Pittsburgh’s winter weather resurgence means that soup is back on the menu. But soup is great any time of year. Since we last did a favorite soup roundup in 2020 — most of those places are still around and terrific, by the way — there have been a lot of changes. Here are 10 of our current favorites:
An aside: Defining what constitutes soup can be a little dicey, actually. Is chili a soup? We’re going to go with “mostly liquid, served in a bowl, with a spoon.” That sounds fair.
Yue Bai Wei, Squirrel Hill
Recently, the long-lived bubble tea/Taiwanese spot Rose Tea Cafe turned into Yue Bai Wei, with the esteemed head chef Zhiyuan Tang from Sichuan Gourmet at the helm. Expect plenty of heat (Sichuan cuisine is packed with chilies) along with literal heat from hot pots and flaming pans. On a menu that seems to go on forever, there are so many delicious things served in bowls of broth, that it’s almost unfair to compare this place to anywhere else. We really enjoyed the Pan Fried Eggs with Tomato Soup and the delightfully sour, piquant Pork with Preserved Pickle Noodle Soup. I’m not quite ready to try the daunting-sounding Chinese Medicine Flavor Chicken Soup yet, but I’ll get there soon enough.
African Cuisine, Squirrel Hill
This was perhaps the most unusual and fun dining debut of 2021, and a dozen visits aren’t enough to fully experience all the distinctive, unexpected flavors on display. There’s the Smoked Fish Pepper Soup and Goat Pepper Soup, which really have no equivalent anywhere else in town and are a good place to start while you contemplate dishes such as the spicy, marinated Fried Crunchy Snail and the incredible Asun (spicy smoked goat meat). A good portion of the menu consists of spicy stews — which I consider soup-adjacent — with big dollops of Fufu (cassava) and Amala (yam) to grab and dip.
Mayfly Market, North Side
Mayfly is a lovely neighborhood market in the Mexican War Streets filled with locally-made foods, a deli (making terrific sandwiches) and coffee shop, worth checking out on its own. But it’s also always got soup on the menu. A terrifically hearty beef stew/soup was on the menu recently, perfect for an unexpectedly cold night. They also get soup from Brothmonger, a small-batch and custom-order soup service — though they said deliveries are hard to predict. Check their Instagram page to see what’s cooking. Recently, there’s been a hearty Kielbasa & Potato soup and a bright-red Vegetarian Tomato & Mushroom stew.
Big Jim’s, Greenfield
Located deep in a ravine “in the Run,” where even people from Greenfield rarely go, Big Jim’s has managed to carve out a niche for its filling fare. It’s got a bare-bones dive bar feel, serving whatever hardworking Pittsburghers want. That usually means pizza and enormous calzones, but Big Jim’s Italian Wedding Soup is a particularly Pittsburgh thing — a hearty, filling comfort dish filled with pasta, spinach and homemade meatballs. You don’t even need to get married.
40 North, North Side
Honestly, they could put my middle school cafeteria in here and I would probably love it since 40 North shares space with two of my favorite things: A (great and free!) jazz venue, and an outstanding bookstore — both run by the nonprofit refuge for persecuted writers City of Asylum. Luckily, the new restaurant here is great, shaped by the talents of Bethany Zozula, the James Beard Award-nominated former chef of Whitfield in the former Ace Hotel in East Liberty. There are unusual, risky dishes like Kelle Paca, a Turkish soup with lamb’s head and ankle in a lemon yogurt broth. This is also one of the only good places to get Borscht (beet and cabbage soup, with a soft-boiled egg) in town, which isn’t right, given the deep Eastern European roots in Western PA.
Mad Mex, various locations
Mad Mex‘s Chickpea Chili has been on the menu here for decades and never gets old. (Is chili a soup? Well, it’s in a bowl and you eat it with a spoon, so … yes). This tomatillo-filled dish gets its considerable kick from roasted jalapeño and Monterey Jack cheese and gets a depth of flavor from Spanish onions and sour cream. They’ve got a nice Tortilla Soup as well, but the Chickpea Chili is still the champion.
The Colombian Spot, South Side and Oakland
This is one of Pittsburgh’s best, most unique and overlooked spots. Colombian street food such as arepas is the specialty, but don’t ignore the soups. For instance, Sancocho la Casa is a Columbian beef soup stuffed with plantains, corn, yuca and cilantro in a light, clear, yet rich broth. There’s also the Cazuela De Mariscos, an almost overwhelming concoction of cod, squid, octopus, mussels and shrimp in a thick, slow-cooked almost-curry-like broth, with a side of tostones (fried green plantains) for dipping. They’ve also got a soup of the day, which is always something interesting.
Fig & Ash, North Side
One of Pittsburgh’s most exciting new restaurants is located in a neighborhood (Deutschtown) that’s finally becoming an actual dining destination (but still has plenty of room to grow). You’ve got to move quickly because the menu at Fig & Ash changes with the seasons, but the Butternut Squash Soup is easily one of my favorite soups in town right now. The butternut squash is showcased simply, rounded out with apple mascarpone, pumpkin oil and toasted pepitas. It’s good enough that I can probably recommend whatever soup they decide to replace it with as well.
täkō tôrtä, Larimer
Tortilla soup isn’t a star attraction here, of which there are many (try the Octopus Tacos). It’s not even in the top 10, really (this beautifully designed spot in Bakery Square is full of delicious things). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it anyway. Thick with the scent of roasted tomato, the soup is pleasantly hot and filled with corn, avocado, black beans and queso fresco, accented lightly with lime and cilantro. Crunchy tortilla strips are dropped on top.
Kavsar, Mt. Washington
Pittsburgh’s only Uzbek restaurant is only open for takeout at the moment, which is unfortunate (but understandable). The last time I was there, Penguins star Evgeni Malkin sat down next to us — it’s probably the closest thing to food from home that we’ve got here in Pittsburgh. Uzbekistan is a small country in central Asia, but cities like Tashkent and Samarkand have been crucial crossroads for trade for millennia, making Uzbek cuisine a distinctive melange of Asian, Russian and even Jewish influences. They also really, really love soup. Kavsar offers nine (!) different soups, from standards such as Chicken Noodle to distinctive national dishes such as Shurpa: beef, potatoes and carrots in a rich, slow-cooked beef broth. Churchvara in Broth Soup features little beef dumplings in an herb-filled broth. Mastava Soup is bright red with beef, chickpeas and veggies in a beef broth.