We all like soup. It's OK. Nothing to be embarrassed about. It's hot, delicious and filled with the meats and/or veggies that we love. I know people love soup and that Bend is a bit of a Soup Town, USA, but when I asked people on Facebook what restaurant in Central Oregon made their favorite soup, I certainly wasn't expecting 120+ comments that ranged from hot and cleansing pho to multiple dueling clam chowders.
Irish Stew at Rockin' Daves
I should get this out of the way up front: my personal favorite is the Irish Stew from Rockin' Dave's. It's not always on the menu, so when you finally luck out and get the giant bowl of thick creamy broth filled with pastrami, corned beef, corn and other assorted goodies fresh from Dave's chopping block, the proper response is to rejoice. Whenever it's their soup of the day, I go back every single day until it's gone. I know. Accept me.
Steelhead Chowder at Drake
As I am thorough when it comes to eating food, I had to try the Chicken and Dumpling soup from Drake, as everyone told me it would make angels weep. This must have been true because they were long since sold out, leaving me to try the Steelhead Chowder instead, which tasted like that selfsame angel's sweet, sweet tears. The trout was perfectly cooked and the broth was thick without being heavy on the belly. Drake was seriously cutting into my love of the Irish Stew.
Cilantro Chicken Chowder at Bend Soup Company
But what makes a soup good? How come I try so hard to make delicious soup but it always tastes like burnt candy wrappers and shame? Dave Johns of the ridiculously-delicious Bend Soup Company (seriously, their Cilantro Chicken Chowder is painfully perfect), tries to explain it to me. "It's all about fresh ingredients along with a balance of spices and ingredients," says Johns. "Layers of spices and ingredients that make it difficult for the customer to know what makes it so amazing and gives it that WOW."
Clam Chowder at Parilla Grill
Parrilla's clam chowder is also legendary. It's simple and without fanfare, but quietly makes your mouth burn from the fiery Stash Sauce and also from the instant desire for another bowl. I asked Parrilla's Nova Aguiniga what makes their chowder so addictive and her answer was cryptic, yet appropriate. "So much time and love goes into making that chowder, we don't cut any corners and I think that shows," says Aguiniga. "The best ingredient is the Stash. That's what makes it." This still doesn't help me steal their recipe.
How about Bethlyn Rider from Global Fusion? She must have the answers. "I make pretty darn good soup," says Rider. "Secret. Salty, sour, sweet and spice. Even amounts. Lots of vegetables caramelized or roasted, great rich simmering stock, roasted garlic, bay leaves, kaffir leaves and tender meats." TENDER MEATS!! I love tender meats!
Tom Kah, Tom Saap and Khao Tom at Wild Rose
The answers I received from Facebook were all over the map. Someone even said Bend didn't have any good soups! That's crazy. Has this person tried all of them? I know they're objectively wrong because we live in a town that has Wild Rose's Tom Kah, Tom Saap or (my personal favorite) the Khao Tom. Seriously, the Khao Tom rice soup with ground pork, fish sauce and a poached egg is the finest breakfast soup I have ever had, while also being the only one I can possibly imagine. Hangovers are gone instantly.
Others People Love
Soup is so relative to how you're feeling that no wonder it's hard for people to decide which one is the best. Nickol Hayden-Cady of Foxtail says it's the Curry Black Bean with housemade Nan from Bangarang. Several people swear by the tomato bisque from Village Baker, while even more folks say the French Onion from 900 Wall is off the chain. My personal favorite answer was from Phillip Sinclair: "The inside out grilled cheese with tomato soup from Real Food Bistro is the truth."
Regardless of your truth or my truth, the one thing we can all agree on is soup is better than everything- including puppies, sunsets and a child's laughter. In such a time of division and strife, it's nice to know that soup has our back. Soup will never let us down. It only wants to make us warm.
661 NE Greenwood Ave., Bend
801 NW Wall St., Bend
The Bend Soup Company
30 SW Century Dr., Bend
635 NW 14th St., Bend
Bethlyn's Global Fusion
1289 NE Second St., Bend
(moving soon to 1075 NW Newport Ave., Bend)
Wild Rose Thai
150 NW Oregon Ave., Bend