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Desert Companion

The dish: Liquid courage

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Photo credit: Sabin Orr

Whether you crave soulful satisfaction or a shock of spice, dip into these six soups

Though the temperature can dip to freezing and our winter winds can inspire a certain unique misery, real Las Vegans look forward to this cold season. (As long as it’s a short one.) It allows us activities that don’t make sense during most of our desert existence, things like wearing comfy sweaters and using our fireplaces for more than ironic mood-setting.

And of course, it’s time for soup. Just thinking about diving into a mammoth bowl of fragrant, funky pho, chunky clam chowder, or steaming, soulful, grilled-cheese-shotgun-riding tomato soup can make you feel warmer and happier. The Campbell’s people understated it: Soup is more than good food, it’s medicinal. It’s the reason the word “soothing” exists, but you don’t have to be coughing or sneezing for full appreciation. It’s the cure for being a hungry human.

But remember: You’re a grown-up. A can opener and a hot stove isn’t enough to get the job done anymore. Consider the following to be your seasonal soup prescription, six bowls of better-than-home-cooking love, and expect this dose to cure whatever your condition may be.

Start. Your. Spooning.

Matzoh ball soup at Bagel Cafe

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Matzoh Ball Soup at Bagel Café

The Summerlin-area, New York-style delicatessen has set the standard for an almost unbelievable 16 years. Of course, matzoh ball soup has been solving our problems since the Ten Commandments came out. But no Vegas restaurant does it better than Bagel Café, where even a “small cup” of soup is packed tightly with big chunks of vegetables, hunks of long-stewed, juicy chicken and tender noodles, all swimming in savory golden elixir that may or may not provide reptilian-like regenerative powers to those partaking. Of course, the dense, flavor-absorbing matzoh ball is the center of this soupy solar system, satiating your hunger while the broth quenches your being. This soup is an everyday medication, a take-as-necessary situation. (301 N. Buffalo Drive, 255-3444)

Roast SoupPan Roast at Texas Station’s Oyster Bar

The casino oyster bar is something of a lost art these days, but luckily Station Casinos and a few others are keeping this casual, delicious dining option alive. Lots of folks swear by the grub at Palace Station’s seafoodery, but the pan roast — brandy, cream, and spicy-as-you-like-it tomato sauce laced with shrimp, crab and lobster — at Texas Station’s oyster bar is just as great and not as packed. Some of you might try to say this thicker, silkier concoction is more stew than soup. I say: Shut up. It’s a vibrant mouth rainbow, sweet and briny seafood mingling with warm, velvety richness to create something unique and memorable. A pan roasts saturates while it soothes. It’s soup for when you deserve to indulge. (Texas Station, 2101 Texas Star Lane, 631-1000)

Soy oh boy: Shoko Ramen-ya's shoyu ramen bowl

Ramen at Shoku Ramen-ya

Real ramen — an artful, authentic Japanese delight, not a noodle brick in a plastic package — arrived in Las Vegas when Chinatown’s splendid Monta opened almost three years ago. Since then, we’ve enjoyed a bit of a ramen boom, and the most recently opened, utterly delicious ramen house, Shoku, comes from the team behind the popular Bachi Burger. Unlike Bachi’s fusiony approach, it’s back to the pure basics at Shoku, which translates into clean, luxurious broth, slurpable noodles and perfect toppings to add some sparkle to your face. Stick to the lighter side with shoyu (soy) or spicy miso broth, or pig out with the buta-san ramen, tonkotsu (pork) broth layered with noodles, three kinds of pork, green onions, tender bamboo shoots and black garlic oil. When you want to be warm and full for several days, Shoku’s your spot. (470 E. Windmill Lane #110, 897-0978)

Bun Bo Hue at Pho Bosa

Bosa 1 was our best Vietnamese restaurant when it was on Jones Boulevard, so now that it’s moved east on Spring Mountain (closer to the Strip) and added lots of rejuvenating pho to the menu, I guess it’s better than the best. When you return, take the opportunity to step your game up to volcanically spicy bun bo hue, another beef noodle soup with some extra special components. We’re talking copious amounts of lemongrass adding some edge to the beefy broth, tender chunks of pork and beef shank, and cubes of ginger-infused pork blood with beyond-umami depth. You don’t want your soup to be scary? Fighting through the fear is worth these titanic flavors and an immediate end to your hangover. (3355 Spring Mountain Road #35, 418-1931)

Consome Loco at Los Antojos

Starting to notice a trend? Tiny ethnic enclave equals superb soup. Different neighborhood, different cuisine, different hole-in-the-wall, same maximum satisfaction. The only thing crazy about the consome loco at Los Antojos, a Mexico City-style restaurant popular among adventurous foodies, is how cheap it is. A few measly dollars gets you a big bowl of seemingly simple ingredients (chicken, rice, cilantro, onion, avocado, lime) that somehow manage to synthesize into a meal you’ll wish you could have every day. Is this the Mexican version of matzoh ball soup? (2520 S. Eastern Ave., 457-3505)

Tom Kha Khai at Chada Thai & Wine

This intimate, culinarily thrilling new Thai restaurant is the only soup spot on this list not open for lunch. But nighttime is the right time, too, and Chada’s superior Tom Kha Khai is the best way to begin an exploration of this innovative menu. Shards of chicken and straw mushrooms dotting this creamy concoction give it a humble appearance, until you begin to work your way through the layers of taste in this light broth — coconut milk, of course, but then waves of ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and finally, the throat-tingling burn and smoky essence of those tiny bird’s-eye chilies. Order it as spicy as you can stand it and get those endorphins moving. (3400 S. Jones Blvd., 641-1345)

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