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25 favorite soups to fight off Philly’s winter chill

Philadelphia is rich in deeply flavorful soups that tell personal histories and transport you to a distant corner of the world with each spoonful.

Kimchi and pork jjigae at The Jim, 1701 S. Eighth St.
Kimchi and pork jjigae at The Jim, 1701 S. Eighth St.Read moreBret Arterbridge

Part of soup’s magic is that the frumpiest bowls can also be the most powerful, with deep flavors that tell personal histories and transport you to a distant corner of the world with each spoonful. Philadelphia is rich in soups that convey such diversity while also warming your soul.

Here are 25 favorites.

Lagman at Uzbekistan Restaurant

Soup is part of daily life in Uzbekistan, the Central Asian country whose cuisine is well-represented at several restaurants in Northeast Philadelphia, including Uzbekistan, formerly known as Chaichana Uzbekistan. Go for the lagman with hand-rolled noodles and a rich lamb broth scented with cumin and star anise that showcase the dish’s Silk Road roots. I’m also a fan of the chuchvara, which comes with chicken dumplings, as well as specialties from other former Soviet republics — especially the fenugreek-flavored Georgian beef and rice kharcho stew and Ukrainian borscht that comes in two colors, red with beets and beef or green with sorrel and veal. — Craig LaBan

Uzbek lagman at Uzbekistan Restaurant, 📍12012 Bustleton Ave., 📞 215-671-1990; 🌐

Fish soup at Spice C

You get soup and a show at this Chinatown favorite for hand-drawn noodles, where diners can watch chefs behind glass magically spin and stretch a single lump of dough into a fistful of fine noodles. The soups that contain them are just as spectacular, with multiple varieties to consider, from roast duck to the innards medley of “the Bomb.” I’m particularly fond of the fish soup, especially for its contrast of delicately crisped fish fillets against the boldly spiced aromatics of a Sichuan broth. Better idea: Order two different bowls, including one with hand-shaved noodles that offer a wonderfully irregular, frilly-edged chew. — C.L.

Fish soup with hand-drawn or shaved noodles at Spice C, 📍131 N. 10th St., 📞 215-923-2222; 🌐

Taiwanese beef noodle soup at Ray’s Café & Tea House

There’s probably no single neighborhood in Philly as rich in soup as Chinatown. Ray’s Café has been at it consistently for more than three decades, and Grace Chen’s Taiwanese beef noodle soup is one of the area’s most essential bowls. This soulful bowl of sublimely tender beef, snappy greens, and soft noodles luxuriates in a very special broth, a complexly dark brew made to a family recipe that is aromatic of cinnamon sticks, orange peels, and myriad other spices. — C.L.

Taiwanese beef noodle soup at Ray’s Café & Tea House, 📍141 N. Ninth St., 📞 215-922-5122; 🌐

French onion soup at Crème Brûlée Bistro & Café

Cheese-loving Philadelphia has its share of stellar French onion soups, from Parc to the Dining Car in Northeast Philadelphia. The version from cozy little Crème Brûlée Bistro & Café in deep South Philly is unlike any I’ve tried. Mexican-born brothers Armando and Dario Tapía, who trained in French cuisine for years with New York’s Francois Payard before moving to Philadelphia, make their French onion soup entirely vegetarian. It’s essentially caramelized onions, wine, and herbs, patiently cooked down to savory richness, then gratinéed in a bowl over a slice of house-baked sourdough. — C.L.

French onion soup at Crème Brûlée Bistro & Café, 📍1800 S. Fourth St., 📞 215-334-9000; 🌐 Facebook

Foie gras French onion soup from Forsythia

Chef Chris Kearse works culinary magic with foie gras on his modern-French menu at Forsythia in Old City, and his French onion soup is no exception. The beefy broth is studded with duck confit and foie gras, and that toasty cap of Gruyère invites you to chip off the remnants after the soup is gone. — Michael Klein

Foie gras French onion soup at Forsythia, 📍 233 Chestnut St., 📞 215-644-9395; 🌐

Fisherman’s stew at Oyster House

The Oyster House remains one of the last great bastions of Philadelphia seafood classics, like snapper soup and chowder. But the fisherman’s stew is its best bet for soup as a meal. Topped with rouille-lathered toasts, it loosely evokes French bouillabaisse, with a chunky tomato broth that nods to San Francisco cioppino (albeit without crab). Owner Sam Mink says it’s an amalgamation of the two, and has evolved over a dozen years into a showcase for the seafood bounty off the Atlantic Coast, from mussels to calamari and fish, which makes it a Philly classic all its own. — C.L.

