People have always known the supreme power of soup. According to culinary legend, the first official restaurant – opened in France in 1765 – was essentially a soup kitchen. Even the word "restaurant" comes from the history-making hotspot's main menu item: restorative broths.
Centuries later, soup still works its simmering magic, especially when the temperatures take a polar plunge and the winter wonderland of December turns into the icy hellscape of January and February. You can bundle up under layers upon layers of clothes, long underwear, scarves and more to the point that you can't put your arms down at your sides, but nothing can keep the soul warm on a skin-slappingly cold day like a good soup. And considering Wisconsin tends to take the brunt of mother nature's various polar vortexes and thunder-snows, good soup of all varieties is thankfully not hard to find.
To help, here are just a few of the city's stew-pendous soup-focused options to help keep you warm this winter.
1. Momo Mee
In addition to three ramen options – a spicy miso, a porky tonkotsu and an earthy shiitake – this Harbor District noodle and dumpling restaurant also has several other brothy bowls of bliss, including my personal favorite: the szechuan beef noodle soup. Sure, there's delectably tender beef and noodles, but the star is the broth, a beefy elixir that manages to be light and dark, umami rich and pricklingly bright thanks to the szechuan peppercorns bringing their uniquely tingly, mouth-electrifying spice to the party. It's a dish that'll wake you up and knock you into a food coma simultaneously.
If that's not enough, for those dining in, Momo Mee also offers the popular xiao long bao, more famously known in America by their translation: soup dumplings. Usually soup is a delivery device for dumplings, but these little traditional Chinese bundles of joy are the opposite, steamed doughy pockets hiding satisfyingly steamy broth. It's an impressive feat of age-old culinary science that's even more impressive when you're eating them – though, for newcomers, a tutorial is probably advised so you don't burn yourself and that it washes over your taste buds and not over the rest of you too.
So whether in a bowl or in a bao, Momo Mee has you covered for soup.
2. The Soup Market
This popular local chain may be bad at reality television, but it's excellent at soup. With four locations scattered across the city – from Bay View to Hales Corners, Vliet Street and Oak Creek – each with about seven or eight soups moving in and out of the menu every day, you're bound to find a brothy restorative that'll keep you warm when the weather is anything but.
And no matter how often you hit The Soup Market, you'll seemingly find a new tasty option to try every single day – whether you're craving a classic like chicken dumpling, New England clam chowder, chili of all nations and spice levels, or loaded baked potato soup, or you want to try some globe-trotting unexpected favorites like hoisin pork stew, soup inspired by Philly cheesesteaks, Polish pickle soup or Croatian sarma soup. There's seemingly an endless supply of soup ideas boiling around the Soup Market kitchen and rotating through the menu – and you'll want to dig a spoon into all of them.
3. Waterfront Deli
The long deli window of various exquisite meats and cheeses, hot plates and more may be the star at this Downtown staple (well that AND the fun little conveyor belt that delivers your food to the second level if you're dining in), but don't sleep on the soups behind the counter either. With a shifting trio of soups on the menu every day – all hearty and satisfying classics, from beef barley to chicken dumpling and more – Waterfront Deli almost certainly has an option that'll warm your soul when its namesake, the Milwaukee River, found just behind the eatery, is frozen over.
Pro tip: If you're landing here for lunch, get there early because this Downtown favorite grows a line quickly – and once you snack on its soups and classic deli sandwiches, whether on the run or in its uniquely artistic dining space, you'll understand why.
4. Cafe Zupas
8775 W. Sura Ln., (414) 209-1558
Sometimes, there's a reason why national chains are national chains: because they're good at what they do. That's the case with Cafe Zupas, which now has two locations around Milwaukee in Greenfield and Menomonee Falls. The popular lunch spot offers a menu of sandwiches and healthy protein-packed bowls, but obviously judging by the name, the star of the show is the soup – ranging from a classic chicken noodle to tomato basil to southwest potato and green chili and even one option representing our own fine state: a creamy Wisconsin cauliflower that's cheesy and rich – but hey, there's cauliflower in there too! Top it with some cheese and bacon, and you've got a good way to kill off the cold this winter. Plus, each order comes with a little dessert surprise: a chocolate-dipped strawberry!
If you want to warm up this frosty winter season, you could take a trip to Guadalajara, the Mexican city which is expected to be about 83 degrees today. Or you could take a much closer trip – just to Walker's Point – to Guadalajara, the wonderful Mexican restaurant where, along with their menu of delicious authentic classics, they also serve up several soul-warming traditional soups perfect for bringing some much-needed close-to-the-Equator heat to our northern chill. In addition to their filling beef and chicken soups, Guadalajara simmers up two outstanding renditions of Mexican favorites: an intensely earthy and peppery menudo, or beef tripe soup, as well as an outstanding pozole that's a little spicy, a little tart and a lot satisfying with fatty chunks of pork and tenderly snappy hominy kernels adding to the richly flavorful broth. No matter whether you get the red or the green pozole – or one of Guadalajara's other solid soups – you'll feel your temperature happily rise without having to travel to warmer climes.
