I have been a soup guy for a very long time. My first foray into truly ethnic soups was discovering pho at Phuong Café on Nicollet in the early nineties. I would end up eating lunch there many a Saturday for years. Its restorative powers healed me from the beating I had taken from restaurant service the night before and gave me the energy and inner strength to feed the masses that were imminent for Saturday dinner service. I like pho because of the ceremony involved and the infinite customizing you can perform at the table: fewer sprouts, more fish sauce, a little hoisin sauce, basil or no basil, lots of lime or extra Sriracha, etc. Phuong has long since closed, and now I get my fix at Pho76 or Quang Deli. I have been searching for something different, I very much like Tom Yum, Tom Kha, Menudo, and Pozole, but I was still left wanting. But one day in January, I finally found my new soup . . . Sopa Azteca.
I first had a rendition of this dish when my wife and I were in Akumal, Mexico, in 1998, and it was called Sopa Xochitl. I had pretty much forgotten the soup until I worked at Tejas in 2003, which has a great light rendition, just not as substantial as I wanted. Then a few weeks ago, I went to La Poblanita on Lake Street and decided to try it again. It was wonderful, real chicken stock loaded with cheese, cilantro, chicken, avocado, limes, chilies, and fried tortillas. This is a very substantial soup with bright flavors balanced with rich cheese and avocados, and a huge bowl goes for $7.50. There is not as much ceremony involved as with pho, but you can squeeze as many limes as you like and add some fresh chilies to get your custom piquancy. I have now learned that Barack Obama loves the soup as well and always starts his meal with it when dining at Topolobampo in Chicago. To me, it has restorative powers beyond pho, and you get to watch Latin soap operas while slurping away (free chips are good, too!).
La Poblanita, Lake St. & 17th Ave. S. (1617-1623 E. Lake St.), Mpls., 612-728-0383