Sopa Azteca

Geno Bahena

La Costa Mission Restaurant, Malibu, CA

“Yum, yum, yum!” say our menu notes describing this soup, which Geno Bahena made at the Beard House for a Mexico’s Day of the Dead dinner. Not exactly sophisticated food criticism, we admit, but it is heartfelt. Though Bahena advises the cook to use stale store-bought tortillas for this soup, we know for a fact that the tortillas he served with the rest of his dinner were made by his mom and were hot off the press, so to speak.


  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 corn tortillas, preferably stale store-bought ones, sliced in 1/8-inch strips
  • 1 1/2 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 ripe medium tomato, roasted, cored, and peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic, roasted in a dry skillet until soft, and peeled
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken broth
  • Salt, to taste
  • 8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into
  • 1/2-inch dice, cooked
  • 1 cup sour cream, thinned with a little milk
  • 8 ounces (about 2 cups) grated melting cheese (such as mild cheddar or Monterey Jack)
  • 1 large lime, cut into wedges
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch dice


Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tortilla strips and fry, turning frequently, until they are crisp. Drain on paper towels, and set aside. Cut the chiles into 1-inch squares and fry very briefly in the hot oil left in the pan, 3 or 4 seconds. Immediately remove and drain. Place the chiles in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, weight with a plate, and soak 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the 1 tablespoon of lard or oil over medium-low heat in a four-quart saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until deep golden-brown, 12 to 15 minutes. While the onion is frying, drain the chiles and place in a blender or food processor. Add the roasted tomato, the garlic, and 1 cup of the broth. Purée and strain. Add to the onion, along with the remaining broth. Simmer 30 minutes. Season with salt. When you are ready to serve, add the chicken and continue to cook until it is warm, about 2 minutes.

To serve, set out the garnishes: put the sour cream in a bowl in the center of a serving platter. Around it, make mounds of the fried tortilla strips, the grated cheese, the lime wedges, and the avocado. Ladle the soup into bowls, and let everybody select their own garnishes “al gusto,” as chef Bahena put it.


4 servings