It's an unseasonally balmy 79 degrees today, as Houston continues its defiant trend of refusing to allow a third season into town. (You know the old adage: Houston has two seasons, summer and February.) But it won't be warm forever. In fact -- just in time for tonight's Tequila & Tamales event -- it's supposed to get nice and chilly again, with plenty of cozy thunderstorms heading our way.
In other words, it's soup weather. And here are 10 of our favorites.
10. Soondubu jigae at Jang Guem Tofu House
Our own Mai Pham likes to order her soondubu jigae with mushrooms (as seen above) at Jang Guem, and that's because the Korean restaurant on Long Point offers an array of different ingredients for the traditional soup in addition to seafood standards like clams and mussels. Turn it into a spicy beef stew, chicken stew or even pork stew -- whatever you choose to go along with the hot, tofu-laced broth will be a hit.
9. Catfish pepper soup at Finger Licking Bukateria
Another fiercely spicy soup, this traditional Nigerian "drinking soup" from Finger Licking -- the flagship West African restaurant in Little Nigeria -- has the faint flavor markings of gumbo in its peppery broth flavored with ground crawfish. There's no rice in here, though, just enormous hunks of catfish-on-the-bone in the dark, cayenne-spiced chicken broth. This one will burn your lips off, but in the most delicious way.
8. Gumbo at Liberty Kitchen
Granted, I've only had one bowl of the stuff so far at the new Liberty Kitchen, but it's already a strong contender for my favorite gumbo in town. My feelings on the matter are backed up by good friends who've gone and enjoyed the stuff, too -- raving, to a man, about the fried oysters on top and spicy andouille sausage underneath. Even better, the gumbo is one of the least expensive items on the menu: only $8 for a bowl big enough for two. Pair it with a Karbach brew on draft and park your butts for the night.
7. Chicken soup at The Bird & The Bear
Although it's called "chicken pot pie soup" on the menu, this lemony soup reminds me more of avgolemono than anything else, complete with rustic shreds of chicken and plenty of rice filling the bowl. At The Bird & The Bear, it also comes with onions, candle corn, spinach and toasted slices of garlic bread -- all good things when it comes to soothing a winter cold.
6. Soupe de poisson "Marseillaise" at Bistro Provence
The traditional French seafood stew called bouillabaisse was created in Provence, specifically in the seaside city of Marseille. As its name would imply, Bistro Provence offers some of the most authentic bouillabaisse -- which it calls soupe de poisson "Marseillaise" -- in town, resplendent with plush pieces of fish, crisply scented fennel and warm cloves of garlic.
5. Ramen at Cafe Kubo's
Cafe Kubo's might not hand-make their ramen noodles, but who in Houston does? That aside, it's one of the most authentic bowls of ramen you'll find in the city, especially the thick tonkotsu with a thick, nutty, pork-fattened broth that's topped with still more pork and a hardboiled egg. This is some seriously comforting stuff, meant for slurping contentedly, for only a few bucks a bowl.
4. Oyster stew at Danton's
Winter is the ideal time to consume oysters, when the cold water has fattened them up and brought them to their plumpest point. Gulf Coast oysters aren't in great shape right now, but Danton's makes lemonade out of lemons with its creamy oyster stew. It's a fine treatment for the bivalves, the thick bisque rich with butter and smoky bites of tasso ham. It's even better during happy hour, paired with Danton's oysters on the half shell for a song.
3. Mulligatawny stew at The Queen Vic
This stew made it onto our list of Houston's Top 100 dishes this year, and I still find myself craving it even when the weather's hot. That's because it's a surprisingly light, crisp and clean soup with diced apples and bright turmeric rounding out the tom yum-style chicken broth. Indian and British at the same time, it's the best of East and West.
2. Hot pot at Thai Spice
The best thing about hot pot isn't the soup itself; it's that you have to eat it with a group. There's really no such thing as individual-serving-size hot pot. Bring some friends to Thai Spice on the edge of Chinatown, where you can get your pot of soup split down the middle -- spicy on one side, mild on the other -- so that no one's left out. And since all of the ingredients are served on the side, you're responsible for cooking up your own pot of soup with only the meat and veggies that you like. Of course, the best pot is the one at the very end, when all of the meats and vegetables and spices have permeated the broth and you get a super-concentrated dose of it all in your final bowl.
1. Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH
This is beef stew at its pinnacle, fiercer than any bœuf bourguignon and heartier than any goulash. If there's one thing the Vietnamese do better than anyone else, it's making soups: pho, bun bo Hue, banh mi bo kho, the list goes on. This Vietnamese beef soup is the ancestor of French stews in the same way that pho is descended from pot a feu, thick with carrots and onions and rugged chunks of beef in a tomato base flavored with nose-clearing lemongrass, bright garlic and briny fish sauce. It's served with a crusty, freshly-baked baguette and -- at the ever-charming Cafe TH -- a side of belly-warming happiness.