Pomo 0317 eat drink davenport soup u4bfnj

Before and after: Davenport's “Simple Pleasures,” with black trumpet mushrooms, asparagus, onion blossoms and a scallion tortilla cut into “noodles"

Image: Karen Brooks

PDX Soup Hall of Famers

 
Ox Clam Chowder

It tastes like Mo’s Clam Chowder at Defcon 2. How else to describe this iconic Oregon dish, birthed at the coast, reborn in the city with macho swagger? The chutzpah to plant a smoked marrow bone and hellishly hot jalapeños in a supremely dainty, creamy broth is a delicious act of defiance and brilliance.

Elephants’ Tomato-Orange

Old-school “gourmet” Portland ripples through this red-orange pool of tomatoes, buttered onions, cream, and orange juice. It’s fail-safe, take-me-back-to-the-womb comfort. Think Campbell’s tomato with a higher IQ, ladled out of a giant vat at Elephants since the 1980s. Longtime customers make their own blend—half tomato-orange, half Mama Leone’s chicken soup. Makes no sense, but it works. 

Luce’s Cappelletti in Brodo

This is labor-of-love soup, inspired by a Parma grandma. Rich yellow broth is the first clue—whole chickens are in the pot, not just bones or scraps, while hand-pinched noodle pods laze on top. Spoon in for a rush of oozy ricotta cheese, lemon intensity, and Parmesan funk. To enjoy it as the elders do, according to Luce lore, spill a little red wine into the broth. 

Hat Yai’s Oxtail Soup

Can a soup featuring braised hunks of cow tail demand a shout from the mountain tops? If it hails from Hat Yai’s fast-ascending kitchen, the answer is yes. This bright, heat-tinged, lime-soaked beauty of a bowl—a mainstay of Muslim neighborhoods in southern Thailand—soared above thousands of dishes rustled out of Portland kitchens this year. What really makes it? The sweet-sharp, crispy crunch of micro-diced Chinese celery floating everywhere and the savory crackle of fried shallots. Spoon in, and you’ll know why this was one of our breakout restaurants of 2016. 

Han Oak’s Pork and Chive Dumpling Soup

When I first encountered experimental chef Peter Cho’s mandoo dumpling soup, served in his super-cute home kitchen-cum-pop-up incubator space, it was a pot of seriously aromatic beef and wild mushroom broth percolating on his stove. In short order, Cho spooned it into a bowl with fist-sized pork dumplings, as tender as an Elliott Smith tune. On top: scallion threads, omelet shreds, and black nori, which tastes like iron and the sea. These days, nab a bowl at Han Oak’s drop-in “Noodles & Dumplings” nights (Sundays and Mondays only), or as an “a la carte option” at Cho’s wonderful fixed-price Korean dinners, served with splashes of black vinegar-ginger broth.

Soup Masters (a.k.a. order whatever is simmering in the house)

 
Davenport

Soup recipes don’t exist at this house of seasonal worship. The changing selections reflect only chef Kevin Gibson’s mood ring and cooking philosophy. Not just peak vegetables and wild mushrooms (his chanterelle use borders on compulsion) but unsung flavor heroes shine here—no one loves a cardoon (or thoughtful garnish) like this guy.

Hà VL and Rose VL

I’m always amazed how many Portlanders still haven’t experienced the slow-simmered pleasures from Portland’s First Family of Vietnamese Soups. The Luu/Vuong clan thrills rabid regulars and national critics with fierce classics (pho to mi quang) and rarely seen regional gems, only two versions per day. Lucky Peach paid homage last year. What, pray what, are you waiting for?

Coquine

We rarely think about what goes into soup: the careful choices, the surprising flavor jumps. Chef Katy Millard leaves no doubt, presenting us with an edible landscape of details (Dungeness crab, raw and roasted matsutake mushrooms, Asian pear, sprouted fenugreek, cashews, and the citrus fruit Buddha’s hand have all turned up) followed by aromatic broths, from carrot to mushroom dashi, poured tableside. It’s a little bit of theater, and a lot of unexpected deliciousness.

Higgins

For years, without dogma or media spin, Higgins has quietly, consistently produced delicious soups from the kitchen’s storehouse of farm-fresh vegetables. Two options emerge daily, from ever-changing, eclectic influences—easily enjoyed in the old-school bar or more formal dining room, and chased with one of Portland’s best beer list. You might find a soul-satisfying black-eyed pea and ham hock or a righteous smoked salmon chowder. But, inevitably, the real surprise are the deeply satisfying vegan options, like a full-throttle Tuscan bread soup or root-sweet parsnip puree zapped with cumin, coriander and house fermented chiles.

Where the Food People Slurp

Aric Miller (co-owner/barista, Sterling Coffee Roasters): “One of the best things I ate in 2016—nay, ever—is Wei Wei’s Taiwanese beef noodle soup. In my 42 years I have yet to encounter the flavor of this broth; have it once, and it’s got claws firmly in your gut. I think about it still, daily. Nightly it plagues my dreams.”