6. The Ladle Lady
The Ladle Lady may be a ghost kitchen, but there's nothing to be scared of when it comes to this local soup caterer. The food business may not have a physical dine-in/pick-up location – a growing trend across the U.S., especially during the COVID pandemic – but it has plenty of scrumptious and soul-soothing quarts of soup freshly made and ready to deliver on weekdays right to your door. That's right: Not only do you get warmed up by good soup, but you don't even have to leave the house to get it! The Ladle Lady shakes up the menu every week with new bowls and salads so there's always a new soup-rise waiting to knock at your door. Order either over the phone or at The Ladle Lady's website.
7. Amaranth Bakery & Cafe
The baked goods at this Walnut Hill hot spot typically steal the show – so much so that Lori picked Amaranth as her favorite bakery in the city back in 2019 – but the soups at this neighborhood cafe are no slouch either. The reshuffling soup menu at this breakfast-and-lunch hangout – named after the increasingly popular, versatile and gluten-free ancient grain – range from chicken vegetable with wild rice to chicken chili verde to a Turkish lentil, just to name a few of the bowls ready to warm up your winter. Combined with one of the restaurant's vibrantly flavor-packed housemade brioches – and, of course, finished off with a fresh baked sweet treat – and you're ready to fight off the frost. (But maybe not shovel the snow quite yet, because that's hard work, and you should rest that hearty meal off anyways.)
Slurp away the snow with Kawa and their delicious bowls of ramen. You could go with the classic tonkotsu option, that beloved rich porky broth piled with islands of succulent pork belly, fatty soft-boiled egg, refreshingly snappy bamboo shoots and sweet corn, chewy wood ear mushrooms (so good even a mushroom hater like myself eats them up) and tender noodles. Then there's also the excellent garlic miso option.
However, we're talking about battling the legendarily dastardly Wisconsin winter weather here; desperate times call for desperate – but still delicious – measures. So the obvious choice is the hellfire ramen, featuring all of those tasty standard toppings but cranked up to eleven with spicy broth, chili threads and chili oil – a combination bringing enough burn that it required a stop on our heat-seeking Burning Through Brew City mission. There are three levels of spice, so no matter your palate, you can be singed to your satisfaction. It may be called hellfire ramen, but it's heaven on a icy day.
What's the best deli item? Well, that's a debate that could rage as long as the concept of a deli has existed. But the best deli item for a cold, crappy winter's day? That conversation's over fast: matzo ball soup. And one of the best places for a meal of matzo ball soup is the Milwaukee Jewish deli staple Benji's – though if you're for some strange reason not a maniac for matzo, the iconic restaurant also offers its comforting chicken broth with rice, noodles or kreplach as well. Or, heck, because cold Wisconsin winters are hard enough without having to make hard decisions, why not pick all of the above packed into one bowl with Benji's mish mosh soup. Have a spoonful of this favorite, or one of the other cozy classics like chili, cabbage borscht and mushroom barley, and remind yourself what warmth feels like on a cold day – and remind yourself why Benji's has been a part of local culinary legend for more than half a century.
10. Stone Bowl
1958 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 220-9111
Any place can serve up hot soup, but Stone Bowl can serve up hot soup in even hotter bowls. The East Side restaurant's name comes from its famed way of heating up its stone dishes to boggling levels so your brothy meal arrives bubbling, gurgling and steaming like a sauna – so much so it works not only as a delicious restorative but also as a wonderful way to open one's pores.
Once your done savoring the steam, though, the soul-snuggling experience has just begun as you dive into the actual food and enjoy the rich, immensely flavorful soup or noodle dish radiating all that warmth – whether you get the jjam-pong seafood noodle stew or the yook-gae-jang with shredded flank steak. And if you're really desperate for any kind of heat you can get, both of those options will bring the spice and make your palate sweat. Also: We're just saying there's an item at Stone Bowl called "hangover soup" ... just in case you need to fight off more than just cold weather.
The brick-and-mortar hotspot for Wisconsin Soup Company, Loup ladles out a fresh collection of brothy restoratives every day – from comforting classics to refreshed frost-fighting favorites, all made with an eye on locally-sourced ingredients. My recommendation? If the Wisconsin beer cheese soup is on the menu, snatch it up. It may sound simple and standard, but as I learned on my Soup Saturday exploration, it's a staple made stupendously – creamy, rich and flavorful but without being clumpy or claggy. Plus, it contains one of the ultimate Wisconsin winter survival tools: Spotted Cow.
But no matter which type you get – and no matter if you get it ladled up piping hot right there in the cafe or take home a frozen quart to simmer up and enjoy later – Loup's offerings are so tasty it'll throw you for a ... well, you know. Plus, they've got a full menu of delicious sandwiches worth dipping and digging into alongsisde your bowl of choice. Soup and a sandwich? Not even Wisconsin winters can hold up against that culinary dream team.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.