Ironically, in a country without winter, a steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho is the perfect antidote to a Chicago January. At Hai Yen - with locations in Lincoln Park and on Argyle Street in Uptown - pho is one of the season's best sellers.
"When people was sick, little bit bad cold, we always recommend they eat pho. After you eat pho they feel much better," said Hien Ngo, Hai Yen.
Rice noodles sit at the bottom of a bowl.. they're topped with beef - your choice of brisket, flank or thinly-sliced eye-of-round. Cilantro, scallions and white onion are scattered over the top, then the rich, cinnamon-and-clove-spiked beef broth, which literally cooks the raw beef in seconds. At the table, fresh basil, lime, bean sprouts and jalapeno are offered, so you can doctor-up the pho to your liking, adding crunch and citrus. A little sweet or spicy chili sauce is also on hand to add flavor to the beef.
In Mexico, the soup of choice is pozole, a stew of hominy, which is just cooked corn kernels, plus chunks of pork in a pork broth. It's on the menu everyday at the venerable Pozoleria San Juan in Humboldt Park.
"It's popular year-round, but mostly, of course, when it's cold outside. Everybody likes a warm soup," said Elizabeth Aguilar, Pozoleria San Juan
They have three types: white, which is simply pork broth; red, which has guajillo chiles, and green, containing serranos and jalapenos. Like pho, the pozole arrives with condiments: fresh avocado, chopped onions and lime--plus sliced radish and shredded cabbage; also, fried tortillas and chicharron, fried pork skin. Customizing your pozole adds several layers of flavor. It's a hearty meal in a bowl, easily feeding two.
Since 1929, the Ramova Grill in Bridgeport has been a beacon - not only to several mayoral administrations - but to anyone craving a bowl of homemade chili.
"They say we're gonna go to the 'chili parlor,' they know exactly where you're talking about," said Bill Gertos, The Ramova Grill.
You can get it over kidney beans, or for a taste of Cincinnati, have it over some spaghetti - with or without beans. It's hearty, meaty and filling.. and the only condiments needed are some oyster crackers.
"It isn't just a bowl of chili, people love it on their omelets, they love it on tamales. We take pride in our chili," said Gertos.
Another good chili option is at Lindy's-Gertie's locations all over the Southwest Side. Other great soups: Japanese ramen in Albany Park, Sancocho from the Caribbean joints in Humboldt Park and Logan Square. And, one the Hound's all-time favorites: matzo ball soup from The Bagel at Old Orchard.
Pho - Hai Yen
2723 N. Clark St.
Also: 1055 W. Argyle St.
Pozole - Pozoleria San Juan
1523 N. Pulaski Rd.
Chili - Ramova Grill
3510 S. Halsted St.
Chili - Lindy's Gertie's
3685 S. Archer Ave.
Ramen - Tampopo
5665 N. Lincoln Ave.
Sancocho - Gloria's
3300 W. Fullerton
Matzo Ball - The Bagel
3107 N. Broadway
Old Orchard Mall