Max and Erma’s Copy Cat Chicken Tortilla Soup

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This creamy Chicken Tortilla Soup is a perfect copy cat of Max and Erma’s famous tortilla soup! Made from scratch, this soup is cheesy, loaded with chicken and veggies, and has the perfect amount of spice!

Two bowls of chicken tortilla soup on a blue background.

From the months of September to April, soup is on the menu at least once a week in our house. Making a giant, steaming pot of soup is therapy for cold, gray days. Plus, it makes great leftovers.

Luckily, the world of soup offers us plenty of variety to get us through the winter months. We dive into Butternut Squash Soup at the first hint of fall, curb a Panera craving with Broccoli Cheddar Soup, and turn to classic 30 Minute Chicken Noodle Soup anytime someone gets the sniffles.

But when we want something creamy and comforting, but not too heavy, we turn to this Chicken Tortilla Soup.

There are many, many iterations of this spicy chicken soup, but this one is modeled after my all time favorite restaurant version: Max and Erma’s Chicken Tortilla Soup. It’s cheesy, creamy, has a nice kick at the end, and is loaded with crunchy tortilla chips!

Scalloped bowl filled with tortilla soup topped with tortilla strips.

Why Max and Erma’s Makes the Best Chicken Tortilla Soup

Max and Erma’s is a chain restaurant that started right here in Columbus. They’re known for their burgers, but also for this soup. They even have a Tortilla Burger that’s served with a little bowl of cheesy tortilla soup for dunking.

Um, yes please, this is my kind of place.

There are a couple things that separate Max and Erma’s Tortilla Soup from the pack:

  • It’s made from scratch, without any canned soups, and it’s loaded with fresh veggies, cheese, and broth.
  • It’s nice and creamy without using cream! This tortilla soup has a (not so) secret weapon: corn tortillas! The corn tortillas melt into the broth, thickening it as it cooks.
  • This soup strikes the perfect balance between tomato-y and cheesy. It’s not toooo cheesy (I don’t want to feel like I’m eating a block of Velveeta, after all), but it’s also not too tomato-y or bean-y (this isn’t chili, guys).
  • This tortilla soup recipe has LAYERS of flavor–a hint of lime juice and just the right amount of heat and spices to warm up the coldest night.
Scalloped bowl filled with spicy chicken tortilla soup and topped with cilantro and tortilla chips.

What is Chicken Tortilla Soup Made Of?

Here’s what you’ll need to make this soup. Don’t let the long-ish ingredient list scare you. It comes together quickly and is mostly a dump and go recipe!

  • Onion + Bell Pepper + Garlic + Oil for sauteeing
  • Chicken broth + cornstarch for thickening
  • 2-3 cups cubed chicken–I often use leftover rotisserie chicken for this, but this Spicy Marinated Chicken is also excellent.
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Corn tortillas, torn into small pieces
  • Lime juice
  • Canned green chiles
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Cumin + Cayenne pepper + Oregano + Salt for seasoning
Bowl of tortilla soup with a spoon lifting a bite out.

How to Make Cheesy Tortilla Soup

  1. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven (this one is my favorite), and saute the onion and bell pepper until softened. Add the garlic, sauteeing until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Whisk cornstarch into the chicken broth then stir it into the pot along with the chicken, cheddar, cheese, corn tortillas, lime juice, green chiles, canned tomatoes, and seasonings.
  3. Increase the heat to medium high and stir frequently until the cheese is melted. Be sure to scrape the spatula along the bottom so the cheese doesn’t stick.
  4. When the soup starts to bubble, reduce the heat and continue to cook until tortillas have mostly dissolved (though some remaining is fine) and soup is thickened, about 20 minutes.
  5. Serve with lots of crunchy tortilla strips and cilantro!

What to Serve with Chicken Tortilla Soup

This Black Bean and Corn Salsa is my favorite side dish for tortilla soup, but it also pairs nicely with Tomato and Corn Chopped Salad, or Gluten Free Cornbread.

