Winter always overstays its welcome in Pittsburgh — even a mild one like this. Will we ever make it to the end?
Luckily, we have a plan. That plan is called soup. Great big, steaming hot bowls of hearty, filling soup.
Defining what exactly constitutes soup is a little dicey, actually. Is ramen soup? Is chili a soup? We’re going to go with “mostly liquid, served in a bowl.” That sounds fair.
Here are our picks for the best places for soup in Pittsburgh. As always, we welcome your suggestions.
Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville
Now that there’s a brewery seemingly on every corner in Pittsburgh, it’s kind of easy to forget about these guys.
There are, however, still good reasons to visit the Church at 3525 Liberty Ave.
Besides the enchanting setting and still-slightly-holy atmosphere, (and the beer, of course) there’s the Seven Onion Soup. Its broth is made with the excellent Pious Monk Dunkel beer and topped with homemade croutons and a gooey crust of melted provolone. Yes, it’s going to pair well with a beer, or three.
Kaya, Strip District
If I had to choose one soup to rule them all, it might be the Conch and Corn Chowder at Kaya at 2000 Smallman St. This favorite has been on the menu for at least a decade, and may it never leave.
The poblano peppers give it a piquant bite, and a small mountain of scallions on top gives it some color. It’s thick and substantial enough to eat like a meal.
Everyday Noodles, Squirrel Hill
I don’t know what sort of wizardry is involved in getting soup inside these soft, chewy soup dumplings. And I kind of don’t want to know; it would ruin the magic.
There are Pork Soup Dumplings and Pork and Crab Meat Soup Dumplings, which are warming and filling.
Though the name Everyday Noodles (5875 Forbes Ave.) is a little on the humble side, make no mistake — this is perhaps Pittsburgh’s best noodle purveyor of any kind. Their noodle soups are more noodle than soup, but excellent, like the thin-yet-hearty Pork Short Rib Noodle Soup Consomme, and the meaty, substantial Braised Beef and Tendon Noodle Soup.
Kiin Lao & Thai Eatery, Squirrel Hill
You can get great Thai food all over Pittsburgh, but Kiin Lao & Thai Eatery at 5846 Forbes Ave. may be the only spot (so far) for spicy Lao cuisine.
Orm is a thick, sour herbal stew, redolent of lemongrass, dill and wood ear mushroom, and tiny Thai eggplant. You can drop in everything from chicken to tofu to salmon, and it all tastes incredible.
Go for “Lao hot” (very hot) if you can take it — “Thai hot” is a little bit less powerful, but still plenty spicy. If you just need Thai food (understandable), the hot and sour Tom Yum Nam Kon — accented brightly with lemongrass and lime juice and full of lots of long, skinny white mushrooms — more than lives up to the “Yum” part of its name.
La Palapa, South Side
Spoons line the walls of this cozy Mexican spot at 2224 East Carson St., indicating quite a few wins in the annual South Side Soup Contest (which is happening Feb. 22) the only real soup contest in town, and kind of a victim of its own success (the crowds are extreme).
The Sopa de Tortilla has a bright orange broth, thick with garlic, cilantro and oregano, with tortilla strips on the bottom and a poached egg half-submerged on top.
It’s vegetarian, which isn’t always the case. The real standout might be the Sopa de Pescado, a specialty of coastal Veracruz. It’s a tomato-based soup, with lots of onion, garlic and large pieces of tilapia floating inside.
Apollo Cafe, Downtown
This easy-to-miss Mediterranean spot at 429 Forbes Ave. takes its soups super-seriously, with a different one every day of the week, and a hearty vegetarian chili every day (this place is wonderful for vegetarians).
Mondays are minestrone with chicken and barley, Tuesdays and Wednesdays feature a credible wedding soup and Thursdays get you a tart lemon chicken. In the heat of the summer, there’s a cool tomato gazpacho, too.
Onion Maiden, Allentown
So, a place that specializes in vegan food and heavy metal puns is one of the most consistently great restaurants in town.
Maybe that would be weird in some places, but not at Onion Maiden (639 East Warrington Ave.).
Burning Witch Soup, as one might guess, is a little spicy, with notes of tamarind and lemongrass setting off this murky red lentil concoction. I’m assured that no witches were harmed in the making of this soup (which would not be vegan).
You can also go with the Fistful of Curry — which oddly eschews the menu’s usual metal references in favor of a Bruce Lee one. Of course, it’s got a bit of a kick, but just enough coconut milk to make it go down without a fight.
They also do a great ramen noodle soup for various pop-up events, especially the helpfully-titled, The Ramen.
Two Sisters, East Liberty
Un-pho-gettable pho. There’s something cozy and diner-y about this little place at 216 North Highland Ave. in East Liberty that keeps me coming back.
Maybe it’s the warming, filling soups, like the Beef Pho — with brisket, eye of round beef and meatballs — that makes the journey on a random wintry Wednesday afternoon worthwhile. Maybe it’s the friendly, easygoing service, or the bright, unfussy interior. Maybe it’s running into Rick Sebak here.
No, it’s definitely the soups. The Bun Bo Hue, a spicy lemongrass soup with beef brisket, beef shank and pork roll, tastes like something my grandma would make (if she was Vietnamese).
Cafe du Jour, South Side
If all the mushrooms in the world got together for a pool party, the water would end up tasting like Cafe du Jour’s Wild Mushroom Consomme — packed to the brim with shiitake, king oyster, porcini, maitake and shimeji mushrooms. They also make a different soup of the day, which not everybody does (but everybody should).
This long-lived South Side restaurant at 1107 East Carson St. is one of Pittsburgh’s true neighborhood gems, so don’t get distracted by all the shiny new restaurant openings and forget about them.
Penn Avenue Fish Company, Strip District and Downtown
Okay, Penn Avenue Fish is known for, well, fresh fish. So if you’re in the mood for seafood chowders, bisques and gumbos, this is the spot, or should we say spots. One is at 2208 Penn Ave. in the Strip, the other at 245 7th St. Downtown.
On a recent bitter cold day in February, they had four different seafood soups, and all had been finished by the time I got there except for the lobster bisque, which was smooth, creamy and delicious.
Our publisher swears by the spicy seafood gumbo and the Mediterranean vegetable has been her go-to. But she just recently tried the Shrimp and Oyster Florentine soup and now can’t decide what the heck to order.
Ineffable Ca Phe, Bloomfield
This list could have been all pho, actually. (We’ll get you next time around Pho Minh.) This Vietnamese coffee and banh mi shop at 3920 Penn Ave. does a lot of things extremely well, including the pho.
The pho ga is a chicken-stock soup, with rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, and jalapeno and lime on the side. There’s also a veggie version with big pieces of tofu and a vegetarian broth.
If you get pho to-go, they thoughtfully put the broth and noodles in separate containers, so you can make the magic combination at your leisure, and it stays fresh.
Il Pizzaiolo, Warrendale
Of course, wedding soup does not require a wedding in Pittsburgh. In fact, it needs no excuse, ever.
Who’s got the best wedding soup? Everyone’s grandma, that’s who.
Okay, if we must include at least one, this rendition at Il Pizzaiolo‘s North Hills location at 701 Warrendale Village Dr., features a perfect balance of pasta, fresh spinach, carrots and just the right-sized meatballs.