Ramen restaurants... so hot right now. A year ago we did the definitive guide to Chicago ramen -- but ramen places keep on opening, and so we decided to judge the state of our ramen as it stands in 2015. Two things we learned last year -- first, no, Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect aren’t “in Chicago,” but if you want an authentic baseline, you have to go pay your respects in Chicago’s most Japanese suburbs. And second, boy, people sure disagreed about our #1 pick of Strings, so we went back to see if it held up so many bowls later. Did it? Find out...
Soup has always been one of Bill Kim’s strong points, and though Urbanbelly's are mainly Korean flavored, this is a pretty traditional and well-made Japanese bowl, lighter on spice than it looks from the red oil on top. The only thing is, it’s curiously sweet for ramen, too much so for our taste. The crinkly, toothy noodles are very good, and as you might expect from the name, so are the bacon-y slices of pork belly.
14. Slurping Turtle
Come to Takashi Yagihashi’s ramen joint for the porky Tonkotsu with with bok choy, egg, naruto and chili oil. The noodles, made in-house, are excellent, and the accompaniments are pretty (though the broth is on the salty side, thus, 14).
13. Four Belly
This Lakeview “Asian street food” spot has several types of ramen, starting with a pretty tasty pork tonkotsu broth and chewy noodles in a nice, if slightly smallish, bowl. While it may not win the prize for "Best Ramen," it could take what’s arguably an even more important title: "Best Ramen That GrubHub Will Deliver in Lakeview."
A ramen place opened in the middle of Lincoln Park in the midst of Chicago’s ramen fever, and nobody noticed? Hard to believe, but it’s true. This tiny year-old Korean-Japanese joint serves nice sushi and comfy dishes including a tonkotsu ramen that’s a little thin, broth-wise, but full of high-quality accoutrements. It’s enough to make us want to go back to check out the seafood and Korean-style beef ramen, too.
Logan Square/North Center
A few years ago this might have been the best and most authentic bowl of ramen in the city. It looks the part (we especially like the gooey egg), but the broth doesn’t quite have the unctuous porkiness of the best places that have sprung up in the last couple of years. Still, give it props for being a traditional, no-funny-business bowl.
There are various modernist takes on ramen on the menu here, but the traditional Oiimen is a great, classic bowl with lots of deep porky flavor -- which unfortunately is immediately masked by the presence of a pungent garlic oil sprinkled on top. Get them to leave it off, or at least use a light hand, because this is a pretty fine bowl without it.
9. Sozai Banzai
Arlington Heights, IL
Hidden in a half-empty strip mall (the sign actually says “Sushi & Grill”), this tiny spot features very little English and does a variety of authentic Japanese lunch dishes like grilled mackerel, as well as a nice bowl of ramen with cloudy, porky broth, toothsome noodles, and a really fresh-tasting garnish of green onions and shaved radish. And at $9.75, it takes the “Best Ramen Under $10” prize on this list.
The latest authentic ramen joint to pop up in a Northwestern suburban strip mall, Shinchan offers a well-made bowl, though the tonkotsu broth is not as thick and unctuous as some of the others out this way.
Avondale, Hyde Park
Yusho’s Logan Poser Ramen was one of the first signs of the hipster ramen explosion to hit Chicago, and remains the star of the Sunday ramen brunch. To be honest, though, the ways it broke with tradition (like the meats on a stick that came with it) were tastier than the ramen itself. Now labeled Logan Poser Ramen #2, it’s been refined with a richer, porkier broth (under a spicy sesame oil slick), and the pork/fish ball that comes with it is fantastic, making it one of the best unorthodox bowls around.
Arlington Heights, IL
When this Japanese ramen chain opened an outpost at the Mitsuwa Market in this Northwest 'burb, it was hailed as the most authentic ramen to hit Chicago to date. After that hype, we expected a deep, almost gelatinous broth, but it isn’t quite that -- it’s a fast-food bowl at heart. It’s very good, but to get to great, you’ll definitely want to spring for the $3 add-on of the incredibly velvety and supple pork cheek -- sheer piggy magic.
With two-hour lines out the door every night, Brendan Sodikoff's tiny 16-seater, beneath his Green Street Smoked Meats, has become the epitome of hipster ramen trendiness. But dammit, once again his restaurants live up to their hype. The tonkotsu is dark and funky, a lowdown, dirty broth (if a little too salty), and the noodles are fantastically chewy, almost wiry. Note that spicy is the order of the day -- a half-spice bowl is plenty hot, and the spicy is reputed to be genuinely punishing.
4. Ramen Takeya
Sibling to Wasabi, but a more serious place, dedicated not to tonkotsu but to a soul-nourishing thick chicken paitan broth, which you can get in various permutations -- spicy, crossed with shoyu, or a singeing-hot miso (see the picture). The chicken broth is excellent, though the noodles seemed a little soft compared to some of the others we’ve had.
Chinatown, Old Town
Last year when Strings made #1, we heard from some who thanked us for recognizing it when other critics didn’t -- and others who thought we must be on the take. Well, we tried it again and we remain convinced how right we were the first time: the tonkotsu broth, from Berkshire pork bones boiled for 48 hours, is as thick and tasty as a pork milkshake, and we love the springy, slightly chewy noodles.
