The whole world loves chicken soup, and at the first hint of cold weather, there's nothing more appealing to the taste buds than a piping hot bowl of it. But not all chicken soups are alike, especially when it comes to the tasty Latin American versions courtesy of those glorious countries south of the border. Our friends down south tend to mix it up with a variety of ingredients, which usually—but don't always—include chicken, garbanzo beans, pasta, onions, carrots, potatoes, yucca, cilantro, onions and lime. You'd be surprised at how one country's take differs from another—even when they're plugging in the same dang ingredients!
Peru: Machu Picchu
In a word: luscious
Chicago's latest ode to Peruvian cuisine is a little slow on the service (everything is made to order) and higher in the dollar range than it should be, but we forgave all its faults when the server delivered the prettiest chicken soup we've ever seen. The color alone, a bright green, almost algae-like hue, produced belly-thumping shock waves. Clearly great care went into preparing this glossy soup, gushing with potatoes, green and red peppers, all-white-meat chicken strips (no bones here), white rice and perky peas. Accompanied by a bowl of crusty bread, nose tingling avocado spread and some fresh lime, it's the perfect salute to the long worshiped—and long gone—Incan empire.
Colombia: Los Niches
In a word: mouthwatering
Braving the tasty pleasure chest that is North Clark Street can be a madhouse on the mind, but this tiny family-owned Colombian storefront, sandwiched in a sea of Mexican joints, has the homemade goods to satiate all day, every day. It doles out more of a hearty stew than a simple soup, and its house special showcases chicken soup at its very finest. Each made-from-scratch bowl pops with whole pieces of melt-in-your-mouth chicken on the bone, finger-long slices of corn on the cob and chunks of yucca and potato. A huge pile of white rice, along with sliced avocado, salsa verde and fresh lime, rounds out the $5.95 steal of a meal; for a couple extra bucks, you can chow on a hand-slapped queso arepa. This rustic wonder of a soup can only be had on Mondays, so plan your week accordingly.
Mexico: Huaraches Restaurant
In a word: flawless
In a nation known for its ubiquitous, street-savvy chickens, it's not surprising the locals deal with the pesky birds by slinging them on the chopping block and making good old-fashioned soup. This open-wide kitchen has indeed mastered the art of pollo soup, but it's the small side of classic Mexican ingredients that makes it stand out. A refreshing plate of chopped cilantro, diced onions and fresh limes come cradled alongside the steaming meal-in-a-bowl, bursting with whole chicken hunks and starchy veggies. It's not so much the soup as it is the actual dressing of it that takes the homespun flavors to a whole new level.
El Salvador: Pupuseria Las Delicias
In a word: yummy
Now that this pupusa-making juggernaut has found a more spacious home, we're happy to report back that the pupusas, stuffed hand-made corn tortillas, are still as heavenly as ever; the new couch-sportin' dining room is four times the size of the old one; and cheery splashes of bright color assault the eyes upon entry. Compared to the others, the popular chicken soup here most closely resembles the traditional Americanized version. The broth is literally showered with bits of carrot, potato, celery, herbs and rice, with noodles floating around in it, too! These loco El Salvadorians have gone buck wild and tossed in multiple starches, but bless them in their discovery; though usually considered a no-no, the potato-rice-noodle mix really does make a belly proud.
Cuba: La Unica
In a word: honest
We could wax on and on about the jewel that is La Unica. Killer cortado (espresso with just a small hit of milk and sugar) and cafe con leche, haunting Cuban tamales and a cute-as-a-button staff make this cafeteria-style restaurant in the rear of a small bodega one of our all-time favorites. And when it comes to chicken soup, the busy bee cooks here don't let us down. On some afternoons, the gargantuan, often overflowing bowl of sopa de pollo rolls out chock full of garbanzos; on other days, the soup, which is actually light on the chicken, might have a slew of slippery noodles floating around in it. Either way, the atmosphere is so homey and satisfying, we just quaff away, sit back and soak up the show.