Eating Adventures

Six Noodle Soups That Aren't Ramen or Pho — and Where to Get Them

Cool, rainy days are still in the forecast, at least through the weekend, and soup is just the right meal to help chase away the blahs, even if a brimming bowl isn't exactly traditional Memorial Day fare. Ramen and pho have been getting all the love lately, but there are plenty of other Asian noodle soups out there waiting to be slurped, with specialties at hip new hangouts and favorite old haunts. Here are six noodle soups guaranteed to warm you up if the weekend proves too soggy to fire up the grill.
1) Vietnamese Bun Bo Hue
Wonderbowl Vietnamese Restaurant
925 South Federal Boulevard
Bun bo Hue is a beef soup with a richer, spicier broth than pho and fatter noodles to counter the added heartiness. Typically including bone-in shank, brisket and cubes of cooked pork blood, the nose-to-tail presentation can be a little intimidating for novices, so Wonderbowl asks if you want it with the works or if you'd prefer to scale it back. Even with just brisket, the powerful, brick-red soup will make you forget about the steel-gray skies outside, but the added traditional ingredients — Wonderbowl also included soft-cooked beef tendon — will have offal lovers fishing for the best bits. Like, pho, bun bo Hue comes with a plate of herbs and veggies; along with Vietnamese basil you'll see a pile of what looks like shredded cabbage that's beginning to brown. Don't send it back, that's actually julienned banana blossom and the tannish color is natural — stir in a handful for added crunch and a hint of tropical flavor.

Where else can you find it? Golden Pho & Grill just down the street on Federal Boulevard also ladles up a satisfying version, but with a more rustic, homey broth. 2) Indonesian Laksa

42 South Broadway
Cho77 is one of the hottest seats — if you can grab one — on South Broadway. Restaurateur Lon Symensma brings his second Asian concept to Denver after proving he's one of the best in the business at his flagship ChoLon downtown. He and chef de cuisine Ryan Gorby have captured the flavors of Southeast Asia with hints of modern bar-food fun. You could go with a showy bowl of bacon, egg and cheese ramen, or you could set your own trend by diving into a bowl of Indonesian laksa, a seafood soup that spans multiple countries and preparation techniques. Cho77 builds its laksa around a lobster-based broth and adds a copious helping of tender tendrils of octopus, fat shrimp and a nest of fine rice noodles. Chunks of grilled pineapple brighten the bold, complex soup and airy tofu crutons add a unique texture somewhere between crunchy and chewy. Ignore the condiment caddie (okay, maybe a squirt or two of house-made sriracha) because this laksa is a flavor-packed meal with enough heat and spice to get you through the rainiest day.

Where else can I find it? Makan Malaysian Cafe's version of laksa is more traditional but no less satisfying and is a more laid-back option to teeming South Broadway.  3) Korean Ttukbaegi Bulgogi
Dae Gee

827 Colorado Blvd.
Ttukbaegi refers to the stone bowl in which this simmering soup arrives. Bulgogi is the more familiar term for thin-sliced, marinated beef. You'll find plenty of bulgogi, bobbing mushrooms and a tangle of glassy noodles bathing in a light but beefy broth. The soup, like good Vietnamese pho, entices with a combination of exotic, tantalizing spices and old-fashioned comfort. It's a soup so heart-warming you won't want to leave.

Where else can you find it? Seoul Korean BBQ offers a version called yuksu-bulgogi that's similar in presentation and ingredients, if slightly different in its seasoning.

4) Vietnamese Hu Tieu Mì Nam Vang
Pho Le

1195 South Federal Boulevard
The name of this soup may be a mouthful, but what it basically means is that you'll be getting a pork-based soup with two kinds of noodles: thin rice noodles and wavy wheat noodles similar to ramen. The broth is pho's porkier cousin, but with the same depth of spices. Where it diverges from pho is in the other ingredients: Pho Le's version comes with paper-thin slices of pork heart, baby pork ribs, delicate quail eggs and a couple of pink shrimp. And a side plate with Chinese celery leaf and other condiments lets you customize your bowl just like pho. And if you don't have the heart for pork heart, Pho Le has a long list of other traditional noodle soups that stray from the pho standard without the adventurous ingredients — and their pho is one of our favorites too: Pho Le won Best Pho Restaurant in 2014.

Where else can you find it? Hu tieu mi nam vang isn't exactly common in Denver, but luckily for east-siders, Pho Le recently opened a second spot in Aurora.

5) Japanese Udon Noodle Soup
701 Grant Street
Frank Bonanno's noodle bar in the Governors' Park neighborhood has been dishing up warming and delicious soups since 2009 — and in fact won our Best New Restaurant that year. A big reason for the praise is the kitchen's take on udon soup that isn't so much a reinvention as a study in flavors that layer together to give the traditional Japanese warmer a modern twist. Soy-plum broth hides a generous amount of fat, chewy wheat noodles along with a mound of shredded pork and a sous vide egg.

Where else can you find it? For a whole list of udon soups, take a trip up to Udon Kaisha in Lafayette, where choices range from curry udon to shoyu udon with chashu pork to spicy and sour udon with seafood.

6) Sichuan Braised Beef Noodle
Zoe Ma Ma
2010 Tenth Street, Boulder
While Zoe Ma Ma just opened it's second shop next to Union Station earlier this spring, we prefer the original Boulder location where we first tasted Anne Zoe's amazing Sichuan soup. You'll find it on the daily specials menu for Sunday through Tuesday — and then you'll find it again and again, because this home-style soup with house-made noodles is so addictive you won't even think of going near a ramen or pho house any time soon. A meaty broth, a pile of falling-apart beef perfumed with the aroma of spices — five-spice, perhaps? — and those noodles that combine the chewy, tender and springy into each toothsome bite make this soup approachable to eaters of many different tastes. A small pile of pickled mustard green gives a hint of tartness and a host of sauces at the nearby condiment station means you can customize to your liking. 

Where else can you find it? We haven't found anything quite like it in town — so let us know in the comments section below if you've found another bowl of Sichuan braised beef noodle that stands up to Zoe Ma Ma's.