Chicken Tortilla Soup

When I set my 2012 baking and cooking goals for myself and mentioned that making weekly batches of soup during the cold winter months was among them, there was one popular request from more than  few readers: Chicken Tortilla Soup. More specifically, a copycat recipe of Max & Erma’s tortilla soup. Max & Erma’s is a chain restaurant based out of Ohio, with many locations in the Pittsburgh area and elsewhere in the Midwest and a few in southern states. One of the hallmarks of their menu is the Tortilla Soup – it’s thick and cheesy with bits of chicken, spicy and pretty much tastes like the best taco ever. There are a ton of copycat recipes online, but just about all of them include multiple cans of “cream of” something, which I wasn’t about to use. I’m happy to report that I was able to replicate the famous soup from scratch and that it is every bit as amazing as the original. Perhaps even better.

This soup comes together really easily, especially if you use leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken purchased from the store. Some thoughts on the recipe:

  • A word of warning – this soup is spicy, so if you’re particularly sensitive to spices, you may want to reduce or omit the amount of cayenne pepper in the recipe.
  • Definitely use mild cheddar, not sharp. You can also use 1/2 mild cheddar and 1/2 Monterey Jack if you like.
  • If you have access to Mexican oregano, use that; otherwise regular oregano will work too.
  • This makes 4 servings, and three of us polished it off in one sitting, very quickly. If you want leftovers or are serving more than two adults for a meal, you’ll probably want to double the recipe.

My Chief Culinary Consultant declared this the best bowl of soup he has ever had and I absolutely loved it. It is definitely going into my regular rotation of meals. I’m so happy to finally have a homemade version of this favorite soup!

One year ago: Peanut Butter Cup Crunch Brownie Bars
Two years ago: Whole Grain Brownies
Three years ago: For the Love of Peanut Butter and Cinnamon
Five years ago: Homemade Soft Pretzels

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup minced white onion
¼ cup mined Anaheim pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chicken broth
1 cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cooked skinless, boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
3 (6-inch) corn tortillas, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
¼ cup canned diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
Tortilla strips, optional, for garnish

Directions:

1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Add the minced onion, pepper, and garlic and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until the minced onion begins to turn translucent.

2. Whisk the cornstarch into the chicken broth, then add the broth mixture to the pot, along with the chicken, cheddar cheese, minced tortillas, lime juice, diced tomatoes, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, and salt. Increase the heat to medium while stirring constantly to help the cheese melt. When the soup begins to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve the soup topped with tortilla strips and extra shredded cheese.

(Recipe adapted from Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3)

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96 Responses to “Chicken Tortilla Soup”

Comment Pages 1 2
  1. j3nn on February 16, 2012 at 12:51 am

    That sounds so good! I’ve been enjoying soups this winter, but I’ve never had chicken tortilla that looks so creamy. Must try soon!

    Reply

  2. Kristina on February 16, 2012 at 12:55 am

    This sounds so good. Will have to give it a try. The chicken should be added with the broth and spices or after the cheese is melted, during the simmering? Thanks for your blog – my family has enjoyed the recipes I’ve made so far.

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 16th, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      Hi Kristina, So sorry for that omission, I have since edited the recipe to include when the chicken is added – it goes in with the broth and other ingredients. Enjoy!

      Reply

  3. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga on February 16, 2012 at 1:07 am

    A coworker of my husband’s brought in chicken tortilla soup to his work yesterday and he’s been raving about it. PERFECT timing with this recipe! looks awesome.

    Reply

  4. Kathryn on February 16, 2012 at 5:08 am

    Love chicken tortilla soup and this looks like a bowl of utter deliciousness.

    Reply

  5. Blog is the New Black on February 16, 2012 at 5:36 am

    Thats’a a GREAT goal. I can’t get enough soup these days!

    Reply

  6. Kiri W. on February 16, 2012 at 5:49 am

    Mmm, that looks delicious, I have to say. I am not usually a huge fan of tortilla or taco soups, but I’d love a bowl of your creation.

    Reply

  7. raquel@eRecipe.com on February 16, 2012 at 5:52 am

    I love spicy soups. This can be shared with the whole family. I will double the recipe… =)

    Reply

  8. Nikki on February 16, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Yesssss Max and Erma’s is the best!!! So excited about this recipe!

    Reply

  9. Kim on February 16, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Seriously that looks soooo delicious!!!

    Reply

  10. Rachel on February 16, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Did I miss it in the steps? When do you add the chicken?

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 16th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Rachel, So sorry for that omission, I have since edited the recipe to include when the chicken is added – it goes in with the broth and other ingredients.

      Reply

  11. Mom24 on February 16, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Great! Thank you so much! As Max & Erma’s has suffered more and more financial problems over the years the quality of their restaurants has declined greatly. Consequently we’ve stopped going there, but I always loved this soup. I can’t wait to try this. I saw a “copycat” recipe years ago but it was full of condensed soups–I think there were 8 in all! and it was really gross. This looks delicious.

