Ramen is a perfect food. In its least refined form, the block of instant ramen offers a 2am respite, and a canvas for home cooks to add soft boiled eggs, green onions, rotisserie chicken, and whatever else their munching heart desires. At its best, though, ramen is a feast for all of the senses: Bright colors swirl in the bowl, broth flavor-bombs the tongue with umami, and there's that signature soft, pleasantly chewy texture of a perfectly cooked ramen noodle. The only drawback might be all those loud slurping sounds. Experience all of that and more at these -- the best ramen restaurants in Chicago. MORE: Get a taste of the best restaurants in Chicago, period.
The Loop A convenient lunch spot with happy hours not to be missed Ajida is certainly a great lunchtime option for Loop workers or out-of-towners, but be sure to hit up this spot during its happy hour, every day from 3pm to close. This will get you awesome prices on combos with a ton of food, including appetizers, skewers, and ramen bowls, plus beer and sake.
Various locations A hip, hip-hop noodle haven Furious Spoon has been taking over Chicago at lightning speed. The chain is hard to miss, with its graffitied aesthetic and hip-hop bursting out the door of every location. The ramen snobs of Chicago will insist this isn’t where you can get the best bowl, but don’t listen to them. The ramen is rich and hearty, and the vibe is fun and worth checking out.
Uptown With Japanese curry to die for Yes, the ramen is excellent, but the general consensus in Chicago is that the Japanese curry is where it’s at here at this casual spot. You should probably try both just to be safe, and be sure to bring your own booze for maximum enjoyment. Check if they’re open before you head out -- their hours are a little inconsistent because they’re a family establishment.
Bucktown For a Japanese pub experience If you’re looking for a neighborhood spot that’s akin to an actual restaurant you might find in Japan, this is a great spot for you. An izakaya is a type of Japanese bar that usually features small dishes to accompany drinks, kind of like Japanese tapas. Izakaya Mita is a great place to bring the family or to hang out with friends after work. The ramen makes it cozy, with the comfortable feel of a neighborhood bar, albeit with a much better sake selection.
Lakeview For some of the best pork belly ramen in the city You have got to try the pork belly ramen here. It’s thick and tender and comes as part of a gigantic serving. The vegetable ramen is also some of the best in the city, and if you’re looking to branch out to other dishes, this place has some great donburi (rice bowl dishes), too. It’s a small, casual spot with fast and friendly service, perfect for a quick lunch or a get-together with a few friends.
Wicker Park, New City An international chain with unbelievable flavor If you’re going to Kizuki, the Shoyu Ramen (pork broth flavored with slightly sweet soy sauce from Japan’s Yamaguchi prefecture) is a good place to start. The food here is prepared by roasting bones before boiling -- resulting in a rich, deeply flavorful broth. This is a trendy spot (with a full bar) ideal for almost any occasion, from a first date to a family outing to a solo lunch.
Wicker Park Ramen with a French and Italian twist Oiistar puts a lovely twist on traditional ramen noodles by weaving in French and Italian influences, taking the comfort food theme to another level. In addition to five delectable ramen dishes, enjoy a variety of appetizers from bruschetta to pan-seared portobello mushrooms. You also cannot skip the creme brulee with espresso caviar at this sleek, modern lunch and dinner spot.
River North, Lakeview A quick, no-fuss chain perfect for a quick, no-fuss lunch In its upscale River North location, this casual, unassuming restaurant can be easy to miss -- but that would be a mistake. Ramen Misoya offers heaping bowls of wonderfully miso-forward ramen at reasonable prices. It’s a small spot, but you likely won’t have trouble finding seating for lunch or dinner.
River North, West Loop, Streeterville The perfect balance between trendy but casual Ramen-San would be a great place for a first date, but swinging in for a solo lunch shouldn’t be out of the question. In fact, their $16 Express Lunch is a must-try. Pick a rice plate, main dish, and beverage, and enjoy. This is also a great spot for grabbing a drink or sharing some apps like chicken wings, dumplings, buns, and more.
West Loop Feel like you’re eating in a trendy Tokyo alley Ramen Takeya, sister restaurant of Wasabi in Logan Square (also on this list), specializes in chicken paitan ramen, featuring a lighter broth than you might find at other ramen spots. The restaurant is designed to look like Tokyo alleys, and the real treat is sitting at the bar for a perfect view of the kitchen, where all the steamy ramen magic happens.
West Loop, Wicker Park Housemade noodles and a unique, flavor-packed soup broth make Kinton a must-visit Kinton Ramen started out as Toronto’s first dedicated ramen shop, and thanks largely to the amazing flavor of their soup base (chicken and pork bones simmered with fresh vegetables and high-quality bonito fish for upwards of 20 hours) they have been able to expand both stateside and to Japan and Korea. Visit their Chicago locations in West Loop and Wicker Park -- we recommend the karaage ramen, a holy marriage of wonderfully crispy fried chicken with their spicy (or shoyu, for the less adventurous) broth.
River North For an unexpected hangover cure Cozy up in a booth or grab a seat at a community table at this self-proclaimed “original River North ramen shop.” The ramen is delicious, of course, and this might be one of the only ramen spots that features a brunch menu. Definitely try the Hangover Ramen, featuring tan tan and tonkotsu broth with spicy pork miso paste, molten egg, bok choy, kimchi, bean sprouts, fried pork belly, and duck fat fried chicken.
Chinatown, Lakeview Get your ramen with a side of knowledge Strings is one of Chicago’s most popular ramen restaurants because of the high-quality food, but it’s also great for anybody out there wanting to learn more about ramen. The menu features a fun map of Japan with key ramen points, ramen history, ramen terminology explained, as well as some pro tips on how to optimize your ramen-eating experience. Experts, however, may be interested in the “Monster Hell Challenge,” an eye-watering gauntlet that tasks challengers with finishing their Level 5 Hell Ramen in 20 minutes for a free meal, a shirt, and a gift card.
West Loop, Wicker Park Creative dishes fusing American and Asian traditions Urbanbelly might be another good spot for beginners -- there’s only one ramen item on the menu. But it’s delicious, and if you decide you’d rather have pho or another steamy bowl once you get there, you have that option! Urbanbelly fuses Asian and American food and feels like a cozy neighborhood hangout, but with better food.
Logan Square Umami-rich ramen, packed with intense pork flavor Wasabi is a Japanese-owned restaurant that offers both traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes. The ramen is made from boiling pork bones for days (yes, days!), and it shows in the unreal flavor bursting from the many ramen options. Hit up this sleek spot in hip Logan Square, and be sure to try the pork belly and kimchi spring rolls while you’re at it.
Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.