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La Especial Norte tops our local places for great soup list

David Boylan

The Albondiga (meatball), pork pozole, and creamy sopa Tarasca at La Especial Norte
The Albondiga (meatball), pork pozole, and creamy sopa Tarasca at La Especial Norte. Photo David Boylan

It’s officially soup season in San Diego. The blustery weather has us all bundled up and craving something warm and comforting. I say that somewhat in jest, but it’s all relative right? Regardless of what your idea of winter weather is, once we get into December, soup is at the top of my mind and I’m seeking it out and making it on a weekly basis.

Around coastal North County, when soup is mentioned, the plethora of Mexican offerings usually tops the conversation. And for good reason, I can count half a dozen places just in the Encinitas area that all serve up amazing comfort soup and a lot of them stem from the same family. That story is a column in itself though. La Especial Norte heads up the pack and rightfully so, their soups have been featured in Saveur Magazine and written about extensively. Their chicken soup sets the bar high, but they also feature seventeen other varieties that are all worth trying. On a recent visit we ordered three small soups including the pork pozole with succulent chunks of pork and hominy, albondiga with its tender meatballs, and sopa Tarasca, a creamy bean delight that I had not tried before. La Especial Norte is always busy and has a menu full of great Mexican cuisine and a full bar with some fun Margarita’s.

After La Especial Norte, there are a whole group of strong contenders in the Mexican soup category and I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed by any of these. I’ll start with Jorge’s and should point out that Jorge himself is considered the godfather of Mexican soup in the area and from whom many of the others owe their success. The soup is world class, but be prepared if you go at prime times for an extensive wait. Raul’s Shack in downtown Encinitas wins the cool location award on the corner of D Street and Coast Highway. They just serve chicken soup there and I would suggest the spicy version to give it a little kick. Raul’s also can be a bit of a wait, but it’s such a nice place to hang out it’s hardly noticed. Betty’s has a cult like following as well and Karina’s offers a shrimp soup that rocks. El Napalito does beef and chicken all week and menudo and pozole on the weekends. Newcomer Lourdes claims to have the best chicken soup in town which is quite a statement and one that as of this column going to press, I can’t comment on. And yes, there are more, but this is not just about Mexican soup so it’s time to move on to other worthy soups around.

I’ll take a short detour to Italy now and the minestrone at Trattoria i Trulli. The pesto, potato, and orecchiette pasta with no beans separate this from the typical minestrone I’ve become accustomed to. Give it a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese and enjoy. Shifting countries once again, head across the street from i Trulli to either Siamese Basil or Kim’s for their version of coconut soup. It’s just such a different taste sensation yet definitely can fit into the comfort category. Miso soup and pho can also prove to be comforting experiences, but I’ll leave those for a future column devoted just to those and the passions they evoke.

For now, I’ll get back to some of the more traditional offerings and for that, the Encinitas Café always has some solid house-made selections. Any of their bean soups are always very hearty and satisfying with the lima bean soup having won best in show at the Lima Bean Festival. A column about soup would not be complete without New England clam chowder represented and Fish 101 in Leucadia is my go-to for that these days. It’s the perfect consistency and the abundance of Manila clams and bacon give it a flavor that is rich and smoky and addicting. And don’t forget the oyster crackers.

This column follows the inaugural high school soup bowl competition that I featured last week that was won by the Fallbrook team with a chicken tortilla soup that is worthy of this list and that I happen to have the recipe for. If you are interested, please feel free to email me directly at david@artichoke-creative.com.

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