Sopa Azteca

Tortilla Soup
Recipe from Frontera Grill/Topolobampo

Like guacamole, tortilla soup has a place, I feel, in practically every collection of Mexican recipes.  It’s a filling, flavorful meal that can be made with little effort, but one that sings with an unmistakable Mexican harmony. Earthy dark pasilla chile. The softening crunch of toasty corn tortillas. Soul-satisfying broth.  And creamy-rich avocado and cheese.

A note about pasilla (sometimes called negro) chile:  Its unique flavor defines tortilla soup in central Mexico. In Michoacan, it’s ancho chile. In your kitchen, it might turn out to be another chile, like New Mexico or even a little smoky chipotle (be forewarned that chipotle will make the broth quite spicy). Though for these everyday recipes I’ve relied heavily on the easier-to-use powdered dried chile, finding powdered pasilla (negro) can be harder than finding the whole pod. Should powdered chile be at your finger tips (be it powdered pasilla (negro), ancho or beyond), add about 1 tablespoon to the pan about halfway through the cooking of the onion.

In Mexico, it’s more common to crush toasted chile pods over the soup than to add it to the base. You can follow that lead, or do both as we do in our restaurants.

Servings: 4to 6 people


  • 1largedried pasilla (negro) chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 115-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 2tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2quarts chicken broth
  • 1largeepazote sprig, if you have one
  • 2cup shredded, cooked rotisserie chicken
  • 1large ripeavocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2cups (6 ounces) shredded Mexican melting cheese (like Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar
  • A generous 4cups (about 6 ounces) roughly broken tortilla chips
  • 1/2cupMexican crema, sour cream or creme fraîche for garnish
  • 1large lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving


Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.) Break the chile into pieces and put in a blender jar along with the tomatoes with their juice. (A food processor will work, though it won’t completely puree the chile.)

Heat the oil in a medium (4-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer to the blender. Process until smooth.

Return the pan to medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the broth and epazote, if using. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about a generous teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth).

Just before serving, add the chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the avocado, cheese and tortilla chips between serving bowls. When the chicken is done, usually about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls. Garnish with the crema. Pass the lime separately.


  1. Wow — so simple and easy! Perfect for these chilly nights. I used Hatch Chile powder and a small amount of crushed chilies arbol. Nice heat, great flavor.

  2. Since I’m concerned about sodium intake (heart disease) this sounds good. No added salt, and I can use “no salt added” chicken broth. I love tortilla soup!

    1. Sure, Barbara. “No Salt Added” broths could be a good option, but it’s best to read the labels. Even the “low sodium” options can still have lots of sodium. Still, there are a number of good options that are widely available, many with a fraction of the sodium content than other boxed or canned broths.

      Another option? Make your own! In a big pot, cover discarded bone-in chicken pieces with water, add some carrots, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and maybe a bay leaf if you have it, then heat it for awhile. Even the most basic homemade stock will taste better than the store-bought brands.

  3. This looks wonderful..I want to make it tonight! Am I missing something though? I can’t find how to cook the chicken?

    1. Buy a rotisserie chicken, or bake some chicken. If you are baking it, add some cumin, dried onion, garlic and chili powder under the skin.

    1. Hi Jen,
      Yes, you can use ancho chile powder instead. It won’t give it the same full body experience BUT it will still give you the flavor you are looking for. I would add about 2 teaspoons where it calls for the dried chiles and then adjust if you need to add more powder.

      Let us know how it turns out!

  4. Can’t ever go wrong with a Rick Bayless recipe. Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen book is probably why I am the cook I am today. I used guajillo subbed for pasilla because I didn’t have pasilla and had a whole bag of guajillos. Turned out great. I’ll have to make with pasilla and compare. Thanks for posting these delicious, yet easy recipes.

  5. Is this close to the same recipie used at Frontera Cocina in Disney Springs?? I had it last week for the first time and I’m obsessed!!

  6. Followed this recipe to a “T”, including the epazote. However, I felt like it was “one note”. It was better with the trimmings: panela cheese, avocado, crema and crispy tortilla strips

  7. Wow! What a delicious soup! I used Guajillo and California dried peppers. Also I used less chicken stock as I felt the broth would be not as flavorful.This soup would be great for entertaining, you could make a fixings bar for guests and everyone could help themselves. Lovely!

    1. Hi Nichole, I’d say adults would not consider it spicy – there’s more like afterglow from the chile.

      Speaking from experience though, some kids would think this has a little too much heat. But it will be super-tasty even without the pasilla.

  8. I am so excited to try this recipe. I have been looking for a great tortilla soup for a while. My friend told me that Mr. Bayless’s was her favorite and she’s a foodie. Thanks.

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