A Bowl Full of Comfort

soup at Morris Ramen, Madison

By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave (pictured above: Morris Ramen)

Once sweater weather begins to descend upon us, the soup cravings are undeniable. Lucky for us, Madison offers a plethora of flavors and textures when it comes to soups. So grab your soup spoon, and let’s dig in.

When you’re in the mood for flavorful broth plus copious amounts of noodles, make a stop at Morris Ramen for their signature ramen. Brimming with velvety noodles, chashu pork belly (braised, so it melts in your mouth), ajitama (jammy, hard- boiled eggs marinated in soy sauce) and bamboo shoots, this soup will boost your spirits, regardless of the weather outside.

If you just can’t get enough of rich broths and plentiful noodles, you’ll also be a fan of the Vietnamese pho served up at Saigon Noodles on the West Side. My favorite is #21, the Saigon Deluxe, chock-full of skinny rice noodles and beef in its various forms — thinly-sliced eye round steak, beef meatballs and tripe, and little flavorful blasts of gelatinous tendon. The best part is all of the fresh mix-ins that come on the side: cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime wedges and chiles. Yum. Also, if you’re not up for dining in, Saigon excels at takeout packaging.

A similar, Cantonese-style version of pho exists on the East Side at Bowl Bowl Rice, located inside the Global Market on Zeier Road. Enjoy generous chunks of brisket, bok choy and wide rice noodles — a bowl full of comfort.

If you’re in the mood for French onion soup — and sometimes that mood just hits, doesn’t it? — the city’s best can be found at La Kitchenette. Loaded with caramelized onions and French bread, which soaks up the savory broth, breaking into the oozy Gruyère “coating” on top to get a spoonful is a beautiful moment. Their beef bourguignon — a rich beef stew with red wine, mushrooms, onions and bacon, served with mashed potatoes, side salad and baguette — also hits the (savory) spot.

For the days when you’d prefer a vegetarian option, the dal at Himal Chuli on State Street has been a favorite for decades. It’s a simple, but filling, lentil soup enhanced with an array of spices. Or, you can head around the corner to The Globe on Henry Street for their protein-packed, Himalayan 15 beans soup. On Atwood Avenue, Monsoon Siam delivers with Tom Ka, sauteed mushrooms served in a velvety coconut milk broth, topped with cilantro and scallion. Or you can try the Tom Yum, a similar soup with a bit spicier broth, enhanced with lemongrass.

Chowder enthusiasts can saddle up to the bar at Blue Moon on Old University for a hearty bowl of Boston clam chowder (also sometimes referred to as New England clam chowder), a creamy broth laden with potatoes, carrots, celery and — you guessed it — clams. A special blend of spices brings everything together and enhances the flavor.

If you want a soup that can pass for an entire meal, the Hungarian goulash at The Weary Traveler is probably your best bet. It’s an old family recipe, with beef tenderloin tips, Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots and celery, seasoned with caraway seeds and spicy Hungarian paprika.

Of course, a capital city soup roundup wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our classic — could it even be designated as a state soup? I’m talking about the Wisconsin beer cheese soup, which The Old Fashioned has mastered with a cheesy, creamy base infused with ale flavor, uniquely topped with Tietz popcorn as a garnish.

Winter’s coming. Good thing there’s soup to get us through!


When I’m not in the mood to cook, I can depend on any one of these restaurants to serve up a hearty, delicious bowl of chili.


The award-winning spicy hot chili at Dotty’s is where it’s at. Don’t let the name scare you away — it’s a tolerable, subtle heat that builds with each bite of jalapeno and banana pepper. The combo of beef tips, pork tenderloin and smoked bacon adds a depth of flavor beyond your standard bowl.


Their chili will make your mouth water. The tomato base has just the right amount of seasoning, the shredded beef is plentiful, the mix of pinto and red beans is smart, and they don’t skimp on the cheddar, red onion and sour cream.


In Madison, you have to do a little searching to find green chili. Its base of tomatillos and roasted green chiles (a combo of Anaheim, poblano and jalapeno) gives chili verde its signature color and smoky, somewhat tart flavor. Pasqual’s version has shredded chicken and pinto beans, and is garnished with cheddar-jack cheese and green onions. You get a piece of blue corn bread for dipping, too.


When you’re on the hunt for vegan chili, find it here. Their chili is made “beefy” by using house-made seitan, which resembles ground beef, incorporated into a tomato base with kidney beans, celery and bell peppers. You can even get vegan cheese shreds and sour cream to top it off.

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