French onion soup at Bellecour
There’s a reason why there’s a French onion soup on the menu at Bellecour. “It doesn’t matter where I travel or where I’m eating, if that soup is on the menu, I will get it, every time,” said chef/owner Gavin Kaysen. “There’s just something about it that’s homey, and nostalgic, and comforting.” There’s one hitch. “It’s one of those soups that you can easily mess up, because of its simplicity,” he said. “You have to have good stock, good onions, good bread and good cheese. If any one of those elements isn’t good, then it’s not delicious.” Which is why, at this Wayzata restaurant, nothing goes to chance, from the white onions — cooked in 75-pound batches — that are nurtured, low and slow, for eight hours, to the meticulously prepared beef stock to the blanket of gooey, decadent Gruyère. It’s an equation that adds up, every time. $6 and $10.
739 Lake St. E., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com
Chicken-matzo ball soup at Meyvn
Yes, this is the place for bagels. And a whopper of a Reuben. And splendid latkes. But it’s also the place for a remarkable bowl of chicken-matzo ball soup. Chef/co-owner Adam Eaton coaxes every molecule of flavor out the birds in his kitchen, funneling them into a golden, elixir-like broth. Each steaming, restorative bowl is filled with carrots and celery (both manage to retain semblances of their original texture, a welcome change from the mushiness that plagues other, lesser versions), tender chicken and tons of fragrant dill. At its center is an ideal matzo ball, one that’s neither ponderous nor lightweight. $7.
901 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-315-4608, meyvneats.com
Moroccan carrot soup at Tilia
Chef Steven Brown and his crew have proved, time and again, that they rank among the region’s most gifted soup makers. Right now, Team Tilia is featuring a doozy. They’re pulling carrots from the root cellar and placing them center-stage, infusing their naturally sweet flavor with selections from the North African spice rack. Finishing touches include tangy yogurt (which can disappear for vegans), with pepitas adding flashes of color and crunch. Don’t miss it. $8.
2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
Tomato-basil soup at Nolo’s Kitchen
With his tomato-basil soup, chef Peter Hoff deftly inserts a welcome dose of summer flavor into these dreary dead-of-winter days. Each vividly colorful spoonful is a bright, acidic reminder of that cherished, all-too-brief time of year when tomatoes, ripe and straight off the vine, are a prime reason for living. Hoff keeps it vegetarian — drawing in a wider audience — and uses breadcrumbs as the ingenious, all-important thickener. The basil? It’s concentrated in an oil, a flavor-burst of a garnish. $4 and $6.
515 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-800-6033, noloskitchen.com
Pho at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
Everyone has their favorite source for pho, and this is mine, primarily because chef/owner Hai Truong goes to towering lengths to produce a beef broth — the soup’s essential element — for the ages. It’s a painstaking, 36-hour process that involves stacking premium bones (from flavor-boosting grass-fed farming practices) into a 140-quart pot, adding water, and then letting time and heat work their magic. The results, fragrant and full-bodied, have no local peer, and Truong pools it into enormous bowls that he liberally fills with a selection of proteins (chicken, rib-eye, oxtail), tons of slurpy rice noodles and a just-right array of accompaniments. Truly, a classic. $12 to $17.
799 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-22-3301, ngonbistro.com
Chicken and wild rice soup at Local Roots
This family-friendly Richfield cafe offers several soups every day, which is no surprise since the restaurant is an extension of Courtney and Joe Norgaard’s soup company. The one soup that’s always on the menu is their chicken and wild rice, a textbook iteration of that super-creamy version that’s so thick that it resembles another rib-sticking Minnesota culinary staple, hot dish. It’s also delicious (one secret is using premium wild rice, harvested by the Red Lake Band in northern Minnesota), and it’s also available in frozen-foods sections at Kowalski’s Market, Lakewinds Natural Foods and some Hy-Vee stores. $4 and $6.
817 E. 66th St., Richfield, 612-345-5258, localrootsmn.com
Smoked pheasant wild rice soup at Feller
In a state where thick, creamy wild rice soups are the culinary equivalent of those giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in Bemidji — iconic, right? — this version stands out. In part, for what it isn’t; instead of laying on the dairy, chef Sam Collins restricts himself to a splash of cream, which adds body but doesn’t overwhelm the wild rice’s inherent nuttiness. Instead, the standout comes in the form of generous pieces of hearty pheasant — one of many nods on the menu that point to Collins’ lifelong passion for hunting — which adds a smokiness that allures but doesn’t overpower. Collins may have created a new standard of a beloved old favorite. $5 and $8.
402 S. Main St., Stillwater, 651-571-3501, fellerrestaurant.com
Hall of fame: Keep these keepers in mind.
• Cambodian curry noodle soup at Cheng Heng (448 W. University Av., St. Paul, chengheng448.com), $7.50.
• Chicken and matzo ball soup at Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, meritage-stp.com), $9.50.
• Clam chowder at the Oceanaire Seafood Room (50 S. 6th St., Mpls., theoceanaire.com), $7 and $10.
• Dr. Stu’s Cabbage Borscht at Crossroads Deli (2795 Hedberg Dr., Minnetonka, crossroadsdelicatessen.com), $4.49 to $9.99.
• Pork hot-and-sour soup at Big Bowl (3669 Galleria, Edina; 1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville; and 12649 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka, bigbowl.com), $4.95 and $8.95.
• Ramen at Ramen Kazama (3400 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls. and 1510 Como Av. SE., Mpls, ramenkazama.com), Zen Box Izakaya (602 Washington Av. S., Mpls., zenbox.com), Tori Ramen (161 N. Victoria St., St. Paul, toriramen.com) and Tori 44 (2203 44th Av. N., Mpls., toriramen.com), $10 to $16.
• Roasted duck leg mein at Rainbow Restaurant & Bar (2739 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., rainbowrestaurant.com), $13.
• Seafood pozole verde at Octo Fishbar (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, octostp.com), $22.
• Tom Yum soup at Sen Yai Sen Lek (2422 Central Av. NE., Mpls., senyai-senlek.com), $6.25 to $11.75.
• Mushroom broth at Tao Natural Foods (2200 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., taonaturalfoods.com), $5.