Chicago chefs prove that the Japanese dish is so much more than noodle soup.
Ramen-San tonkotsu with chasu pork and a molten egg, served in a savory pork broth.
In the United States, ramen has typically been synonymous with packets of dehydrated noodles in Styrofoam, but these days the Japanese staple has become Chicago’s latest sizzling culinary trend. Former Bonsoiree and Kabocha chef Shin Thompson, whose grandfather owned a popular ramen shop in Hokkaido, pays tribute to his ancestor’s legacy with Furious Spoon (1571 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-531-2120). Here, he amps up the sophistication factor by serving ramen with rich tonkotsu-style broth and the option of shoyu or miso, house-made noodles, and an assortment of toppings (think mushrooms, bamboo shoots, scallions, sesame, and pork). According to Thompson, though, his version still adheres to ramen’s signature appeal: “It’s cheap, fast, and good.”
If heat is what you seek, enter High Five Ramen (112 N. Green St., 312-754-0431), where Brendan Sodikoff takes inspiration from Kinkambo in Tokyo, which offers a spicy bowl made with numbing Sichuan peppers and four types of chilies. With its loud music, dim lighting, raw-brick walls, and exposed rafters, High Five’s ambiance is as intense as its broth. This focused approach mirrors thousands of ramen shops throughout Tokyo, where each offers its own signature bowl. “It would be great if every 10 blocks there was a new ramen shop,” says Sodikoff, hinting at future Chicago outposts, each specializing in a unique ramen.
Chicago flavors come to the forefront at Ramen-San (59 W. Hubbard St., 312-377-9950), Lettuce Entertain You’s interpretation of an urban ramen restaurant. Here, light shoyu broth is served with noodles and smoked brisket from nearby Bub City (435 N. Clark St., 312-610-4200), and kimchi-covered fried chicken swims in hearty tonkotsu broth, contrasting modern bowls and featuring more traditional shoyu ramen with mushroom and a molten egg. Says chef Doug Psaltis, “[The crowd] ranges from neophytes discovering ramen for the first time—rather than thinking of it as college eats that come from a plastic pouch—to veteran ramen lovers who’ve traveled and tried ramen all over the world.”