Fisherman’s stew at Oyster House 📍1516 Sansom St., 📞 215-567-7683; 🌐

Matzo ball soup from Famous 4th Street Deli

One important asset included in the recent sale of Famous 4th Street Deli was the recipes, passed down from the founders, the Auspitz family. The menu star very well may be matzo ball soup, a not-too-salty chicken broth with bowtie pasta and chunks of chicken and carrots, surrounding a matzo ball roughly the size of a softball. Famous’ matzo balls are “sinkers” and not “floaters,” so they maintain their integrity as you cut them with the side of your spoon to share with a friend. — M.K.

Matzo ball soup at Famous 4th Street Deli, 📍700 S. Fourth St., 📞 215-922-3274; 🌐

Masa ball soup at Primary Plant Based

Chef Mark McKinney’s vegan outpost in the former Cadence space roams globally for its plant-based menu inspirations. His masa ball soup is a gluten-free mash-up of Jewish and Mexican influences, turning maseca corn flour into matzo ball-like dumplings seasoned with epazote and cumin that float beside kernels of hominy in a guajillo-spiced riff on pozole soup. — C.L.

Masa ball soup at Primary Plant Based, 📍161 W. Girard Ave., 📞 267-360-2305; 🌐

Short rib pho at Cafe Nhan

Cafe Nhan is best known for its spicy lemongrass bowls of bún bò hue dac biet, hearty with pig’s feet, brisket, and cubed blood. But we’ve also been loving the pho at this West Passyunk Avenue gem, in part because it’s one of the few local Vietnamese restaurants that confidently guarantees its pho is gluten-free. The richly flavored broth is as good as any out there. Order it with a thick pad of short rib, which is one of the most luxuriously tender slices of beef Philly has to offer. One gentle tug of the chopsticks and it just flakes apart into soft threads of crimson silk. — C.L.

Short rib pho at Cafe Nhan, 📍1606 W. Passyunk Ave., 📞 215-551-2407; 🌐

Thenthuk at White Yak

I cannot resist the velvety, hand-ripped noodles that fill the thenthuk soup at Roxborough’s destination-worthy Tibetan kitchen. But the secret is also in the broth, which chef-owner Treley Parshingtsang steeps for nine hours with oxtails and beef neck bones and then infuses with ginger and star anise. No wonder it’s well-suited for Tibet’s cold winters, she says: “You drink it hot and it warms your body.” — C.L.

Thenthuk at White Yak, 📍6118 Ridge Ave., 📞 215-483-0764; 🌐

Spicy miso mushroom soup at Vernick Coffee Bar

This unusual miso soup is a gorgeous bowl that haunts me because it shows off Greg Vernick’s mastery of the world pantry and effortless global fluency. At first sip, it tastes like traditional miso, with smoky notes of bonito in kombu broth. But one quickly realizes it’s been amped and altered, lightly enriched with pureed mushrooms that lend an earthy note. Emerald beads of shiso-dill oil pool alongside the elegantly bobbing mushrooms, their miniature caps cradling thimblefuls of the soup that deliver tiny bursts of intense umami. This mushroom soup showcases both flavor and texture! — C.L.

Miso mushroom soup at Vernick Coffee Bar, 📍1800 Arch St., 📞 215-419-5052; 🌐

Tantanmen at Neighborhood Ramen

Can you put too much chile spice in tantan ramen? Probably. But boldness works beautifully in the kitchen’s favor with the tantanmen at this meticulous Queen Village ramen atelier, where the blaze-orange bowl of pork and chicken broth gets enriched with sesame paste and Korean-spiced pork soboro crumbles. A careful blend of chiles also resonates with spice. It’s like eating a soup version of Sichuan dandan noodles, in the very best way, reflecting ramen’s lineage of China’s influence on Japan. This longtime favorite got even better when Neighborhood Ramen, due to pandemic supply-chain shortages, purchased a hard-to-come-by machine to make its own ramen noodles and a mill to grind its sesame paste. Somehow, what was already Philly’s best tantan ramen hit another level. — C.L.

