By Charlotte Aguilar
Granted: Winters in West University and Bellaire can prompt a need for a salad and iced tea just as often as soup and a hot toddy.
But when that Texas chill seeps into the bones (think back to the Arctic blast before Christmas), or we need the comforting kind of cold and flu therapy that can’t be provided in a tablet, we’re grateful for the local menus that carry hot and hearty soups, stews and mugs of steaming beverages.
We’ve sought expert opinions, and the result is this informal list filled with options for throughout the day, most of which can be brought to your doorstep by delivery services.
Oatmeal appears on several local menus, with the “traditional” $5 offering at the Dandelion Café in Bellaire getting the most touts. It comes with brown sugar and whole milk, with add-ons for $1 each including berries, bananas, carmelized apples, maple syrup or local honey, almonds and almond milk. Other recommended bowls: Bellaire Coffee Shop’s simple bowl with an option for bananas, raisins and brown sugar added, and steel cut oats with topping choices at two local Adair Concepts — Skeeter’s and Adair Kitchen.
Tapesters Grill on Beechnut gets solid support for a robust bowl of grits served all day — cheesy or jalapeño poblano (for a little extra internal warmth).
And for a pair of popular Mexican specialties, we’ve found weekend bowls of menudo — a spicy tripe and hominy soup-stew (touted as a hangover cure, for bonus point). Ask at Casa Dominguez in Bellaire (it’s off-menu there) and El Rancherito, a hidden gem just a couple blocks west of Bellaire on Chetwood, across from Holy Ghost Church. Rancherito patrons also enjoy the café’s pozole on weekends, another substantial offering with pork and hominy.
…NOON AND NIGHT…
When we think of warmth, soup automatically comes to mind, and the choices are plentiful around Bellaire and West U.
There’s plenty of ethnic variety to add spice to life. Among the most popular are soups that are a meal in themselves. Vietnamese pho is mentioned frequently in this category, with the giant offerings at Vietopia along the Southwest Freeway and at Pho VN 21, on Bellaire Boulevard a few blocks west of the city, most often mentioned.
Other Asian varieties getting high marks are the house soup (chicken broth-based with mushrooms and onion) and the miso soup at Samurai Steak in Bellaire, and a homey array at Panda Garden on the West Loop near the HCC campus, including hot-and-sour, egg drop, chicken veggie, and corn soups, and two varieties of wonton soup. Lemongrass Café and Thai Cottage, both in Bellaire, earn mentions for their chicken-based tom yum soups, with Lemongrass receiving an extra nod for its tri-mushroom consommé.
In that same meal-in-a-bowl category as pho are Mexican soups, and El Rancherito gets the nod again for availability closest to Bellaire-West U. They serve four zesty bowls — seafood, shrimp, chicken and beef. These are broths with veggies and giant chunks of seafood, and big bone-in pieces of chicken and beef.
Tortilla soups are also popular, and for those, recommendations favor The ‘401 in Bellaire and 100 Percent Taquito on the Southwest Freeway.
Other ethnic favorites: The Greek Lemon Chicken soup, avgolemono, frequently on the menu at Bellaire Coffee Shop (with their Greek chicken orzo soup getting an honorable mention). And while you can get a decent minestrone at most Italian spots, the Tuscan onion soup at Enoteca Rossa in Bellaire is something special, patrons say. You can get it in its basic state — beef broth base, carmelized onions, melted provolone over housemade croutons, or add some Candelari Italian sausage for zest and bulk.
Good old homemade tomato soup earned a mention for McHugh Tea Room (with a classic grilled cheese sandwich available to accompany), along with classic clam chowder at Russo’s on Beechnut, and the lemon artichoke soup at Adair Kitchen.
For chili, Goode Co. Armadillo Palace on Kirby gets the nod, and that’s no surprise since it makes the “best” lists for chili both locally and even statewide. We got a couple tips, though, on another menu item, the carne discada, described as a vaquero-inspired stew made with skirt steak, housemade salsa, beer and served with handmade corn tortillas.
That brings us to other stew-like recommendations, for lack of a better term — items heartier than soups.
There’s the carne guisada — literally “stewed meat” — served with rice, beans and guac at Casa Dominguez. The ‘401 has a piquant seafood etouffee. Cleburne Cafeteria’s chicken and dumplings is a robust classic, served on Wednesdays. And there are curries galore all around the West U-Bellaire area. Thai Cottage, Lemongrass Café, and for Indian, the recently relocated Shiva Indian restaurant, in the old Smashburger spot on Buffalo Speedway, all received mentions.
You’re now officially fortified against whatever winter can throw at us.
This article first appeared in the January 2023 edition of Bellaire•West University Essentials Magazine.