Polonia’s borscht with meat dumplings is so good, you’ll want to swim in it.
Like the primordial ooze our ancestors crawled out of, soup is a nourishing, regenerative fluid. And when the weather turns cold, there’s nothing more revivifying than a great potage — even coming out of a can, it tastes great. We’ve combed the five boroughs for the best examples, and rummaged around in our notes to find soups overlooked or under-touted, and come up with this list of 10. Please enjoy them vicariously, and let us know your own favorites.
10. Borscht With Meat Dumplings at Polonia (above) — Soups are a very big deal in Polish restaurants, and the range is impressive, from potato soup to pickle soup. Top of the heap is borscht, the ruddy and earthy beet soup that often exists in several permutations on a single menu. So it is at the East Village’s Polonia, where you can get one with a clear and bracing broth, freighted with wonderfully doughy, meat-stuffed dumplings. 110 First Avenue, 212-254-9699
9. Pozole at Cholulita — Made with slaked corn kernels, the hominy soup called pozole is the weekend pride of Mexican cooks. The version at Cholulita — under the J and M tracks on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick — is crammed with pork, hominy, and herbs, and generously served with a pair of tostadas. 888 Broadway, Brooklyn, 347-435-0813
8. Tomato Soup at Earl’s Beer and Cheese — Located where the Metro-North Railroad flings itself out of the ground near 97th Street and Park Avenue, Earl’s is a playful spot with two obvious obsessions, beer and cheese. But their resuscitation of tomato soup is brilliant — served in a bowl with a smear of quark around the rim, and spicy with Sriracha. It puts the Campbell’s standard to shame. 1259 Park Avenue, 212-289-1581
It’s “Bottoms up!” at tiny Earl’s Beer and Cheese.
7. Caldo Gallego at Mambi — “Gallego” refers to Galicia, the Spanish province that many Dominicans call their ancestral homeland. Accordingly, this soup can be found in many Dominican restaurants, and never better than at Mambi in Washington Heights. Pulled from its murky depths are savory tidbits of pig tail, trotter, skin, and shank, along with carrots and potatoes that a friend described as “so creamy, they taste like they’ve been cooked for a week.” 4181 Broadway, 212-928-9796
6. Peanut Soup at Papaye — Creamy, earthy, fiery-hot peanut soup is a good bet in any West African restaurant, and doubly so at the Bronx Ghanaian spot Papaye. The white balls are omo tuo, made from pounded rice, and the heap of black-eyed peas on the side is a bonus that hints at the connection between African and American food. 2300 Grand Concourse, Bronx, 718-676-0771
5. Lobster Bisque at Littleneck — Gowanus newcomer Littleneck celebrates the seafood that once teemed on the city’s shoreline, including wonderful soups that showcase all sorts of crustaceans. The lobster bisque that was a special one evening (and will hopefully end up on the regular menu) tastes totally of the sea, with shreds of lobster meat in a rich fumet. Fried potato sticklets on top provide a welcome contrast of textures. 288 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-522-1921
Gowanus’s incredibly cozy Littleneck
4. Mrs. K’s Matzo Ball Soup at Kutsher’s — Before I tasted the matzo ball soup at Kutsher’s — a new Tribeca restaurant that seeks to re-create the cuisine of the Catskills in amped-up form — I was skeptical, to say the least. But what is often a gray broth with adamantine matzo balls has been transformed into something like its true self. The matzo balls are imperially creamy and fine-textured, the broth rich with poultry flavors but fundamentally light, and minced vegetables give the soup the substantialness it needs to soar. 186 Franklin Street, 212-431-0606
3. Manestra S Kobasicom at Rudar Soccer Club — Who doesn’t love garlicky sausages? Toss them in a white bean soup and you have something close to soup nirvana at this three-decade-old open-to-the-public Istrian sports club in Long Island City. 34-01 45th Street, Queens, 718-786-5833
2. Duck Dumpling Soup at Momofuku Ssäm Bar — This sort of soup is what makes the many-tentacled Momfuku empire great, an invented recipe featuring the richest duck broth you’ve ever encountered, tasting like a thousand ducks had been squished in a duck press to make it. Add novel-shaped duck-stuffed dumplings, and greenery for color contrast, and you’ve got one hell of a bowl of soup. 207 Second Avenue, 212-254-3500
1. Bun Bo Hue at Thanh Da — Why not pho? You might be asking yourself. Well, many of the Vietnamese immigrants who ended up in New York came from Hue, in the middle of the country, and this soup is their signature. The beef broth is dense and flavorful, the meat component copious, the noddles noodle-y, and the incredibly pungent basil sends the whole thing over the top. 6008 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-492-3253
Thanh Da, on the edge of Sunset Park’s Chinatown
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 9, 2011