If it weren't the middle of January, I'd be completely souped out. I never thought I'd say such a thing, but for the past week or so I've been slurping tortilla soup nearly every day for lunch, sometimes at more than one restaurant. Now, I just want to feast on something extra chewy like a skirt steak, or maybe a hoagie with a good, sturdy roll. I want to feel like I've digested something substantial.
The bowl pictured above is what kicked off the binge. I was at the Farmers Market one early afternoon, and it was just above freezing. The sky was gray and the wind found its way into every crack of every zipper, every hole of every button, making its way to the core of my soul. I wanted to warm up, so I ducked into the Green Door just because they were nearby and had heat. I stayed for the soup.
Green Door Public House The tortilla strips on the top are easy enough to make out, but it's the tortilla strips that cooked with the tomato base that make this bowl special. The mushy masa thickens the soup, while also lending a roasted corn flavor. Loaded with chilies, the Green Door's soup is warm but not spicy. Winter stood outside impotent, while I swabbed the bowl clean.
Fearing's Dean Fearing is another chef who uses tortillas in the base and as a garnish. Fearing's base, a mixture of tomatoes, onions, ancho chilies, tortillas and other ingredients, is pureed before its served with great ceremony, poured into a bowl containing smoked chicken, cabbage, radishes, jalapeños and cheese. It's quite a show for $10, which is likely less than you expected to pay for soup at this much-lauded restaurant. While still the most expensive bowl in this list, the soup has great value.
Chuy's Not all soups are thick and hearty. Others, like this bowl served at Chuy's, use chicken broth, resulting in a lighter soup. Hidden from view, massive hunks of chicken waited to be uncovered, along with corn, diced tomato and other vegetables. With the flour tortillas served on the side, you won't take home any hunger after finishing this bowl.
E Bar While soup hunting I asked about tortilla soup on Twitter, and Cafe Brazil came back more than any other recommendation. I get why. Loaded with vegetables, it tastes like something Mom would make for you. But if you love Cafe Brazil's bowl, you owe it to yourself to give E Bar a try. The Tex-Mex restaurant, which opened two years ago on Haskell Avenue, has gained a steady following and was packed for lunch when I visited. The soup here is lighter and brighter compared with Cafe Brazil. The vegetables are less overcooked and withered away. E Bar serves a similar blow to that of the classic, all-hours diner, but it's superior in every way.
Mesero If you're looking for something with a lot more acidity, check out the bowl served at Mesero. It's loaded with vegetables and chicken and topped with tortilla strips and other garnishes just like most tortilla soups, but this one is made with tomatillos. Expect a lot more acidity -- you don't need a squeeze of lime as much with this dish -- and a welcome break from the rust-colored bowls that dominate Tex-Mex restaurants.