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.