Maya Lovelace (chef-owner, Mae): Teo Bún Bò Hu’s namesake soup is “comforting and invigorating, good for an afternoon pick-me-up or hangover cure. The broth is fresher and lighter than most local versions, perfumed with tons of lemongrass, chiles, and a hint of shrimp paste. The fantastic herb plate (and stellar iced coffee) adds to the experience.” 

Kelly Myers (chef, Xico): “I've always been a regular at Pho Hung. But recently I’ve made a point of having Vietnam’s breakfast actually for breakfast. I get it now! Pho Hung’s pho makes you feel sharp and well-nourished to start your day. I’ve always loved their broth in particular, with star anise and charred ginger. You can see about 10 enormous stock pots in the back of the kitchen, steaming. I get the Number 9, the brisket, which the menu categorizes as ‘For Beginners.’ (Oh well, I'm not a tendon eating kind of person.) I like the experience of customizing each bowl with bean sprouts, basil, jalapeño, chile oil, hoisin, and Rooster sauce. Every bowl is different depending how you feel.”

Want more food news, plus editor’s picks in every neighborhood, advanced search options, and all of our best-of lists? Download our Gastronaut app in iTunes or Google Play!

Show Comments
In this Article

Editor’s Pick

Xico

$$$ Mexican 3715 SE Division St

Oaxaca is represented at Xico—but so is Oregon: playful notes, purist notions, and fresh-ground masa fill out a room that feels like a beach hut with pearls....

Editor’s Pick

Mae

$$$ Breakfast / Brunch, Pop-Up, Southern 5027 NE 42nd Ave

Maya Lovelace transplants a new vision of Southern comfort.

Editor’s Pick

Sterling Coffee Roasters

$ Coffee 417 NW 21st Ave

Sterling Coffee Roasters defied the gods of coffee-ology with heavenly espresso flights and micro-roasted beans spilling giddily from a 50-square-foot cart d...

Editor’s Pick

Higgins Restaurant & Bar

$$$ Pacific Northwest 1239 SW Broadway

One of the first farm-to-table restaurants to open in Portland in the early 1990s, Higgins has staying power. This can be attributed in part to its timeless ...

Editor’s Pick

Coquine

$$$ New American, Pacific Northwest 6839 SE Belmont Street

Coquine's talented young Katy Millard crafts thoughtful, everyday food and drink, day and night. Vegetables get top billing: a salad that digs into squash (w...

Editor’s Pick

Rose VL

$ Vietnamese 6424 SE Powell Blvd

It’s the next chapter for Vietnamese soup master Ha “Christina” Luu and William Vuong, the couple who founded breakfast- and lunch-only foodie fave Ha VL. Th...

Editor’s Pick

HA VL

$ Vietnamese 2738 SE 82nd Ave

Owners Ha “Christina” Luu and William Voung are artisans, crafting small-batch regional Vietnamese soups with flavorful free-range chickens, meticulously ski...

Editor’s Pick

Davenport

$$$ Mediterranean, Pacific Northwest 2215 E Burnside St

At Davenport, you’ll find two guys doing what they love and hoping someone will show up. In the kitchen, Kevin Gibson, veteran of Castagna and cult diner Evo...

Editor’s Pick

Han Oak

$$ Korean 511 NE 24th Ave

Buzzy Korean cuisine seems ripe for the “Portland treatment”—and it gets the works at Peter Cho’s Han Oak. An unmarked door at the end of a tiny parking lot ...

Editor’s Pick

Hat Yai

$$ Thai 1605 NE Killingsworth St

Hat Yai, a spin-off of celebrated Langbaan, brings Southern Thai fried chicken to Northeast Killingsworth. Hat Yai's version isn't all that different from So...

Editor’s Pick

Luce

$$ Italian 2140 E Burnside St

Chef John Taboada’s Luce is not easily defined. Candlelit shelves stretch from the floor clear to the ceiling, inviting a treasure hunt for imported foods an...

Elephants Delicatessen

$ Deli, Sandwiches Multiple Locations

Our favorite find at this local chain? Tomato-Orange soup. Old-school “gourmet” Portland ripples through this red-orange pool of tomatoes, buttered onions, c...

Editor’s Pick

Ox

$$$ Latin American, Steakhouse 2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton’s meaty love story is told over flames erupting from a hand-cranked grill. Don’t miss their Uruguayan beef rib eye ...

Related Content

Best Restaurants 2016: Casual Korean

Portland’s Coolest New Restaurant: Han Oak

10/10/2016 By Benjamin Tepler

Best Restaurants 2016: Thai Twist

Portland’s Best Spot For Terrific Southern Thai: Hat Yai

10/10/2016 By Benjamin Tepler