Winter in Southern California means it's time to put on a scarf and dish up some soup to ward of the chill, and who doesn't love a hearty bowl of the stuff -- maybe served with more than a lot of bread. It's a smart way to go as a full meal, and often for under $10.
Our efforts to find the best version took an interesting twist. The rules we set said that the soup must be on the menu year round -- sadly leaving many places out, since soup of the day and seasonal soups we know and love weren't considered. But the truth is that any self-respecting restaurant is going to have a soup du jour that's most likely worth trying. You just might not be able to get it whenever you want, and if you can't, it seems unfair to include it on a "best of" list.
Also, if there were more than ten viable versions out there of one style, we figured that type merits (or has already) its own list -- ergo, no ramen, pho, udon or tom yum gai. We've already listed our favorite matzo ball soups. And yes, we've done pho too. As for the others, maybe keep checking in.
That said, we did find a lot of fantastic soups to choose from that are on the menu all the time, so turn the page. And as always, we also want to hear where you get your favorites, too.
10. Butternut Squash Soup at Granville Cafe:
Oooh, look. It's vegan and gluten-free butternut squash soup. Extra smooth and topped with tannic walnuts and (overly-thematic, this time of year) dried cranberries. Overall, that this autumnal favorite is available year-round makes it a favorite by default. Because sometimes you just need butternut squash. That it appeals to every dietary restriction and tastes good to boot makes it even better. 121 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank; (818) 848-4726.
9. Lentil Soup at Beverly Falafel:
Walk in to the small lavender-hued space in a mini-mall across from the Beverly Center and look for the H.M. Lentil soup on the menu board. The H.M. stands for Home Made, of course. The simple soup should be expected, as it's a standard at most Middle Eastern restaurants. What sets this version apart are the bright lemon flavors that enhance the dark brown lentils, and large roughly chopped bits of garlic. Served with pita bread warmed on the grill, the entire meal is less than $5 and as filling as you could want it to be.8508 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (310) 652-1670.
8. Mushroom Soup at The Bazaar:
Where soup and artistry meet. A rich mushroom emulsion is reverently poured over a glowing raw egg yolk, herbs and a light drift of Spanish Idiazabal cheese. Heady, earthy, rich, fragrant, redolent of the woods -- and yet altogether quite light. It's soup at its most sophisticated and splurge-worthy.465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 246-5555.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...
7. Sopa de Pedra at Natas Pastries:
There are three soup options at the very charming Natas Pastries, all of which are of the stick-to-your-ribs variety. The sopa de pedras starts with a starchy potato broth and a heap of root vegetables -- and is topped with a glorious, large and very sweet wedge of tender cabbage you will need to attack with a fork and knife. You can also opt to have some mild Portuguese sausage added for an extra garlicky bite. The soup comes with a small plate of olives, a few slices of their own cibatta-style bread and some olive oil for dipping, or as we did, drizzling into the soup. 13317 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 788-8050.
6. Borscht at Barney Greengrass:
For the uninitiated, the first glimpse of borscht can be disconcerting. The hyper-pink tint comes about from the perfect balance of smoothly pureed beets mixed with sour cream. Despite the almost ungapatchka color, one bite will cure your shock. The Ukrainian standard is served chilled and yet it truly warms the soul. The $6 portion comes with the standard Barney's basket of bread sticks and cracker-bread with cream cheese instead of butter -- and a lovely view of the Hollywood Hills.9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 777-5877.
5. Lobster Nage at Bottega Louie:
A shallow soup plate is set before you with a savory panna cotta unmolded in the center. Then it's topped with fat medallions of lobster tail and toasted almonds and sultanas are scattered about on the bottom of the dish. The waiter then pours the copper colored broth in, and the image changes to a still life that incorporates the table it sits upon -- and matches perfectly. Sweet and balanced, rich and flawless -- and served with bread as well. 700 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; (866) 418-9162.
Keep reading for number 4 on ...
4. Velvet Tomato at Cube Cafe:
Cube is a near-perfect restaurant that blissfully serves tomato soup and cheese in one happy co-mingling bowl instead of insisting that the cheese be grilled with bread first. Using farmers market produce and a Quebec cheddar that has a tangy sharpness, it is soup-joy realized. 615 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 939-1148.
3. Ciorba de Perisoare at Sabina's European Restaurant:
If you have even the tiniest drop of Northern or Eastern European blood in you, this soup will sing to your primal soul. The bowl of Romanian soup is large enough to be classified as a tureen and a half a loaf of sliced white bread, a dish of sour cream and a chile pepper are served alongside. Oh, and a plate of smallish pickles for good measure. All that, dear readers, for less than $3. The soup itself has three large pork meatballs mixed with rice to bind them; the broth is chicken, and the vegetables are the standard root-varieties. The whole thing is flecked through with fresh dill, a hefty dose of garlic and a bit of sweet onion. This is what soup is meant to be. 1253 Vine Street, Los Angeles; (323) 469-9522.
2. New England Clam Chowder at Santa Monica Seafood:
Santa Monica Seafood will try to tempt you with something called fish soup and that pretender to the throne, Manhattan clam chowder -- but the real winner here is the New England clam chowder. What did you expect. Be warned that the "cup" size is enough for two. (We don't know who can power down what they call a bowl.) Nonetheless, in both you will find large, sweet bits and morsels of chewy clams suspended in a lush, potato and cream broth with onion and leek. Served with oyster crackers as proper tradition insists. 1000 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 393-5244.
And for our top pick...
1. French Onion Soup from Little Next Door:
We still can't figure out why soup is considered a starter, when it is such an all-encompassing meal. Case in point, is this glorious French onion soup. In one specialized crock, you get your broth -- in this case, a rich chicken and beef stock -- melted onions, a fat slice of crouton and a topping of hot, bubbling Gruyere cheese that has been slightly toasted. At Little Next Door the quality ingredients and time spent layering it all together makes this soup something really special. 8142 W. Third St., Los Angeles; (323) 951-1010.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Some other soups we think are worth seeking out: Tomato soup at Grub and Simplethings; French onion soup at Taix; carrot soup at Kings Road; corn soup at Upper West and the classic cold borscht with caviar at Petrossian.
Be sure to download our Best Of mobile app for more of this sort of thing. Cupcakes, burgers, dim sum, tacos, coffee shops, bakeries, ice cream shops, burritos, milkshakes, etc.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.