Seven delicious Pittsburgh soups to warm you up
Tsoup season does not exist: hot broths (as well as cold bubbling dishes) are enjoyable at any time of the year. But with temperatures cooling, even dropping below freezing for the first time since April, it’s time to celebrate the joy of Pittsburgh soups. These seven soups resonate with me for a variety of reasons. Some are restorative, some are nutritious, some are luxurious. All of them are delicious.
African Cuisine: Fresh Fish Pepper Soup
African Cuisine’s fresh fish and pepper soup in Squirrel Hill looks minimalist; it’s a piece of fishtail in a slightly cloudy sepia broth. It’s also a lesson in how deceptive appearances, as it’s one of the most alluring soup bowls in Pittsburgh right now. The fish is delicious – fresh, meaty sea bass on the bone. But it’s the heady broth that really appeals to me – a fish broth enhanced with an assortment of smoked and dried hot peppers, aromatics such as ginger and garlic, herbs such as lemongrass and thyme and spices (many of which, owner Saudat Lawal imports from Nigeria) such as grains of paradise, black cardamom, gourd nutmeg and cilantro. It’s a dizzying dollop of warmth, scent, and flavor that will cleanse your sinuses and energize you for whatever comes next in your day.
2032 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill; 412 / 307-0295, africaneatscuisine.com
Restaurant Kavsar Halal: Bortsch
Kavsar Halal Restaurant, the Uzbek restaurant opened by Hayrullo and Tahmina Umaraliev in 2014, is Pittsburgh’s low-key haven. Mount Washington Restaurant has eight to ten homemade soups on the menu anytime, reflecting all the rich culinary traditions of the Silk Road country at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. Of these soups, borscht (listed as borch on the menu) is my favorite, although I’m also a big fan of Kavsar’s mastava, a classic Uzbek soup with beef, vegetables, rice and chickpeas. Borscht is a polarizing soup, and that should change as it is nourishing and delicious. Kavsar does my favorite version in Pittsburgh. Here the beetroot soup has a base of beef broth (some varieties of borscht are vegetarian, but this one is not) and tender pieces of beef, beets, cabbage, potato and of carrots. There is a nice hint of vinegar and a dollop of sour cream adds a tangy sweetness to the soup. The Kavsar dining hall is currently closed; all orders placed online or by phone are take out.
16 Southern Ave., Mount Washington; 412 / 488-8708, kavsar.company.site
Tram cuisine: Pho Gà
Tram’s Kitchen, owned by Le Thao and Truong Bac Cuc, started serving tasty Vietnamese food from Pittsburgh, including a variety of pho, in 1997. I enjoy the different beef pho they make, but the pho from Tram chicken (pho gà) has long been my favorite restaurant dish. The fragrant chicken broth bowl is packed with tender chunks of chicken meat, rice noodles and crunchy raw onions. I like to spice up mine with a few dashes of fish sauce and a dollop of hot garlic sauce and, of course, garnish it with jalapeño peppers, Thai basil, cilantro and bean sprouts which are served with the Soupe. Here’s some exciting news and might indicate a revisit of a Tram if it’s been a while since you’ve stopped at this classic Pittsburgh restaurant (and a prompt for those of you who haven’t been): When i had dinner there the other week, Tram felt like he was going through some kind of revival – the energy in the small dining room was amazing… and the pho gà was the best i have ever had prepare there.
4050 Penn Avenue, Bloomfield; 412 / 682-2688
Osteria dish and Bar: Maccu di Fave
The beauty of most dishes at Dish Osteria and Bar is rooted in how Executive Chef / Co-Owner Michele Savoia embraces the philosophy that honest celebration of quality ingredients is at the heart of a delicious meal. The most recent expression of its Sicilian culinary roots is maccu di fave, a bean soup added to the menu when the beloved restaurant reopened in late September. It’s proven to be so popular that Savoia says it’s a new mainstay at Dish (and Dish 3.0’s first major menu change). Savoia simmers dried Sicilian beans with fennel, onion and garlic, strain and puree the cooked beans and herbs, then mix in enough flavorful bean broth to achieve a silky consistency. The vegetarian soup is topped with ricotta salata, fennel leaves and olive oil before serving. It’s earthy, nutrient-dense, and healthy, and I’m happy it’s now part of the regular rotation (although I’m also looking forward to the return of clam shell soup, saffron zuppa di vongole).
128 S. 17th St., south side; 412 / 390-2012, discoteria.com
Asian restaurant Sagun: mutton soup
The Bhutanese refugee community of Pittsburgh has opened a handful of restaurants specializing in Bhutanese-Nepalese cuisine in recent years. The most recent addition to these South Hills restaurants is the Asian Restaurant Sagun. Owners Sachin Kunwav and Deepshika Ghimire opened the establishment in Baldwin Borough in July. Over the past few months, they’ve added a bunch of items to their menu, which at first was mostly limited to momo (they serve my favorite local version of the Himalayan dumpling). I had a bowl of mutton soup the other day – dig in the earthy, warmly spicy (and slightly spicy) soup with chunks of organic mutton simmered in a mixture of mashed tomatoes, onions and chili, turmeric and garam masala was just what I needed on a cool, sunny fall afternoon; there’s a lighter, tangier version of chicken that’s just as nice.
4871, boulevard Clairton, borough of Baldwin; 412 / 668-0357
Everyday noodles: pork soup with pickled mustard leaves
The pork with pickled mustard greens ranks up there with a matzo ball as my comforting soup. There are several tasty versions of Pan-Chinese soup in town, but my favorite is Everyday Noodles. “This soup, more than any restaurant dish in Pittsburgh, became my go-to when I felt the lonely blues of physical distancing measures,” I wrote of this soup in the 2021 best restaurants list of the Pittsburgh Magazine. Whether you’re feeling lonely or not, there is salvation in sipping fluffy, hand-pulled noodles from pork and chicken broth, where rich pieces of pork balance well with the lightly fermented flavor of bitter mustard greens. . I love crushing a bowl of it in restaurants and also love the way Everyday Noodles packs the components in separate containers so it’s perfectly prepared for assembly when you get it to go.
5875, avenue Forbes, Colline des Écureuils; 412 / 421-6668, daily noodles.net
Brothmonger: Soup of the week
Sarah McAlee, daytime funeral director, started Brothmonger in 2018 to express her culinary passions. She quickly built a following for her cabin business and moved her operation to Mayfly Market on the North Side in March. She makes at least two varieties of soup each week – one is always vegan or vegetarian – and they are available fresh and frozen at the market. McAlee dances around the world with his offerings and gets a feel for the seasons (and uses produce from local farms). McAlee’s curiosity and range means you’ll find everything from light vegan curried lentil soup with cumin and Kashmiri chili to hearty beef stew. Last week, for example, I enjoyed the tomato-based comfort with a bowl of vegan pasta and this and was captivated by the depth of flavor in the chicken pozole rojo. Of course, the short-lived nature of Brothmonger means these soups are already off the menu, but the latest offerings (vegan black beans and Hungarian mushrooms) seem equally enticing.
Mayfly Market: 1327 Arch Street, North Side; 412 / 322-1300, mayflypgh.com, brothmonger.com, instagram.com/brothmonger