If you want something heartier, add a side of Cheesy Ground Beef Quesadillas.

You could also play it up like Max and Erma’s and serve these Taco Burgers with a side of tortilla soup for dunking!

And, of course, don’t forget a side of Air Fryer Tortilla Chips to scoop up any leftovers.

Bowl of creamy chicken tortilla soup with a side tortilla chips and a squeezed lime in the background.

More Soup Recipes You Might Enjoy

Did I mention we eat a lot of soup? Yeah, we eat a lot of soup.

Bowl of creamy chicken tortilla soup with a side tortilla chips and a squeezed lime in the background.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Soup is creamy comfort food with a bit of a kick! You'll love this soup for warming up on a chilly night.
4.5 from 181 votes
Print Pin
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6
Calories: 469kcal


  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 red bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken
  • 4 corn tortillas (chopped into small pieces)
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 14.5 oz diced tomatoes
  • 1 can diced green chiles
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 oz. mild cheddar cheese (shredded)
  • Fresh cilantro (chopped, for garnish)
  • Tortilla strips or chips (for garnish)


  • In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and cook until translucent, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute, until fragrant.
  • Dissolve the cornstarch in the chicken broth then add it to the pot. Add the chicken, chopped tortillas, lime juice, diced tomatoes, green chiles, cumin, cayenne, oregano, and salt.
  • Increase the heat to medium high. When the soup begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tortillas are very soft and mostly melted into the soup.
  • Lower the heat to medium low and add cheese. Stir continuously, running the spatula along the bottom and sides of the pan, until the cheese is melted into the soup. Be sure to run your spatula along the bottom of the pan occasionally to ensure the cheese isn't sticking to the bottom. Serve with crunchy tortilla chips and chopped cilantro.


  • Leftover soup keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.
  • Reheat individual portions in the microwave for 1.5-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.
  • Chicken tortilla soup can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stove top.
Course Soups & Stews
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword cheesy chicken tortilla soup, cheesy tortilla soup, chicken tortilla soup, max and erma’s tortilla soup


Calories: 469kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 96mg | Sodium: 859mg | Potassium: 628mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1383IU | Vitamin C: 42mg | Calcium: 471mg | Iron: 3mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Leave a review, Mention @NeighborFoodie, or tag #neighborfoodies!


  1. This is an awesome recipe. We love it. We substituted Rotel instead of the diced tomatoes and chilies. It works out great. We’ve made this twice now and really enjoy it.

  2. We love this recipe. It has been our go to tortilla soup for many years. We do prefer to add the cheese at the very end or to each bowl as it is being served. Thank you!

  3. I made this soup and followed the direction to a {T} and it came out perfect! Everyone loves it. So tasty and has a nice color.

  4. This is a pretty darn good interpretation of Max & Erma’s Chicken Tortilla Soup!

    I made the recipe as-written, with a couple of minor exceptions:
    * I used Momofuku Chili Crisp instead of cayenne pepper
    * I toasted and ground the cumin instead of using pre-ground
    * I added the chicken and the cheese last, right before the “simmer for 20 minutes” step

    It’s VERY good, and quite reminiscent of the soup, as intended! Thank you for this recipe, and I will be making it often!

    1. Yes, it came out terrible. The cheese stuck to the chicken and never melted properly. The flavor was good but this recipe is poorly written.

      1. Thank you for your feedback. I recently remade the soup and found it worked as well adding the cheese towards the end. I’ve updated the recipe to reflect these changes and hopefully prevent sticking in the future! One other note though–if you use pre-shredded (bagged) cheese it has a coating on it that keeps the shreds from sticking to each other. This can greatly hinder their ability to melt properly. Just wanted to add that in case that was part of the issue!

    1. I haven’t tried this in a crock pot. I’m not sure if the tortillas would break down in the same way, but I think it would likely work. Please let me know if you try it! The soup will keep well for several days, so you can make it in advance and reheat it on the stove top or in the crock pot when you’re ready.

