When winter strikes, as it has in Denver (with a vengeance), nothing warms the belly quite like a bowl of soup, a hearty stew, a steaming chowder or a bubbling hot pot. Here are eight of our favorites that are guaranteed to ward off winter's chill.
New England clam chowder from Blue Island Oyster Bar
An ultra-creamy, salty and hearty New England–style clam chowder is easily one of our favorite indulgences on a blustery day, and given the opportunity, we could probably down a vat of chef DJ Nagle's superb version of the East Coast classic. But since a vat, sadly, isn't an option, we'll settle for a mug bobbing with a virtual ocean of fresh clams and elevated by a duo of pudgy, rough-edged clam cakes that, truth be told, we love dunking into the chowder.
2625 E. Second Ave.; 303-333-2462
Cioppino from Blackbelly Market
While the origins of cioppino suggest that it's a poor man's stew, there's nothing remotely meager about the cioppino at Blackbelly Market, Hosea Rosenberg's excellent Boulder restaurant. Here, the classic San Francisco–style stew, perfumed with saffron, fennel, garlic and Pernod, is buoyant with mussels, littleneck clams and Oregon ruby shrimp and topped with a fillet of Colorado baby striped bass that's seared on the plancha, a cooking method that produces a super-crispy skin. It's served with grilled ciabatta and a side of rouille. If there's a downside, it's that Rosenberg only offers it on Sunday, and quantities are limited.
1606 Conestoga St., Boulder; 303-247-1000
Hot pot from Yum Yum Spice
Yum Yum Spice, an intriguing Sichuan restaurant near the University of Denver college campus, should be at the forefront of any conversation that includes Chinese hot pot, specifically Chinese dry hot pot, which is similar to the soup-based hot pot, except that the bubbling cauldron, which sits above a flickering flame, doesn't involve nearly as much liquid. This is a good thing, because it means that the broth hasn't been diluted with water — and the absence of water makes for a much more flavor-bombed hot pot. Another difference: the ingredients are dropped into the pot before it arrives, which eliminates the need to twiddle your chopsticks while you wait for the meats and vegetables to cook.
2039 S. University Blvd.; 720-542-9921
Onion bliss soup from Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
There are few things more enticing on a brisk winter day than a bowl of French onion soup at Chop Shop. The broth — rich, rustic and aromatic from a blend of veal and chicken stocks underpinned with brandy, soy, Worcester sauce and a bouquet garni of thyme and bay leaves — floats with sweet yellow onions and arrives topped with melted Gruyère. Chef-owner Clint Wangsnes calls the soup — which is served in a cast-iron vessel alongside a large toasted crouton (ideal for dunking) — his "72-hour, slow-cooked onion bliss," a title it wholeheartedly deserves.
4990 E. Colfax Ave.; 720-550-7665
Lamb chili from Ophelia's Electric Soapbox
Just about everything at Ophelia's Electric Soapbox is a little offbeat, and that extends to chef Daniel Asher's menu that, while familiar on the surface, features preparations that are innovative and surprising –– the Colorado lamb chili, for example. Here, the rich and robust dish is a medley of kidney beans, calabacitas, snippets of fresh chives, wild black rice, ground lamb and feta cream, all whipped up in a cast-iron skillet.
1215 20th St.; 303-993-8023
Butternut squash soup from Mercantile Dining & Provision
If you're looking for a cold-weather wonderment that's nothing short of astounding, Mercantile's butternut squash soup is your muse. It's an elegant tableside preparation that involves a beautifully creamy butternut squash bisque sweetened with apples, clusters of pumpkin seeds and amaranth (tiny golden seeds), apple-and-chile marmalade, pickled ribbons of butternut squash, clouds of sheep skyr mousse and dots of pumpkin oil. In a nutshell: this is a soup that makes you want to high-five Old Man Winter. Bring on the snow.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 720-460-3733
Steak chili from Elway's
While Elway's is apotheosized for its slabs of prime-grade steer, the terrific steak chili deserves its own entourage of enthusiastic disciples. And come January, when the football playoffs and Super Bowl take center stage (the steakhouse is named for former quarterback John Elway), a brick-red bowl of chef Aniedra Nochols's winter warmer, fragrant with roasted and ground chiles, textured with masa and served with fried tortilla chips, sour cream, grated cheddar and red onions, isn't just a score; it's an in-your-face touchdown.
2500 E. First Ave.; 303-399-5353
Chicken tortilla soup from North County
At North County, the build-your-own chicken tortilla soup, a super-flavorful bowl of Southwest-inspired nourishment, is jazzed up with all sorts of accoutrements: ribbons of tri-colored tortillas, chopped serrano chiles, cilantro, scallions, grated cheese, pico di gallo and a lime wedge. As the seasons turn and the sniffles start, it's a surefire cure for whatever ails you.
94 Rampart Way; 720-532-0106