    Reply

  12. Haley on February 16, 2012 at 9:19 am

    This looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  13. Susie Moran on February 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Oh my gosh! I have tried recipe after recipe trying to recreate the Max & Erma’s Chicken Tortilla Soup and have failed, failed, failed. Thank you for sharing – I’m making this tonight!!!!!

    Reply

  14. Erin @ Brownie Bites on February 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Ya know, I don’t think I’ve ever tried making chicken tortilla soup at home. Pretty odd considering I absolutely adore a nice warm bowl of soup, and I LOVE chicken tortilla! I’m tucking away this recipe for a rainy day (hey, it’s raining day.. maybe I’ll give it a go) Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

  15. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers on February 16, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Oh this soup sounds amazing! This one is a keeper!! I can’t wait to make it!

    Reply

  16. Bree on February 16, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Oh yum! Love tortilla soup :)

    Reply

  17. Amy M. on February 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Ok, I have to ask: why not sharp cheddar? Thanks! :)

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 16th, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      Hi Amy, Sharp cheddar will overpower some of the other more subtle (but important) flavors in the soup. Mild cheddar helps to keep a nice balance of flavors.

      Reply

  18. Maria D. on February 16, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I love Max & Irma’s Chicken Tortilla soup and your recipe looks good, I’ll give a try

    Reply

  19. Stephanie on February 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I can’t wait to try this recipe! We love Max & Erma’s tortilla soup around here! I’ve gone looking for copycat recipes too and been disappointed by the ingredient list. This one is definitely going on next week’s menu!

    Reply

  20. CouponClippingCook on February 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I love tortilla soup and there are so many different varieties of them. This recipe looks delicious.

    Reply

  21. Mireia on February 16, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    This sounds perfect, and I think I can actually get all the ingredients in Spain, this is going on my to do list right away!

    Reply

  22. Lisa from the 'Burgh on February 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I LOVE YOU. Seriously, I go to M & E just for the tortilla soup and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I have ordered the tortilla soup AND the tortilla burger at the same meal. I haven’t been able to find a good “copycat” recipe so I am thrilled to see yours. Definitely making it this weekend…

    Reply

    • rachel on February 18th, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      Glad I’m not the ONLY one that does that Lisa (from the ‘burgh)..lol, That soup (and burger) are to die for!! One of my fave restaurant meals. Can’t wait to try this recipe…Thanks so much Brown Eyed Baker :)

      Reply

  23. claire @ the realistic nutritionist on February 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Beautiful presentation!! This is gorgeous!

    Reply

  24. TRESA on February 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    LOVE that restaurant, very excited to try your version! How..do I follow you on Pinterest?

    Reply

  25. Fran@fransfavs.com on February 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Oh, my–I’ve never had Max & Erma’s chicken tortilla soup before, but I HAVE been on the search for a creamy textured version for a long time. Yours looks like just the ticket! I do have one that is clear-brothed which is fabulously good and super quick/easy to boot. (http://www.fransfavs.com/2011/09/chicken-tortilla-soup/) I just happen to have a couple of cups of cooked chicken in my fridge, and now that I’ve seen your posting I know what I’m going to do with it tonight. Thanks!

    Reply

  26. Mary @ Bake Break on February 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I’m always looking for more good soup recipes – this looks perfect! Thanks for taking the time to formulate it without cans of “cream of ____” for us!

    Reply

  27. Colleen on February 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I am so excited that you posted this recipe! I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and love all things Pittsburgh. Four years ago my husband and I moved to Phoenix, AZ…the food just isn’t the same. There are tons of restaurants that I miss terribly. Max & Erma’s tortilla soup and 3rd st salad are 2 of the things I crave often! I stumbled upon your blog about 6 months ago and have been actively blog stalking you (in a good way) since I learned you were in Pittsburgh! I have enjoyed all the recipes I have tried and I CANNOT WAIT to try this one!

    Reply

  28. Ally on February 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    I would LOVE to try this recipe! Thanks Michelle!
    xo
    http://allykayler.blogspot.com/

    Reply

  29. Jamie @ Thrifty Veggie Mama on February 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Max and Erma’s tortilla soup is delicious! Looking forward to trying a vegetarian version of this!

    Reply

  30. Julie @ Sugarfoot Eats on February 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve had that Max & Erma soup. So good!

    Reply

  31. Angelyn on February 16, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Umm, sounds so good!!!

    Reply

  32. leah on February 16, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I am making it right now as I type this! I woke up and saw this in my email and knew I was making it for dinner tonight! I added some black beans to mine though because I love black beans so much!

    Reply

  33. Tracey on February 16, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    I’ve never heard of Max & Erma’s but this soup sounds absolutely fantastic! I love the crocks too – I need to get something cute like that for my soup.

    Reply

  34. Angie on February 16, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    This just made my day…I love Max & Erma’s tortilla soup!

