Spice up winter lunches with this copycat Panera chicken tortilla soup

This soup is packed with hearty vegetables and spices to keep you warm and full

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published January 30, 2022 4:30PM (EST)

Tortilla Soup (Getty Images/LauriPatterson)
Tortilla Soup (Getty Images/LauriPatterson)

Some of the best dishes found at Panera, the North American chain of bakery-cafés, are the soups. Its creamy chicken and wild rice soup is surprisingly decadent, while its cozy broccoli-cheddar soup seems like it was conceived purely to exist in a crusty bread bowl (and it probably was). One of my favorites, though, is the restaurant's chicken tortilla soup. 

While it doesn't have that deep porky smokiness of a long-simmered pozole rojo, the Panera chicken tortilla soup hits all the right notes for a satisfying nod to Mexican-inspired flavors. It's lightly spiced, thanks to the addition of chili powder and paprika, and packed with poblano peppers, corn and black beans. 

With much of the country staring down at least a few more months of chilly weather, it also seemed like the kind of dish that would be fun to replicate at home.

RELATED: This cheesy, no-tear French onion soup is ready in under 30 minutes

Let's start by breaking down the ingredients listed on the company's website. To Panera's credit, the bulk of those written out were whole ingredients that could be bought at the grocery store: water, tomatoes, black beans, corn, chicken raised without antibiotics, onion, poblano pepper and seasonings (which included extractives of turmeric and paprika).

The trick then became nailing the appropriate texture — the addition of corn starch grabbed my attention as a potential soup thickener — and flavor combinations. This took a few iterations. My first batch veered a touch too smoky and spiced after I was a little heavy-handed with the addition of adobo sauce on top of chipotle chili powder; my second batch didn't have enough of an acidic bite. Cumin wasn't outright listed on the ingredients list, but it is mentioned in the description of the soup on the Panera website. Adding it to the pot really helped solidify the right flavor.


Recipe: Copycat Panera Chicken Tortilla Soup 

Prep Time
15 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes


  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 poblano pepper, chopped 
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne 
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 14.5 ounces diced canned tomatoes in their juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch 
  • 4 cups chicken stock 
  • 2 cups diced rotisserie chicken 
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed 
  • 1 cup corn kernels 
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • Tortilla strips for garnish 
  • Optional: Sour cream, shredded cheese and diced avocado for serving 



  1. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven, followed by the minced garlic and chopped onion and poblano pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat until the vegetables begin to soften and the garlic becomes fragrant, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add the chipotle chili powder, cumin, paprika, turmeric and cayenne to the pot and stir gently for 2 minutes until the spices "bloom" and become fragrant. Add the tomatoes in their juice to the pot and reduce the temperature to medium-low.
  3. Meanwhile, grab a small bowl and whisk 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch and 1/2 tablespoon of water until a thick "slurry" forms. Gradually add the slurry to the simmering tomato mixture until it is completely incorporated and the tomato juice begins to thicken.
  4. While continuing to stir, add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a more aggressive simmer. Add the chicken, black beans and corn kernels and allow the soup to cook for at least 15 minutes so the flavors can meld.
  5. Right before you are ready to serve, remove the pot from the heat and finish with 2 tablespoons of lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among bowls and top with tortilla strips.

Cook's Notes

While it's not how it's done at Panera, feel free to add extras like sour cream, shredded cheese and diced avocado for an even heartier bowl. 

More super simple weeknight meals: 

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By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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