  5. Making today – can’t wait! We had a huge blizzard here – perfect for cold, football game playoffs and post shoveling ! Thank you!!

  6. This soup is not only better than any other copycat out there, I actually prefer it over Max and Erma’s. It’s so flavorful! I put all of the veggies in my food processor to trick my kids, and they love it. I’m craving it even now at 8:00am.

  7. I wouldn’t say its an exact replica but it was pretty dang close! As other reviewers mentioned, I liked this version better compared to the others that have all the processed cans of soup. I did add a couple of spoonfuls of cream cheese and it helped the cheese from getting too goopy. Yummy soup to start the fall recipes!

  8. Max and Erma’s soup is NOT made fresh. It definitely comes in a bag. I’ve seen it and worked with several former managers. The cheese and tortilla strips are added after.

    This is a great homemade substitute!

  9. I am anxious to try this recipe as I am from Indiana and this was my all time favorite soup…… the recipe sounds really good but I think there is a mistake in the recipe…….it says to add the cut tortillas to the soup and then at the end of the recipe it says to use them as garnish…..I do not ever remember raw tortillas being in the soup……you cut them up and bake them and use them for garnish only!!

    1. I know it sounds strange, but there are actual tortillas in the soup! They help thicken it up and just kind of melt into the soup. I hope this hits the spot for chicken tortilla soup!

  10. Hey,
    I completely agree that once you try the Max & Erma’s chicken tortilla soup then that’s the only kind you will ever want.. I absolutely love this soup and could probably eat it everyday, lol. It’s so creamy and has that little kick at the end, mmm, wonderful. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I worked there as a line cook and ate the soup everyday for lunch with the tomato mozzarella burger. I love that your recipe doesn’t include all of the “cream of ” soups.. I made that recipe and didn’t really care too much for it, but your recipe seems much better and pretty close to Max & Erma’s. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Want to view this recipe, but this seems too much to go through to see a recipe. I’m sure I can go to another web site to get it!!!

  12. This was really tasty! I too was happy to find a recipe that didn’t involve canned “cream of” soups and Velveeta, and it was very close to Max & Erma’s, even with my substitutions of omitting both the Anaheim and red bell peppers and using a whole can of Ro-Tel tomatoes & green chiles in place of the 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes. The only other thing I’ll change next time is to halve the amount of cumin – it seemed like a bit much. I threw everything but the chicken and tortilla strips (both of which I baked in a NuWave oven) in my Vitamix so it was so easy!

      1. You’re welcome! 🙂 I just used what I had on hand (hence not using the peppers) so I had to adapt and overcome, LOL. By the way, for anyone else reading this, I am just not a huge cumin fan in general, so for the general population the amount of cumin is probably perfect. Just wanted to clarify that. 🙂

      2. Made this soup today and was pleased with the results. It has been quite awhile since I’ve tasted the actual Max and Erma soup so not sure how this recipe compared but seemed to be close to what I remembered. I didn’t add the cheese until after I had added the other ingredients and simmered the soup 15-20 minutes after adding the cheese. I added extra chicken because I had extra prepared and used packaged tortilla strips instead of corn tacos. I stirred in the tortilla strips just before serving and put the rest of the strips on top of each bowl.

  13. This recipe is excellent! Love to put diced avocado and sour cream on top too! Keeper recipe! Thanks!

  14. I’m going to try this recipe! I have a “Mock Max & Erma’s Tortilla Soup” recipe that calls for just about every kind of “cream of” soup. I like that these ingredients are much fresher (and healthier!). Thanks for sharing!

    1. I found that recipe when I was looking for this one. I didn’t try it because I wasn’t thrilled about all the “cream ofs” either. This one probably takes a little more effort, but it tastes wonderful and is a whole lot better for you! 🙂

4.45 from 181 votes (181 ratings without comment)

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