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Pho 888's namesake dish is one of the best soups in Chicago.
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki Pho 888's namesake dish is one of the best soups in Chicago.

The 11 best soups in Chicago

An incredibly diverse food, the best soups in Chicago range from pho to clam chowder to matzo ball soup

By Maggie Hennessy
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When it's freezing out, nothing warms the belly—or the soul—quite like a bowl of soup. Chicago's best soups are wonderfully diverse, from a hot and sour soup in Chinatown to pho in Uptown and clam chowder in River North. Whether you're staving off a cold or just want some comfort, try a steaming bowl of soup at these restaurants.

The best soups in Chicago

Split Pea Soup
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Split pea at Capt’n Nemo’s

Restaurants Sandwich shops Lake View

Sometimes you just need the food equivalent of a hug. Cue this longtime soup and sub shop and its answer to cold Chicago winters: The nourishing and hearty split pea soup. The partially pureed broth is thick and smooth with a hint of sweetness. The soup happens to be vegetarian, and it's perfect for dunking crusty Italian bread, or, if you eat meat, a toasted ham and cheese sub.

Matzo Ball Soup
Photograph: Galdones Photography

Bubbie’s chicken soup with matzo ball at Eleven City Diner

Restaurants Diners Loop

Despite the dearth of Jewish delis in Chicago, you can find great matzo ball soup if you know where to look. Eleven City Diner’s recipe, passed down from owner Brad Rubin’s mother, starts with chicken stock that's made in house daily and flecked with celery and carrot pieces. The bowl is anchored by a hulking-yet-pillowy, handmade matzo ball.

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Chicken Noodle Soup
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Chicken noodle at Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen

Restaurants Delis Lincoln Square

Sure, Gene’s has “sausage” in its name for a reason, but the restorative chicken noodle soup alone justifies a trip to this Lincoln Square butcher shop and deli, even if you’re battling a nasty cold. Golden-hued stock made daily from Amish chicken brims with pliant, skinny noodles and tender chicken: In other words, the best cure for any ails. (But it wouldn’t hurt to grab a few Polish sausages while you’re at it.)

New England Clam Chowder
Photograph: Eric Kleinberg

Clam chowder at GT Fish & Oyster

Restaurants Seafood River North

Served in a little mason jar, this classic take on chowder is rich and satisfying. It's packed with fresh clams, a good splash of heavy cream and a hint of smoke from cubed Nueske’s bacon. The housemade rosemary oyster crackers served alongside only get better when steeped in the velvety soup.

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Soup a la Ognion Gratinee
Photograph: Jason Little

Soupe à l’oignon gratinée at Le Bouchon

Restaurants French Bucktown

It will take several cheesy spoonfuls to get through an almost unrelenting top layer of melty, blistered Gruyère, then a spongy crouton soaked with broth. Keep going—a delicious thyme-infused beef broth filled with soft caramelized onions awaits under the layer of cheese and bread, rounding out this quintessential soup.

Hot & Sour Soup at Ming Hin in Chinatown.
Photograph: Jason Little

Hot and sour soup at MingHin Cuisine

Restaurants Chinese Armour Square

Though best known for dim sum, this Chinatown haunt (which has a second location at Lakeshore East) makes a mean hot and sour soup. The thick, orange-hued broth gets heat and zip from chili paste, pepper and a hefty splash of vinegar, while fatty pork adds some meatiness. Cubed tofu, strips of bamboo, seaweed and soft egg ribbons complete this warming, hearty Chinese favorite.

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Pho
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Pho at Pho 888

Restaurants Vietnamese Uptown

A traditional banh mi on a fresh baguette, spicy simmered shrimp or tangy lotus root salad are each reason enough to visit this tiny hole-in-the-wall on Argyle Street, but it’s the namesake soup you really can’t miss. The light, clean broth is aromatic with the light funk of beef bones, a subtle note of star anise and a heavy dose of black pepper. It teems with tender noodles, lean slabs of peppery beef, tripe and a shower of fresh herbs for a nourishing and satisfying meal.

Sour Borscht at Podhalanka in West Town.
Photograph: Jason Little

Zurek at Podhalanka

Restaurants Contemporary European River West/West Town

This Polish stalwart at Division and Ashland, heady with the aromas of smoky sausage and tangy sauerkraut, feels like it was made for snowy winter nights. So does the dill-specked white borscht, which is savory and a bit tangy with sliced kielbasa and hunks of garlic. You can’t really go wrong with any of the 10 zupy offered here, like the staple ogorkowa (cucumber) soup, with pickled cucumbers and sour cream in hearty broth. Just make sure you save room for a few plump pierogi or meaty stuffed cabbage. 

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Tomato
Photograph: Courtesy Soupbox

Tomato basil bisque at Soupbox

Restaurants Cafés Rush & Division

This Streeterville standby is the place to go when you’re craving real soul-warmers like velvety lobster bisque or hearty beef and vegetable, both among the 12 soups made fresh daily. Perhaps the quintessential winter lunch here is the sweet and creamy tomato basil soup. Flecked with tender cubes of diced tomato, it's the ideal companion to a crisp grilled cheese. Soupbox also has a second location in Lakeview.

Lentil Soup
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Fresh lentil soup at Taste of Lebanon

Restaurants Lebanese Uptown

In a city with so many lentil soups to choose from, just a handful of spices and seasonings separate the good from the memorable, with a heavy hand of cumin here, a few squeezes of lemon there. At the no-frills Taste of Lebanon in Andersonville, it’s a hefty sprinkling of black pepper that pushes this simple-yet-hearty lentil soup over the top. Pair it with a falafel wrap for the perfect winter meal.

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Herb Broth at Wow Bao
Photograph: Anjali Pinto

Thai herb broth at Wow Bao

Restaurants Chinese Loop

Feeling a cold coming on? Instead of fighting it with a cup of tea, try a carryout cup of Wow Bao’s lemongrass- and ginger-infused Thai herb broth. The warming, herbaceous liquid delivers just a hint of heat for a savory cup of soup that also serves as a remedy for whatever ails you.

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