Tantanmen at Neighborhood Ramen, 📍617 S. Third St.; 🌐

Khaopoon {’king soup’) at Vientiane Bistro

Chef and co-owner Sunny Phanthavong cooks so many memorable Lao soups at Vientiane Bistro, the Kensington sibling to her mother’s Vientiane Cafe in West Philly, it can be hard to choose a favorite. The beefy tom saap hot pot aromatic with star anise, lemongrass, and clove, served for two or four? My choice is the khaopoon, a coconut broth rice vermicelli blushing red with curry spice, mint, galangal, and a gingery swagger that rightfully earns its nickname as “king soup.” — C.L.

Khaopoon at Vientiane Bistro, 📍2537 Kensington Ave., 📞 267-703-8199; 🌐

Borscht with pierogi at Dinner House Polish Cuisine

The long-standing Polish kitchens of Port Richmond have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last few years. But the spirit is alive in the zupy bowls and pierogi plates at tiny Dinner House Polish Cuisine, where chef Ela Balka cooks with a grandmother’s touch. I love to combine her specialties into one bowl, filling the ruby red borscht with mushroom dumplings. But there may also be no better regional source for craveable Polski specialties like Balka’s herb-flecked pickle soup, or her zurek rye soup made from a broth of bread, marjoram, and filled with smoky chunks of kielbasa. — C.L.

Borscht and other soups at Dinner House Polish Cuisine, 📍2706 E. Allegheny Ave., 📞 267-596-7727; 🌐

Somlaw machu kroeung lemongrass soup at Sophie’s Kitchen

The Cambodian kitchen’s embrace of bold sourness and spice together is distinctive, and the big bowl soups at Sophie’s Kitchen are shining examples. The pure lemongrass power of chef-owner Sophia Neth’s hand-pounded spice paste is on full display in the somlaw machu kroeung. A funky boost from prahok fish paste and tamarind powder adds an extra layer of tang to the sweet snap of bell peppers and tiny Thai eggplants, which absorb the soup and burst when you take a bite. — C.L.

Somlaw machu kroeung at Sophie’s Kitchen, 📍522 Washington Ave., 📞 215-271-0888; 🌐

Cream of mushroom soup from La Porta

Chef Peter McAndrews earned his stripes in Philadelphia with red-gravy specialties at Modo Mio and Monsu, and his current South Philadelphia sandwich shop, Paesano’s. At his rustic suburban restaurant, La Porta, soups are among the standouts, and he can’t get away from formaggio: the wintertime favorite is a creamy bisque of Kennett Square mushrooms, pancetta, and Parmigiano. — M.K.

Mushroom soup at La Porta,📍1192 N. Middletown Rd., Media, 📞 610-358-5104; 🌐

Mushroom bisque at Bad Brother

Fairmount’s Bad Brother looks like a neighborhood bar, but chef Justin Koenig (one of the brothers) treats his customers to sophisticated fare such as pan-seared fluke, Berkshire pork meatloaf, and roasted delicata squash. His mushroom bisque gets lift from whipped Nancy’s camembert, porcini-dusted croutons, citrus conserva, and roasted maitake in the middle. — M.K.

Mushroom bisque at Bad Brother,📍726 N. 24th St., 📞 215-235-2460; 🌐

Gumbo from South Jazz Kitchen

I’ve been eating Benjamin Bynum’s gumbo for decades, at such destinations he’s owned with his brother, Robert, as Zanzibar Blue and Warmdaddy’s. At South Jazz Kitchen in Spring Garden, it turns up brimming with New Orleans tradition and deep flavor: brown roux, file powder, chicken stock, chicken, shrimp, and turkey Andouille sausage over Carolina Rice. — M.K.

