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Around the world in a soup bowl

It's soup season.

Sure, some people no doubt had their fill of chilled fruit soups and fresh gazpacho all summer, but I like a steaming bowl of hot soup on a chilly day.

Early evenings, crisp fall air, blustery winds, drizzling dampness and even incessant winter fog all pair nicely with warming soup.

A co-worker had recommended the spicy ramen at Misoya Bistro on Vogel Plaza in downtown Medford, so when temperatures dipped and clouds rolled in, that's where I headed to heat things up from the inside out. She had told me restaurateurs Tae and Su Han delivered on the promised spiciness instead of pulling punches like so many local eateries do.

The waitress at Misoya double-checked that spicy was OK then, before long, delivered a hot pot of ramen with a side of tempura, all for just $8.95. The perfectly cooked noodles swam in a savory broth spiked with just the right amount of heat. A bit of broccoli, carrot and shiitake mushroom accented the noodles, which were topped with a sprinkle of toasted nori, green onion and crispy panko crumbs. The accompanying tempura — a single shrimp, ring of onion and slices of potato and sweet potato — also exhibited a delicate crispness.

My co-worker also likes the spicy tofu soup, a fiery concoction of peppery broth and soft tofu, enriched with an egg yolk dropped in at the last moment. Based on her first recommendation, I'll have to try that next. It's priced at $9.95.

I've always favored pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, as a fog lifter on dreary days and was happy to see options for ordering it expand in Medford over the past year or so. Golden Wok, at 718 Riverside Ave., and Hong Kong 88, 2330 Crater Lake Ave., both offer it. The versions are similar, but in both the beefy broth scented with star anise, cilantro and ginger could be punched up just a bit. But that's the purpose of the array of bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime wedges and jalapeños, as well as chili and soy sauces, provided with each bowl. Prices are similar at the two restaurants, ranging from $6.95 to $8.25.

If Asian noodles aren't your thing, head to Ashland for a unique, south-of-the-border taste at Agave, 92 N. Main St. Its vegetarian pozole combines carrots, roasted peppers, tomatoes and hominy in a stew so rich and flavorful that you won't even miss the pork, which can leave traditional recipes greasy. If you do miss the pork, it can be added to the $4.50 vegetarian version for just $2 more. Agave also serves a "sopa de lima" — chicken soup with lime — that will stifle the sniffles.

That doesn't even touch on the buckets of tomato bisque — the best versions accented with fresh basil or a bit of Gorgonzola — served at cafes and coffee shops across the valley. One editor here claims that Pony Espresso in Jacksonville serves the best of that bunch, and I can confirm that it's perfect paired with the gourmet grilled cheese with three cheeses, avocado and sun-dried tomato. For $8.95, you can have a soup-and-sandwich combo that updates a favorite childhood meal for grown-up tastes.

Of course, plenty of places have a soup of the day that sometimes sounds tempting and sometimes just doesn't. For a large array of flavors, stop by Sophia's Soup Factory in the Medford Center, where they have 10 soups to choose from daily.

Other places with lots of interesting selections include Pangea and Grilla Bites in Ashland and Organic Natural Cafe in downtown Medford.

— Anita Burke