    Reply

  35. Valerie @ From Valerie's Kitchen on February 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    This is how I like my tortilla soup – with substance. Looks perfect!

    Reply

  36. Michelle on February 17, 2012 at 12:16 am

    I made this tonight…my family loved it. They told me to make it again and Double the recipe!! I didn’t have the Anaheim Pepper – I will definitely use it next time, we like it spicy. Thank you for the yummy recipe.

    Reply

  37. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on February 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I’ll have to go out and get me some anaheim pepper so I can make this. YUM YUM!

    Reply

  38. Kristina on February 17, 2012 at 10:24 am

    this sounds sooo good! I used to get the best chicken tortilla soup at this cute restaurant when I was in school and I haven’t been able to find another place that makes it so well. I’ll have to give your recipe at try! This is one of my favorite soups :)

    Reply

  39. Martha in KS on February 17, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Years ago we had a Max & Erma’s in Kansas City – thanks for this recipe. I’ve made tortilla soup a few times. Once, I wasn’t satisfied with the thickness provided by the tortillas, so I stirred part of a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix in & it was delicious. Time to start a shopping list for ingredients.

    Reply

  40. Joanne on February 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Must be the week of the Tortilla Soups :)
    I made mine with tuna since I don’t eat chicken and it worked beautifully!

    Reply

  41. Kristall on February 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I made this last night for dinner. It was fabulous! I have no idea what the restaurant’s soup would have tasted like I live in Canada I don’t think there’s a Max and Emma’s here. I didn’t have tomatoes or anaheim peppers so I just did regular bell pepper and added a plop or two of salsa. It turned out splendidly. My husband is tremendously picky when it comes to soup and he had two bowls. I also cut up a few corn tortillas into strips, drizzled oil on them and toasted them for some crunchy crouton’s on top. Absolutely the tastiest soup I’ve made in a while! Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply

  42. Cathy @ Savory Notes on February 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I’ve never had chicken tortilla soup, (I swear I’m from Earth!) but I’ve always wanted to try it. This looks and sounds delicious! Definitely going to try it out!

    Reply

  43. Stephanie on February 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I made this and was wondering if anyone else who made this had the same problem – when I added the cheese, chicken etc… to the broth my cheese ended up sticking and clumping to all the other items, i.e. the chicken! Should I have added the cheese a little at time until it melted? I’ve made numerous cheese sauces before and never had this problem. Any tips/suggestions are welcome!

    P.S. It still tasted delicious!

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 19th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Stephanie, I’m wondering if you used shredded cheese in a bag (already shredded) or if you shredded a block of cheese yourself? I ask because pre-shredded cheese is dusted with an anti-caking agent that actually makes it more difficult to melt; this could be the problem. I usually always buy a block of cheese and shred myself; it takes a little more time but the result is so much creamier and delicious.

      Reply

      • Stephanie on February 19th, 2012 at 8:47 pm

        You know, that is exactly what I did, I used a bag of pre-shredded cheese. Next time I will do the little extra work and shred a block myself. Thank you!

        Reply

      • Tanya on February 20th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

        I’m making it myself right now and I did shred my own block. It’s only been simmering about 10 minutes, but so far the cheese is clumpy. I wonder as it sits if it will improve. :) The tastes that I’ve sneaked are so yummy!

        Reply

  44. Benita Zazueta on February 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    It’s raining all day here in Louisiana & a perfect day to make this soup.
    I did 2 things different. I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. I put my salt, cumin, cayenne & oregano in after sautéing the veggies & sautéed for a few more minutes.
    It was so good. I doubled the recipe so I can freeze some. My picky 3 year old niece LOVED it! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  45. Cornelia on February 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    My Gosh, love your presentation and those pots are so cute! Love soup as this seems extra tasty:)

    Reply

  46. Tammy on February 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Chicken tortilla soup is my 16-year-old son’s all-time favorite, so when I suggested that we make some for lunch, he jumped right in to help with the mincing!! I added just a bit more chicken, used salsa instead of the diced tomatoes, and skipped the cayenne pepper to tone down the heat — my husband & son LOVED it!! Thanks so much for the recipe!

    Reply

  47. RisaG on February 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I love a good Tortilla Soup. My son is not a fan so I never make it. I do eat it at restaurants though. This looks so good.

    Reply

  48. kristy on February 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I made this soup,it was GREAT. I’ve also made,chocolate mocha cupcakes, wendy’s copycat chile, and I only use your taco seasoning now. All very good. Your photos are wonderful~really enjoy your site. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

  49. Jessica on February 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    This soup was SO good! I made it for my husband and two young boys today and they all loved it! Thanks for another keeper!

    Reply

  50. Courtney @ Bake. Eat. Repeat on February 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    We live very close to the original Max and Erma’s in Columbus and we go there often to watch games. I always get the tortilla soup. So good. And I’m so excited to be able to make it at home!

    Reply

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