Gumbo at South Jazz Kitchen,📍600 N. Broad St., 📞 215-600-2049; 🌐

Virtù Abruzzese at Gran Caffe L’Aquila

There’s a lot going on at Gran Caffe L’Aquila in Rittenhouse: one of Center City’s finest espresso bars, a sterling collection of gelato, and two levels of spot-on Italian dining. The virtù Abruzzese, the signature soup of L’Aquila (smack in the middle of Abruzzo), is an herby, stewlike creation of seven legumes, seven vegetables, and seven pastas, with pancetta to sink your teeth into. — M.K.

Virtù Abruzzese at Gran Caffe L’Aquila, 📍1716 Chestnut St., 📞 215-568-5600; 🌐

Pea soup at In Riva

Chef Art Cavaliere’s light pea soup has moved off the menu at Black Squirrel Pub & Haunt to his nearby East Falls flagship restaurant, In Riva, where it’s an excellent starter before pizza. Cavaliere uses frozen peas (both for color and availability), creaming them in onion broth with roasted garlic, salt, and olive oil. It’s vegan. — M.K.

Pea soup at In Riva, 📍4116 Ridge Ave., 📞 215-438-4848; 🌐

Harira soup at Sofi Corner Cafe

At the cozy Sofi Corner Cafe in Washington Square West, Moroccan-born chef Soufiane Boutliliss deftly balances the food from his homeland with specialties from France, where he moved and fell in love with Christophe Mathon before the couple moved to Philadelphia. Make a meal out of their cultural connection: a tuna sandwich on one of Boutliliss’ baguettes, paired with his harira soup, a concoction of lentil, chickpea, tomato, celery, onion, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, and ginger powder. — M.K.

Harira soup at Sofi Corner Cafe, 📍1112 Locust St., 📞 646-724-9667; 🌐

Kimchi and pork jjigae at The Jim

The menu at The Jim, a South Philly corner bar co-owned by Fergus “Fergie” Carey, has a Southeast Asian flair, and that’s because Indonesian-born Yulia Lee is chef. Her dandan noodles are not to be missed, but on the soup side, you’ll want her take on kimchi and pork jjigae: Pork belly, kimchi, crushed garlic, onions, and scallion are sautéed together in gochugaru and water for a funky punch. Sometimes, she adds sliced tofu and glass noodles. That’s called getting jjigae with it. — M.K.

Kimchi and pork jjigae at The Jim,📍 1701 S. Eighth St., 🌐

Lentil soup at Bishos

Bishara “Bisho” Kuttab drops tasty extras along with the amazing chicken and beef/lamb shawarmas and kebabs at his family-run Bishos in Northeast Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood. Wintertime brings a simple, flavor-packed lentil soup — all vegan — with a tangy sprinkle of sumac on top. — M.K.

Lentil soup at Bishos,📍7950 Oxford Ave., 📞 215-660-9760; 🌐

Egusi at Suya Suya

The build-your-own West African bowls with yaji-marinated proteins are the major draw at Nigerian-born Dera Nd-Ezuma’s fast-casual spot on a corner in Northern Liberties. The menu’s belly-warmer, however, is egusi, the rich, spicy stew made of ground melon seeds, spinach, chicken, and beef and served over rice or with fufu, the starchy staple, to tame the fire. — M.K.

Egusi over fufu or rice at Suya Suya,📍400 Fairmount Ave., 📞 267-704-9033; 🌐

Chicken pastina soup from Cool as a Cuc

Kimberly Ettinger juggles dual professions — communications specialist and soup maker — and so, her soup comes though loud and clear. Cool as a Cuc is a pickup situation: Every Thursday, she opens the ordering on two or three fresh soups, which can be picked up at her Wynnewood location from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday. Frozen soups are available for pickup on Tuesday, as well. Now that we’re in cold and flu season, her chicken pastina is particularly comforting — her homemade stock, mirepoix, garlic, chicken breast, fresh dill, and pastina. It’s also a taste of her past, based on the soup she used to eat almost weekly for breakfast with her pop-pop at Green Leaf in Overbrook Park. — M.K.

Cool as a Cuc, 📍241 Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood; 🌐