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Quick! Before the weather gets warm again – order a bowl of ‘sopa’

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By Anita Mabante Leach

A portion of posole might even fend off the flu.

Chalk it up to global warming, but it seems most of Arizona dips into the frostier temperatures only one month of the year.

Thankfully, there are nearly five weeks in January 2007, allowing us ample opportunity to enjoy the wintry soups our Latino culture has survived on for hundreds of years. In an interview with a local aficionado, we’ve developed a list of restaurants where some of the best examples can be found.

At Rosita’s Place, 2310 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix, customers order the cocido year-round. The chunks of beef are so tender, as is the just-cooked vegetables (potatoes, carrots and small, chopped cobs of corn) swimming in a clear broth flavored with onions and garlic.

Arriba Mexican Grill (various Valley locations), serves a posole that features the familiar sting of Hatch green chilies. (It’s comforting to know the pleasure is worth the pain – all that Vitamin C helps you ward off winter illnesses.) Sliced radishes, raw, shredded cabbage, limes and cilantro are served alongside for customers to pile on. Our aficionado prefers to add whole beans to her homemade version; called gallina pinta, it features all the toppings, plus a nice pico de gallo salsa.

Sometimes when you order albondigas at a restaurant, you can be disappointed at being served only a few of the luscious meatballs. Not so at El Portal, 117 W. Grant St., Phoenix, where the meaty soup is served with a side of rice and a tortilla. You’ll enjoy a slightly thicker broth here, populated with carrots and onions. If you don’t care to eat red meat, try the restaurant’s caldo de queso, which is basically a potato-and-vegetables soup laced with melted cheese.

If El Portal is busy, try driving south to Comedor Guadalajara, 1830 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, where a small cup of sopa is served with many of the lunches. The tomato-flavored broth is a perfect foil for the corkscrew pasta that floats throughout, making it a tasty forerunner to the meal ahead. The Friday Special is cocido de res, served with rice and a tortilla. Perhaps the restaurant’s most famous soup, though, is its caldo de siete mares, a spicy seafood sopa featuring shrimp, lobster, octopus, calamari, clams and mussels.

You might prefer casuela, a soup made with dried beef, green chile and cubed vegetables. Our aficionado says her mother used to hang the beef to dry, then tenderized it by wielding a molcahete to pound the seasonings into the meat. Garlic, crushed tomatoes, green chile and onion were added to the meat and cooking water. Her recommendation: try casuela at El Minuto Café, 354 S. Main or 8 N. Kolb Road, Tucson.

Last, but not least, is menudo, that comforting concoction that makes a hangover simmer down. Our aficionado likes to visit Mixteca, 1501 N. 43rd Ave., Phoenix, after church on Sunday to enjoy a bowl of red or white menudo. There’s just something about the hominy-laden sopa that seems so homemade, like your nana would make.  Don’t show up later than noon or the menudo will be gone. And since it’s January, you’ll want to make sure your bowl is filled with luck, as well as something good to eat.

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