This vibrant restaurant—as great a spot for early breakfast as it is post-dinner nightcaps—is Eric and Sophie Banh’s love song to the street food they ate as children in Saigon and therefore hews to a more traditionalist standard than we’ve seen in their Monsoon restaurants. Where those represent bright fusion, Ba Bar serves up street-style classics: noodle bowls topped with grilled chicken or charry prawns or duck leg confit, with peanuts and caramelized shallots, greens and nuoc cham; or big, loaded bowls of pho, heady with basil and onions and mint and sprouts and fork-tender sheets of flank steak. Ingredients are scrupulously sourced and lovingly handled; beverages, coffee to cocktails, are bright and free flowing.
The First Hill ramen bar opened during one summer of yore when Seattle was still flirting with 80-degree weather. That didn’t stop the near-daily crowds. Betsutenjin has scant seating, so better to belly up to the bar facing the kitchen, which issues Hakata-style ramen, here an opaque, ivory-white pork broth with thin wheat noodles, pork slices, nori, and seaweed. It’s so creamy that the restaurant posts signage to assure diners it uses nary a drop of milk. But if you try asking what techniques are involved in making a ramen so permeated with pig and umami, the server might just press her finger over her lips and smile. Go back to slurping, and be satisfied that you were able to snag a spot beneath the TV screen showing ’60s-era samurai flicks.
With a voracious fan base, this Taiwanese hot-pot chainlet brings a bevy of soups, both spicy and non, to the hungry masses lined up out the door—and there is always a line. Sink-sized bowls arrive tableside, bubbling and brimming with such things as cabbage, pork meatballs, fish cake, enoki mushrooms, sliced beef, or earthy fermented tofu. No matter your chosen spice level, take comfort in the complimentary iced tea that comes with each boiling lunch.
Qiping Ng makes wontons every single day by hand. She’s the warm, welcoming, smiling fixture inside the Rainier Valley noodle house she’s owned with her husband, John, for over 16 years. (They first opened the restaurant in Chinatown–International District.) While locations have recently changed, the steamy bowls of noodle soups and Cantonese staples are eternal. The broth is pristine yet almost paradoxically deep in flavor. A bowl of shrimp and pork wonton soup with egg noodles is a simple pleasure—bump it up with brisket, beef tendons, or fish balls if you like—but Hong Kong–style congee is another choice, cold-weather option.
This rare place that makes its own fresh rice noodles—a four-day ordeal of soaking, grinding, waiting, and extruding—for vermicelli bowls, pho, and other noodle soups like the fragrant, seafood-rich hu tieu. Dong Thap’s pure-tasting broths are too light for some, perhaps; there’s always hoisin and sriracha. But oh man. Those noodles. The difference is apparent almost down to a molecular level. (Noodles are also sold by the pound to take home.)
Soup may not be the first reason one goes to any of Homegrown’s eight locations; there are just a couple on the menu: tomato bisque and a seasonal soup such as one with caramelized sweet potatoes and carrots with chipotle, or perhaps split pea and kale. Still, with cooling temps and shorter days Homegrown’s list of hearty sandwiches—grass-fed steak and bleu cheese or the turkey, Applewood-smoked bacon, and avocado, for example—are more righteously consumed with a hot side of soup.
For more than a decade, Island Soul has melded Caribbean flavors with creole cookery—washed down with a healthy dose of rum—along Columbia City’s shop-lined thoroughfare. Crackle into a plate of tostones, fried plantain chips with sweet red onions, which taste wickedly fried but are actually roasted in garlicked oil. End to end, the menu is just terrific—from the jerk chicken, suffused with smoke and jumping off the bone; to the spice-rich oxtail stew; to gumbo packed with prawns, crab, hotlinks, and chicken; to a platter of curried goat, packing a perfect little sting; to the sweet, moist coconut corn bread. It’s soul food gone Caribbean with flavors every bit as bright and vivid as the sunshiny place and its friendly welcome.
Chef Edouardo Jordan cemented his fine-dining cred at Salare, but his second restaurant is far more personal: A thoughtful telling of southern food, from crowd-pleasers like biscuits and Sunday-only fried chicken to more culturally nuanced fare like chitterlings and oxtail. And one of the few soups on the menu (there’s also a green tomato soup at lunch) likewise adheres and respects southern dining canon: a gumbo, of course. Typically an easily mess-up-able entree, here the rich stew’s complexity dwells among okra, dark roux, and shrimp lightly coated in semolina flour. A few seasonal dishes hint at Jordan’s high-end training, while desserts like bourbon dark chocolate bread pudding and hummingbird cake make you want to hunt down pastry chef Margaryta Karagodina and hug her tenderly. There’s a reason this restaurant is on the national radar.
It seems too shiny and tourist-laden to offer much in the way of authenticity or excellence…but Pike Place Chowder’s New England clam chowder offers exquisite proof to the contrary. It consistently brings home bling from Newport, Rhode Island’s Great Chowder Cook-Off—often first-place bling—thanks to its nuanced ratios of cream to brine to smoke, best enjoyed in a bread bowl. While it’s claimed fewer awards, the seafood bisque is likewise a winner.
Longtime culinary icon Bruce Naftaly (of the famed Le Gourmand) has gone more casual but no less careful in his Chophouse Row lunch and brunch spot, now open for dinners too. The lunchtime soup menu unites Bruce’s saucier knack for deep flavors and wife Sara’s elegantly sturdy bread; the seasonal seafood soup is a Little Mermaid roll call of everything under the sea that’s made it into your bowl—salmon, clams, mussels, and more in a balanced briny broth. Roasted root vegetables with creme fraiche or chicken with cabbage, pork belly, and ham likewise make a midday appearance. Dinner, however, more closely resembles the menu at Le Gourmand. Some dishes echo old favorites, and Bruce’s famed French sauces are, as ever, an infinity loop of savory flavor notes.
At Ooink chef-owner Chong Boon Ooi and his wife, Jiaxin Wang, dole out vessel after vessel of silky porcine soup above Broadway and Pike in their small balmy restaurant. Electronic music befitting a Fast and the Furious sequel gently booms as diners slurp up ramen, some of which bucks tradition. Take the spicy mapo tofu ramen that reimagines a classic Chinese dish as noodle soup: A shoyu and pork broth base is topped with Szechuan-style, chili-oil-imbued ground pork and soft tofu, pickled mustard, and a nest of crispy buckwheat noodles.
The red boat-shaped restaurant credited as the city’s first pho shop has transitioned to the next generation of owners, and to a big, blocky structure just across the parking lot. The rich, delicately spiced bowls of pho are the same; the new menu of bar snacks walks a tasty line between classic Vietnamese flavors and American bar food. Definitely order the fries with herbaceous garlic-lemongrass dipping sauce, and if you can tear yourself away from the classic pho, the menu’s other noodle soups are definitely worth exploring. (Load up on napkins if you go for the short rib pho, complete with a caveman-worthy hunk of meat perched on top.)
Menudo is one of those labor-of-love soups that takes all day to cook—thanks to spongy textured tripe that needs time to mellow into tender, broth-imbued bites—which is why it’s only made on weekends (though possibly available during the week). Other traditional Mexican soups on the menu include pozole (another weekend situation) with pork and hominy, spicy birria beef stew, and caldo de res, a beef stew commingled with hunks of veggies. More Mexican family restaurant favorites round out the expansive menu.