By Emily Laskin
Tired of holiday entertaining and heavy, home-cooked meals? Cold snap got you down? Already maxed out on pho and ramen? Never fear! We’ve collected a diverse array of our favorite East Bay soups to warm body and soul and give you a reason to leave the neighborhood. Here are six of our favorites, but the East Bay has so much interesting food we’ve certainly missed some great soups. Tell us about yours in the comments below!
China Village, Albany
At Albany Szechuan restaurant China Village, you’ll find something for everyone from picky kids to adventurous foodies. If you’re going for soup, don’t miss “West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth” — truly a king among soups. It arrives covered in dried chili peppers (OK, not 1000, but dozens), which your server will remove to reveal white fish and cellophane noodles. The fish is melt-in-your-mouth soft. The broth is rich without being greasy and pleasantly spicy from its coat of chilis. This writer has successfully shared the soup with groups ranging from two to six or seven. But beware: the soup is slippery. Don’t be embarassed if the attentive wait staff has to help you dish up seconds. China Village is at 1335 Solano Ave. (at Ramona Avenue), Albany. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
Taqueria Campos, Fruitvale
One recent Sunday the sky was spitting, the temperature was slightly too cold for my jacket and my toes were going steadily numb as I waited outside for a table in Fruitvale’s tiny Taqueria Campos. The smells of chicharrones and carnitas tempted me sorely. Taqueria Campos has a trifecta of incredible soups and stews — pozole, menudo and birria — as well as a few other menu items that I’ll have to go back to sample. But I knew I was here for the pozole, and boy was I glad I stayed on mission. Broths were perfectly spiced. Meat and hominy were perfectly tender. My feet warmed right up. The homemade tortillas that came with the birria were incredibly both thin and fluffy and hot off the griddle. Highly recommended for any time, but extra satisfying on a blustery winter day! Tip: the taqueria is cash only. Taqueria Campos is at 3659 Foothill Blvd. (at Harrington Avenue), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
Champa Garden, East Oakland
Champa Garden is a little restaurant and its menu is huge. It’s also got a serious following in East Oakland and beyond. But let’s focus here: this review is about their chicken noodle soup. On the menu it goes by “chicken lao’s noodle soup,” and it probably deserves some sort of comfort food award. There’re homemade noodles swimming in a broth that’s little richer than standard stock, plus tender chicken meat and plenty of sauce options if spice is your thing. Adventurous Yelpers swear that Champa Garden’s Laotian dishes are the real deal — and totally classic — all in one bowl. Champa Garden is at 2102 8th Ave. (at E 21st Street), Oakland. Connect with restaurant on Facebook.
Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Gourmet Ghetto
Of course Berkeley’s best Jewish deli has a few standby soup options, including chicken soup with matzo balls that’s available year-round. If you’re really hungry, try Saul’s turkey or chicken in a pot, available at brunch, lunch and dinner. An upgrade to their matzo ball soup, this dish verges on stew, with chicken or turkey meat and egg noodles in addition to matzo balls. It’s listed with soups, salads and starters but make no mistake — the pot is big. In true Saul’s style, it’s both filling and fresh. Real winter comfort food. Tip: Supplies seem to vary a bit day to day. Ask your server whether you’ll be getting chicken, turkey, or maybe a mix of both. Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen is at 1475 Shattuck Ave. (at Vine Street), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, Chinatown
The standard rice noodle dishes at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles aren’t soup in the strictest sense of the word — the broth comes separate from the noodle-and-meat bowls. But this spot in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown is one of, if not the only, place to get guilin rice noodles, a dish little known in this country but a famous regional cuisine throughout China. The main attraction here are the bowls full of chewy rice noodles, green onions, pickled toppings and a wide selection of meats. Crispy pork, salty beef and brisket were all delectable and hearty on a recent rainy day. But the really special dish here is a mild broth, made of louhan fruit and licorice, among other things, that you can drink straight as a palate cleanser, or use to clear out the remnants of your bowl. A little tangy and very slightly milky, it’s a standout addition to this soup list. Classic Guilin Rice Noodles is at 261 10th St. (between Alice and Harrison streets), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
The Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop, Temescal
A classic: tomato soup and grilled cheese (pictured, top). And you’ll find no frills or newfangled additions to this comfort food combo at The Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop — though they do make the tomato soup with PBR. The soup is a pretty bright red, smooth but not creamy, and pleasantly peppery. And the grilled cheese? Perfect bread to cheese ratio and, on a recent test, toasted just enough to stand up to dipping. Also, be sure to check out the daily soups, specialty sandwiches and, of course, the cheese. There’s limited indoor and sidewalk seating, but the crowd is usually in and out quickly. Perfect for a hot lunch on a cold day. The Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop is at 4935 Shattuck Ave. (at 51st Street), Oakland. Connect with the shop on Facebook.