For the last two years, my January column has featured must-try soups from around town.
It’s been a fun eating adventure because my first instinct when looking at a menu is not to order soup since I make enough of it at home. But this experience has made me realize that maybe I have been missing out by not paying closer attention to the soup section on our local menus. On that note, I am presenting you with some new suggestions this month.
If you travel west on 9th Street, you’ll notice that there is precisely one food option above Gaffey, which happens to be the epitome of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Pina’s Café (875 W. 9th St.) is the little engine that could in many ways.
The location is small, with only a handful of tables, but there are two things that you can expect to find here: simple homemade meals and friendly and prompt service.
The menu has three soups: menudo, chicken tortilla, and albondigas. Let me begin with the soup I was initially not going to order, but I am so glad I did: menudo. This soup is made with tripe, and usually hominy, in a deep red broth. It’s always served with a side of diced onions, cilantro, dried oregano, here with chile de arbol (a Mexican red pepper), and warm tortillas. Although I like the flavor of menudo, the one thing that turns me off is chewy tripe. Much to my delight, the tripe here was perfectly cooked and tender.
I love the texture and layers of flavors that the crunchy diced onions, fresh cilantro, dried oregano, and chili toppings bring to each spoonful of the soup.
The albondigas, “meatballs” in Spanish, is a soup served in clear, light red broth with diced carrots, celery, green pepper, onion, and tomatoes. The beef and rice meatballs, the star of this dish, are moist and flavorful. Overall, this soup has a bit of a peppery kick with a hint of smokiness that comes from the chili used in the cooking process.
Lastly, the chicken tortilla soup is made with a light tomato broth with tender shredded chicken breast, diced carrots, celery, onions, green peppers, corn, and topped with cheese, perfectly ripe diced avocado, and crispy tortilla strips.
Just across town, Sirinat Thai and Sushi Bar (1627 W. 25th St.) offers an extensive soup menu. While I enjoy the staple Thai soups, I was immediately drawn to the ingredients listed for the Hurricane Soup. The base of the soup is a flavorful clear broth made with lemon grass, lime leaves, Thai basil, chili, and galangal, a root from the same family as ginger but citrusy in flavor. It is served with mushrooms, chunks of white fish, shrimp, and muscles, and then topped with fresh julienne slices of fresh ginger, Thai basil, and green onions.
I couldn’t decide which I loved the most: the delicate citrusy flavored broth or the strips of ginger that added so much freshness to the whole dish. This soup is served in a traditional Thai pot with a small source of heat at the bottom and a chimney-like opening in the middle to keep the soup warm.
Khao soi is a new item on the menu. I was once again intrigued by the ingredients. The soup base is made with yellow curry. I was told it’s massaman-based, a type of Thai curry influenced by Indian spice blends such as cardamom, cinnamon, and clove.
Nevertheless, the broth is very flavorful and thick in constituency. It also has hints of a peanut taste, which adds to its richness. Thinly cut white chicken strips and egg noodles are mixed with the broth and then topped with fresh green onions, bean sprouts, and fried noodles. There are different levels of contrasting textures in this soup that flawlessly come together. It’s very satisfying and filling. spt