2. Ramen Misoya
Mount Prospect, IL
Located in a modest strip mall on a nowhere stretch of a Northwestern suburb, Misoya looks like the ramen version of a diner -- but don’t let the lack of pretension trick you. If ramen-mania is starting to bug you, the no-bull way this place dishes out its different types of ramen -- tied to different parts of Japan (from Hokkaido chashu to spicy Tokyo), each impeccable for its own category -- is the antidote to excess ramen attitude. And add in this good news for city dwellers: it’s coming to Streeterville sometime in the coming months.
Is the thickest, porkiest bowl of tonkotsu ramen the most authentic? Or is it more like the best classic-French-technique bowl of ramen? You could make that case, but either way we’re pretty much wowed by Shin Thompson’s tiny, furiously busy ramen bar, with its lush, soul-filling broth and chewy noodles, enough so to declare it our new champion. And though many don’t like it, we think the giant soup spoon is funny.
1. Urbanbelly1400 West Randolph St., Chicago
2. Slurping Turtle116 W Hubbard St, Chicago
3. Four Belly3227 N Clark St, Chicago
4. Kameya806 W Webster Ave, Chicago
5. Wasabi2539 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
6. Oiistar1385 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
7. Sozai Banzai1089 E Golf Rd, Arlington Heights
8. Ramen House Shinchan1939 S Plum Grove Road, Rolling Meadows
9. Yusho2853 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago
10. Santouka100 E Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights
11. High Five Ramen112 N Green St, Chicago
12. Ramen Takeya819 W Fulton Market, Chicago
13. Strings Ramen Shop2141 S Archer Ave, Chicago
14. Ramen Misoya1584 S Busse Rd, Mount Prospect
15. Furious Spoon1571 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
Head here for some of the best ramen bowls in all of Chicago.
The celebrated chef of Bucktown's Takashi is recreating childhood memories of noisy noodle bowls and other Japanese comfort food in ST's open kitchen, which overlooks a 30-seat communal wooden table hovered over by a mezzanine. We think that Slurping Turtle is one of the best restaurants in Chicago.
This "Asian street food" spot has the most beautifully colorful ramen bowls you will ever see.
It may be surrounded by other ramen places, but their bowls are way better than the rest.
From two children of the Rising Sun bent on dropping their homeland flavor on Chicago, Wasabi fits a rustic tavern vibe into linear, high-ceilinged digs, with dark wood columns running up the exposed brick walls, a weathered beam ceiling sporting a wrought iron chandelier, and seductively glowing lantern fixtures over the sushi bar, setting the perfect vibe for you to get your mackerel on.
This vibrant bar features a projection screen playing vintage cartoons, thumping music echoing off the birchwood walls, and RAMEN. The homemade noodles are served on daily-made broths that take 18 hours to prepare, and include various flavor schemes (pork belly, poached egg, mushrooms, etc.).
Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall is some of Chicago's best ramen -- Sozai Banzai is your destination for authentic Japanese dishes on the cheap.
Who knew that strip mall ramen bowls could be so delicious?
Because apparently not everything in Japan gets lost in translation, former Charlie Trotter's exec chef Matthias Merges drew on the energy and community he discovered in the country's street food scene when conceiving Yusho. His architect wife channeled his vision into an eclectic space with a bar made from century-old wood beams and a skylit back room projecting anime. Crunch on salmon and chicken skins while you sip a boozy soda or one of the formidable offerings of Japanese and domestic beers. Then share a bowl of mentaiko carbonara, a seaside leaning take on the Italian pasta with spicy cod roe and bucatini from sister restaurant A10.
This well-loved ramen chain lives in the back of the Mitsuwa Marketplace, offering up consistently tasty bowls of noodles and broth.
Brought to you by Brendan Sodikoff, this West Loop resto is a cozy, dimly-lit space offering a concise menu featuring both traditional and modern ramen offerings, eye-popping “canzillas” of Asahi beer, and boozy slushies to temper the heat of the noodles.
Anyone who thinks that ramen is just a meal for broke college kids needs to eat here for dinner at least once and be proved wrong.
Using a Japanese noodle-making machine, Strings churns out some of the best bowls of ramen in town. Thick, flavorful pork broth and perfectly textured noodles bring this place to the next level of slurpy goodness.
Found in a nondescript strip mall out in the suburbs, Ramen Misoya is a hidden noodle treasure that is well worth the journey to get there -- quality ingredients and respect for tradition result in a no-bull, delicious ramen experience.
Shin Thompson's small-but-mighty Furious Spoon in Wicker Park stands well above the rest of Chicago's ramen shops for its bowls of handmade noodle soups. The menu features a few kinds of ramen with suggested toppings, like the house apple chili sauce. The signature Furious Ramen, a soul-warming blend of tonkotsu broth and spicy miso, pairs well with a Surly Furious Beer. The restaurant is sleek and narrow with a minimalist, artsy vibe that fits in perfectly with the trendy neighborhood.