-white broth swimming with chunks of pale onion, even whiter strips of chicken, fat button mushrooms and a hint of dark-green cilantro offers a more soothing way to warm up. It doesn't look too exciting, but each spoonful of the tangy, spicy and almost buttery broth will bring you closer to licking the bowl clean — and since a bowl of toomkha is only $6.50, you may consider calling for another round. It's rare that a sour dish can also offer a comforting richness, but between the velvety coconut milk that acts as a base and the sparks of Thai chili peppers and piquant galangal, an Indonesian ginger, this bowl of toomkha satisfies on so many levels.
5. Spicy Beef Hot Pot at Bronze Empire
1591 South Colorado Boulevard
This is more than just a bowl of soup; it's an entire pot — so bring friends — that you make yourself over a tabletop hot plate with fresh ingredients. The first thing you'll do when ordering is pick a soup, selecting a flavor profile and a broth; we recommend the spicy soup made with beef broth. This particular style mimics classic Sichuan-style hot pot, made there with racy red chiles, mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and beef tallow, which gives the broth a voluptuous mouthfeel and deep flavor. While Bronze Empire's version ditches the peppercorns, the broth is spiked with habanero and serrano chiles, layering in enough heat (if you ask for it) to make you sweat. And the kitchen renders its own tallow, making this broth rib-sticking and an excellent rendition, peppercorns or no. Once you have the soup worked out, order the meats and veggies you'd like as the soup simmers in front of you. We'd recommend lamb and ribeye, tofu skin, mushrooms and plenty of greens.
6. Soup of the Day at The Noshery
4994 Lowell Boulevard
Pastries and sandwiches get top billing at the Noshery, a homespun bakery-cafe where Regis University students talk shop before class and families gather on weekends. But it's the soup of the day that best captures the feel-good nature of the place — and try as we might, we never leave here without at least a cup of the stuff. Just don't get too attached to that bowl of spicy corn chowder, curry chickpea or baked potato; as the soup du jour, what's here today is gone tomorrow. All the more reason to drop by for another bowl, and a lemon-meringue tart to go along with it.
7. Chicken Noodle Soup at East Side Kosher Deli
499 South Elm Street
The East Side Kosher Deli has served Denver's Jewish community for years; new owner Joshua Horowitz revamped the menu to appeal to modern tastes while staying true to what has made the place a popular destination for kosher staples for so long. Among those staples is a nourishing bowl of chicken noodle soup that puts the chicken first with a lovely broth that feels like an instant cure for whatever ails you. If you have a Jewish grandmother, she probably already has a bowl of soup waiting for you, but if not, head to Denver's east side for a little comfort. Just don't forget to pair it with a pastrami sandwich. And then grab some of Horowitz's house-smoked brisket to go; its one of the many changes at the deli that are bringing in a new generation of customers.
8. Tofu Soup at Tofu House
2353 South Havana Street, Aurora
Tofu House is an appropriate name for a Korean restaurant that specializes in tofu soups, roiling stone pots brimming with lava-colored broth. Choose from beef, pork, seafood or vegetarian options and then wait for the service cart to come around with your soup, rice and banchan dishes — the array of miniature bowls filled with all manner of pickled, marinated and preserved snacks and condiments. Both the rice and the soup arrive in stoneware too hot too touch, but the result is a meal that stays piping hot until the last sip of soup and crunchy crust of browned rice. Between the bold spices, steaming soup and blistering bowls, you're sure to get warm and stay warm.
9. Menudo at Taqueria Mi Pueblo
2300 Federal Boulevard
There's nothing bland or sheepish — except a touch in the aroma — about the chock-full-of-guts bowl of menudo at this Federal Boulevard favorite. Curls of honeycomb tripe rise from a vivid orange broth, completely obscuring a braised pig foot (offered as an option) in its funky depths. We wouldn't hold it against someone for shying away from menudo; its barnyard wafts of cow stomach just aren't part of the average American's eating experience. But if you're at all curious, the menudo here is a worthy version — especially sprinkled with diced onions and cilantro and with a little of the house chile oil stirred in just in case the broth's considerable heat level isn't quite enough. And if you're already a menudo veteran, you'll surely say yes to the extra trotter and a buttered bolillo roll on the side, along with a foil pack of steamy corn tortillas.
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10. Zuppo Pomodoro at Parisi Italian Market & Deli
4401 Tennyson Street
Tomato soup is the quintessential American winter warmer, usually made from a concentrate shlorped from a can and mixed with water or milk. But at Parisi, where simple ingredients prepared with care have long been the draw, everything is alive with the spirit of Italy, including the zuppo pomodoro. This soup starts with roasted tomatoes and layers in hints of other flavors: a whisper of garlic, a touch of olive oil, a quick hit of salt. But the tomatoes — vivid and tangy — demand attention like the day they were plucked plump from the vine and still warm from the summer sun. The best tomato soup lends a taste of August to cold winter days — and this is one of the best, undiluted and pure. Now is a great time to dive into a bowl of summer goodness to help shake off the winter chill.