Hot and Sour Soup at Belly Shack ($4.00)
When Belly Shack opened up a few years ago, I was completely puzzled why Bill Kim didn't just capitalize on the soup prowess he exhibited at his first restaurant, Urban Belly. Since then, I've learned to appreciate the Latin American/Korean hybrid, including the very good tofu jibarito. But I do have to admit that my single favorite item is the lone soup on the menu, the hot and sour soup. As its name suggests, it has the vinegar tang of a great Chinese hot and sour soup, but it's also crossed with a bowl of Mexican pozole (which certainly explains the hominy floating around). Filling but still dynamic, it's a fusion soup that actually works.
Pozole Rojo at Pozoleria San Juan ($7.75, medium)
No. This is not a picture of pure hellfire ladled into a bowl. In fact, it's not even particularly spicy. This is a bowl of pozole rojo from Pozoleria San Juan, and it's one of the better examples of the Mexican soup that I've been able to find. Though it looks menacing, the guajillo chile-laced broth won't knock you over with heat, though it will slowly build up until you have a wonderful glow. Still, the best part might be the toppings, which arrive on a large plate for you to add as you'd like. Thinly sliced cabbage and radish add crunch, avocado cools things out, and the chicharróns help amp up the meatiness. Believe it or not, this is actually the medium. I imagine the grande ($8.25) bowl could feed a family of four.
Pork Belly Vermicelli Caldo at Xoco ($12)
It's been hard to pull myself away from the tasty tortas in order to sample its broth-based offerings. Well, it was until I read the description for Xoco's pork belly vermicelli (fideos): crispy-tender pork belly, toasty-tender noodles, woodland mushrooms, zucchini, avocado, salsa negra. The Xoco kitchen treats the noodles in the traditional manner, pre-toasting them prior to their incorporation into the caldo's hot broth. The technique helps the earthen-colored noodles to keep their resilience amid their steamy surroundings, ensuring a pleasing bite and what you might call the imprint—or, if you're feeling more poetic, the memory—of being lightly toasted in a pan. Read more here >>
Roast Duck Shrimp Dumpling Noodle Soup at Sun Wah BBQ ($6.50)
The name pretty much sums up the ingredients, apart from a few bok choy leaves that add color and some purely ceremonial nutritional value. A generous helping of thickly sliced, skin-on, and bone-in roast duck took up a sizable chunk of real estate in this deep, well-stocked bowl. The duck was expertly prepared, with juicy meat and deeply flavorful skin. The three or four shrimp dumplings--chopped mushrooms and shrimp swaddled in translucently thin dough--were likewise meaty and texturally interesting, if a touch bland. The elastic, wire-thin egg noodles, like the mild broth, were delicate and light; the pair of components together provided a welcome buoyancy to the hefty one-two ballast of duck and dumpling. Read more here >>
Sancocho at Gloria's Cafe ($10.99)
As I mentioned in my neighborhood guide of Logan Square, Gloria's Cafe is my go to stop when I'm feeling sick. One bowl of the meaty chicken soup with its fat-streaked broth and I always feel better. But you just need to be hungry to try the Sancocho, a massive bowl featuring a whole chicken drumstick, corn, cassava, plantains, and potatoes. Did I mention the side of rice and avocado? Finishing the whole bowl is nearly impossible, but I give it my best shot each time.
Gloria's Cafe, 3300 West Fullerton Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-342-1050; gloriascafeandrestaurant.webs.com
Spicy Seafood Tofu Soup At So Gong Dong Tofu House ($6.90)
So Gong Dong Tofu House on the North Side serves a collection of tofu soups, including this spicy seafood version. The mussels mixed in are fine, but the silky tofu is really the main draw. The almost custard-like texture of the tofu is a great foil for the spicy broth.
So Gong Dong Tofu House, 3307 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659 (map); 773-539-8377
Beef Curry Noodles (Kuai-Tiao Kaeng ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแกง) at Rosded
Rice noodles, tender chunks of beef, and hard-boiled egg in mild-yet-flavorful curried coconut milk-based broth form a most satisfying Muslim-style one-dish meal which Bangkokians can't get enough of. This item is found in Rosded's Thai menu, and it deserves more attention than what it has been getting. Read more here >>
Rosded Restaurant, 2308 West Leland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60625 (map); 773-334-9055
Cup Of Plain Chili without Beans At Lindy's Chili ($2.89)
It's clear from the very first bite that Lindy's has a lot in common with Ramova Grill (R.I.P) except that there is a much stronger tomato presence and little more heat. Now that Ramova is no more, this is probably the best bowl of old-school Chicago chili you can find. Read more here >>
Phở đặc biệt at Phở 777 ($6.75, small)
Many of those 23 bowls of phở at Phở 777 are simply permutations of different meat combinations, but the mainstays are a beef broth, a pile of fresh bean sprouts and Asian basil on the side for topping, and a submerged tangle of rice noodles. I didn't get far down the list, ordering up the Phở đặc biệt (No. 1 on menu; small bowl $6.75/large bowl $7.50), which is subtitled "Special 777." No. 1 appears to boast the most beef varieties--eye of round steak, well-done flanks, fat brisket, soft tendon, bible tripe and meatballs--and, indeed, the bowl arrived brimming with items to identify and savor. Read more here >>
Phở 777, 1063-65 West Argyle Street, Chicago, IL 60640 (map); 773-561-9909
Beef Phở at Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwiches ($7.95)
The beef phở at Bon Bon is a beautiful example of the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. The broth, made from simmering par-boiled beef bones, is a fine and nuanced extract, full of savory, meaty flavors and sporting just-right salt and oil levels. A generous helping of steak swims in the broth amid soft, slightly smoky onion slices. The beef is tender and delicious, reminiscent for me of meat cooked in a Japanese shabu shabu hot pot. Bon Bon traffics in exceedingly fresh herbal accompaniments, including crisp and pungent mint leaves, cilantro, and gorgeous bunches of anise-laced Thai basil, its stems the color of Asian eggplant. Read more here >>
Special Toroniku Shio Ramen from Santouka At Mitsuwa Marketplace (Small, $9.49)
Showcasing just the right amount of bounce, these bright yellow noodles were able to hold their own against the strongly flavored pork and the astonishingly complex shio broth. The regular bowl features pork belly, but an upgrade for toroniku is an absolute must. Featuring supremely tender sliced pork cheek, this is one of the most flavorful toppings I've ever encountered in a bowl of ramen. Read more here >>
Tori Ramen at Slurping Turtle ($13)
Slurping Turtle is a handsome, modern space with great service and a menu that goes well beyond ramen...not that you have to stray far from the main event to have an epic, rattle-to-you-core meal. Yaghashi's noodles are custom-made following his own recipe exclusively for his restaurants. It shows. Showing superb texture and resiliency, they also absorb hints of flavor from the broth, making them extra scrumptious. The balance and depth of flavor of the shio-style (salt) broth was incredibly satisfying, just as a truly excellent bowl of ramen should be. Read more here >>
Daal Makhani at Udupi Palace ($10)
The hearty daal makhani is stick-to-your-bones thick, featuring urad daal (black lentils). Udupi slow-cooks its daal until those little lentils are busting at the seams, resulting in a consistency akin to creamy black-bean soup. The earthy flavor of the lentils dominates, with ginger and cilantro playing quiet back-up. Read more here >>
Udupi Palace, 2543 West Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659 (map); 773-338-2152