The Food Depot, Northern New Mexico's food bank, recently presented its 25th annual Souper Bowl. The popular fundraiser supports The Food Depot's many programs, which include Food 4 Kids, Food 4 Pets and a mobile food pantry that distributes in 15 communities serving more than 5,800 people per month.

Obviously, the star of the Souper Bowl is … um, soup, and in this heated competition, everyone from celebrated chefs to catering companies to retirement community kitchens get the chance to show off their souper skills. More than 1,200 ticketed attendees get to vote on whose soup, an overall winner and in four categories, really rocked their palates.

It was a beautiful thing to join so many other fans of the simply complex thing that is soup. Because it's obviously more than good food; it can heal you when you're sick, it can defrost fingersicles, it can comfort a broken heart, it can make you popular at the potluck.

As Louis P De Gouy, foresighted author of The Soup Book, put it way back in 1949: "Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish. … It breathes reassurance; it steams consolation; after a weary day it promotes sociability, as the five o'clock cup of tea or the cocktail hour."

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Souper Bowl entries are simply a chance for kitchens that normally don't get to make soup to have some fun with it, or for caterers and private kitchens to show off their skills. The Souper Bowl winners for best cream soup and best seafood soup were retirement communities (El Castillo Life Plan Community and Kingston Residence of Santa Fe) and the winner of the savory soup category—and five-time overall champion—is a caterer. If you are lucky enough you'll catch this repeat champ, Chef Nath of Nath's Inspired Khmer Cuisine, at one of her pop-up dinners around town.

Which begs the question: Is it even possible to get any of these Souper Bowl-worthy soups in restaurants around town? The answer is yes, a few.

Social Kitchen + Bar (Santa Fe Sage Inn, 725 Cerrillos Road, 982-5952) was the big winner in the vegetarian soup category for its sweet corn chowder with green chile ($9). This one covered all the bases—rich, creamy, sweet and with a perfect slow chile burn. A fun twist is to add Gulf crab meat (+$5) for an even ridiculously richer flavor. It's a big bowl, accompanied by a side of additional green chile and buttery fried bread, so you might want to share if you're not looking to overindulge.

The Anasazi Restaurant (Inn of the Anasazi, 113 Washington St.,
988-3030)
 also served up a vegetarian soup that stood out and can be found on its lunch menu as a seasonal option ($9/$13). Chef Peter O'Brien's kabocha squash bisque is so fresh and flavorful, it tastes like it was plucked from the plant just minutes before. O'Brien is known for allowing the rich, natural colors and flavors of produce shine through in his dishes, and his soups are no different. In his words, this soup "embodies my vision of creating elevated American classics that use seasonal ingredients and interesting flavor combinations to create a truly unforgettable dining experience."

Another inspired version of squash-based soup, curry butternut squash and shrimp, came from Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen (1512 Pacheco St., 795-7383). Though that specific soup may not be on the menu, Sweetwater always has a fresh soup of the day on both lunch and dinner menus ($5/$8). They do with soup what they do with everything: manage to make healthy also rich and delicious.

Not at the Souper Bowl, but deserving of your attention, are these favorites: the sopa de amor ($16) at Sazón (221 Shelby St., 983-8604) and the green chile clam chowder ($5/$8) at
La Choza (905 Alarid St., 982-0909). Both soups are different, like our little
city. The sopa de amor is a mission impossible of flavors and textures—blue crab, poblano broth, Amaretto whipped cream and red chile dust that not only works, but works indescribably well. Which is probably how it got its name. No one can really describe love, but everyone wants it.

La Choza's green chile clam chowder is guaranteed to please. The traditional chowder base is rich, creamy and briny, a great counterpoint to the green chile. The clams are fresh, not canned, their sweetness and chew complimented by the starchy goodness of skin-on potatoes. There are only two things you can do to make this chowder better: One is to order a side of garlic bread to soak it up. Two is to invite me.

A "simple" soup can be deceptive in its complexity, and the building blocks of the Anasazi Restaurant's popular squash bisque provide a fine example, as detailed here by Chef Peter O'Brien:

"To make this rich soup, we first bake the squash to soften the meat, which is then peeled from the skin and stewed in vegetable stock with a mirepoix of carrots, celery, leeks and garlic, seasoned with clove, cinnamon and chopped green apple. This is all simmered together over low heat for an hour or so before we purée and finish with heavy cream, and season with salt, brown sugar and cayenne pepper. We then garnish with a pesto that is a pureed mixture of toasted pecans, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon juice and wild arugula for a special touch."