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Five Caldos in the ‘Hood to Get You Through Cold Weather in L.A.

10:22 AM PST on December 28, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]ately, the colder weather, aka, flu season, in Los Ángeles has intensified the anxiety and hyper-awareness on avoiding COVID-19. For some of us, rare cold weather in L.A. simply means caldos—in all their variations and glory. 

    Whether the comforting dish is eaten to warm up, relieve the symptoms of the common cold, or to invoke the tender emotions that conjure up only the heartfelt nostalgia that food can bring, we all love a hot bowl of tasty ingredients. 

    In Los Angeles, we’re lucky to have access to every kind of soup you can think of. This is my guide to my four favorite soups in and around East L.A. 

    Sopa de Fideo

    As a kid, certain meals were introduced to me in a classist way. If we had a good week, budget-wise, meat, cheese, and veggies were plentiful. We even got some fresh agua fresca de jamaica, limón, or homemade horchata on the side. 

    When times were tough, my ma would say, “Vamos a comer estilo pobre” (“we’re eating like we’re poor”); she’d reference her upbringing and essentially let us know that some days would be more challenging than others. Though a problematic saying, which should not be repeated not to trivialize communities and their relationships and access to food, I now understand my mom’s words reflected reality for many of us. Her teaching my brother and me how to make meals on a budget gets me through tough times still. 

    Sometimes this meant sopa de fideo, which I grew to love for the comforting dish that it is. 

    Sopa de fideo is particularly special because of the ways it can be kept simple or enhanced depending on what you have on hand. Though traditionally made with fideo-shaped pasta, sometimes it was alphabet-shaped pasta “sopa de letras,” or shells “sopa de conchitas”). Chicken bouillon powder, tomato sauce, garlic, and onion went a long way. However, it’s what you add after that makes it all the more special. 

    If available, my mom would add corn, chicken breast, or a bit of Monterey jack cheese to spruce the meager bowl up. Colonia Publica in Uptown Whittier provides warm bowls of fideo to guests with options to enhance the simple soup with premium ingredients ranging from black beans to crispy chicharrón, shrimp, and you can even add cilantro chutney! Chef Ricardo Diaz also makes the broth for his fideo the old fashioned way, by simmering bones for hours in a similar fashion to ramen. 

    Though my rule of thumb is to keep it simple, sopa de fideo or more commonly known to the ‘hood masses as “sopita,” will always be a favorite. 

    6715 Greenleaf Ave.

    Consomé de Barbacoa de Borrego

    Tacos de Hidalgo-style barbacoa simply do not taste the same if not paired with a bowl of the garbanzo bean-fortified caldo made from the lamb drippings as the lamb cooks. On some days, the consomé along with some lime, salsa, and a stack of tortillas are all you need, especially when they are as rich as the ones at El Borrego de Oro or La Barbacha. Brimming with subtly smokey and spicy flavors, the lamb broth is as fortifying as it gets. For an additional cost that is worth it, you can also ask for some extra meat to add to your consomé. 

    El Borrego de Oro: 2403 Whittier Blvd.

    La Barbacha: 2510 E Cesar E Chavez Ave.


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    Tom Kah

    Noodle World on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra is a bonafide ‘hood favorite. Before the pandemic, you would see diverse families from all over the San Gabriel Valley who would feast on their affordably priced and generously served family-style noodles dishes. 

    Whether you’re looking for pad thai, wonton noodle soup, or pho, there is a reason why its owner kept the Bob’s Big Boy statue to showcase in the middle of the restaurant. Noodle World is an Asian diner, and it has it all on the menu. 

    A favorite is their tom kah with either seafood or chicken. It comes with mushrooms, green onions, cilantro, and rice stick noodles in spicy coconut soup flavored with lemongrass, fish sauce, lime juice, and chili paste. This creamy soup is a perfect balance of citrusy, spicy, and lightly sweet flavors that will warm your soul and your belly on a warm day. 

    700 W Valley Blvd.

    Caldo de Res (Cocido)

    Caldo de res, or cocido as it is also called, is the kind of stew that tastes amazing during the cold season, but it also satisfies a bizarre craving during the Los Angeles heat waves, too.

    Caldos are traditionally paired with arroz Mexicano (Mexican-style rice) and tortillas. The hearty stew is made with beef shank, stewed for hours, and the beautiful union of different vegetables (zucchini, cabbage, tomato, onion, garlic, potato, carrot, corn, chayote) and cilantro. My favorite is and forever will be my mom’s, but if I am in a bind and looking for a hearty bowl, the local East Los Angeles taqueria La Que si Llena Restaurante Familiar comes through. I think the magic comes in the amount of time the shank is left to simmer with the right amount of salt, pepper, tomato, onion, and garlic. One sip and the taste of caldo done right will have you feeling like your grandmother, and maybe anestors, are hugging you tight! 

    An honorable mention also goes out to the famous cocido at Tila’s Kitchen by Salazar Park. It was a beloved favorite stew of the late Jonathan Gold. 

    3630 East Cesar E Chavez Ave.

    Photo via Saigon Flavor on Yelp.


    Any caldo that takes several hours to make will restore you, especially when it is born of roasted beef bones, charred onions, and warm spices. This combination is life-changing in my book. It is a fact that Latinos are crazy for pho. 

    I first tried pho with my mentor, Nam Ung, a brilliant educator who shaped much of my life values as they pertain to social justice, and much of my love for all good foods, too! Instead of having our meeting in a boring office on a cold afternoon, he whisked me away to San Gabriel to a place called Saigon Flavor. The broth’s scent is what immediately let me know that pho delivers an experience that hooks you. The star anise, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, and cloves joined with the simmered bones genuinely create a scent that covers my whole body with warmth. 

    I keep my order simple with rare beef slice pho. I go all-in with fresh limes, fresh jalapeno, and sweet Thai basil. Together, the flavors in one bite after squeezing in sriracha made me immediately want to share the experience with everyone in my life. Some of my other favorite places to grab a bowl are Saigon Eden and the esteemed Pho 86 in Chinatown. 

    This year has been nothing short of disrespectful, with the quarantine, tough political climate, and community tragedies. Make sure you take special care and bundle up for the winter that’s beginning to greet us. And remember,  support local when you’re in search of a bowl of your favorite soups.

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