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The best ramen in Chicago

Love ramen? Chicago's ramen scene has been taking off lately. We ate 20 bowls to find the best in the city.

Strings Ramen is one of the best spots for ramen in Chicago.

Is there another food that's taken off lately quite like ramen? Chicago chefs and restaurant groups like Brendan Sodikoff's Hogsalt and Lettuce Entertain You opened ramen shops in 2014 (and we held a ramen face-off). Last year, Bill Kim threw Ramenfest. Japanese restaurants (and even non-Japanese restaurants) added bowls to their menus. 

We sampled ramen from Yusho, High Five Ramen, Strings Ramen Shop, Oiistar, Urbanbelly, Izakaya Mita, Juno, Itto Sushi, Cocoro, Browntrout, Ajida, Ramen San, Slurping Turtle, Wasabi, Ramen Misoya, Santouka, Arami, Ani, Furious Spoon and Acadia—in all, 20 different kinds. This is the best ramen in Chicago. 

Best ramen in Chicago

Acadia

Acadia's ramen isn't listed online or on their menu, so here's the scoop—it's available Sunday nights in the bar, starting at 5pm. Just ask the bartender or server for the ramen. You'll get a bowl of tonkotsu broth, and a few drops of spicy lobster butter sprinkled on top tableside. The ramen, which has nice springy noodles, is packed with pork—meltingly tender shoulder that's sous vide for 36 hours, barbecue-glazed belly and chunks of chopped belly—then topped with housemade sambal, charred scallions, mushrooms, sprouts, nori and an egg.

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South Loop

Ani

This Lincoln Park Japanese spot (and sister to Arami) wasn't where we expected to find one of the best bowls of ramen in the city. The tantanmen ramen can make you, albeit briefly, forget your winter woes. The broth, made with nutty sesame and chilis, shimmers with spicy oil and specks of green onion, and comes topped with a firework of cheveux d'ange (impossibly thin ribbons of red pepper). Crisp baby bok choy and tender pork meatballs float on top, and make sure to fish out the delicate bites of sweet kabocha squash that settled at the bottom of the murky sesame depths. Every bite is coated with a slick of chili oil, resulting in pleasant tongue-burning warmth.

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Lakeview

Arami

Best known for its exceptional sushi, this busy West Town storefront dabbles in everything from traditional yakitori grill favorites to comforting bowls of noodles and rice. Here the house ramen is made with a clear and flavorful beef broth and served with both slow-cooked pork belly and braised beef that falls apart in your bowl. The springy ramen noodles are topped with pickled vegetables, slices of fishcake, strands of delicate enoki mushrooms, and a gently poached egg that breaks sunnily into the broth.

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West Town

Furious Spoon

The Kickstarter-funded ramen spot from chef Shin Thompson sits in the heart of Wicker Park. The sleek, narrow storefront is lined with wooden counters and stools, and the speakers blare hip-hop. Four different versions of ramen anchor the menu, but it’s the restaurant’s namesake dish, Furious Ramen, that really makes a statement. The miso-based broth has a lip-numbing heat that burns without being overwhelming, and is accompanied by an impeccable cooked egg that splits open with the consistency of velvet custard. Snappy fresh noodles are a treat, made daily in the large machine behind the counter. The soup is packed with meaty toppings—a melty pork belly and beef brisket—but it’s the surprisingly tender and bright marinated mushrooms that shine.

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Wicker Park

High Five Ramen

When the temperatures drop, it’s hard to not want to escape to somewhere remote and exotic. After one (or four) slushies in this hidden oasis under Green Street Meats in the West Loop, you can almost pretend you’ve been transported to a gritty basement ramen shop in Tokyo. Reminiscent of the cautioning one might find from a wing–centric sports bar, the menu begins with a stern warning of how spicy the soup can be—and spicy it is, but worth the momentary pain. Balance the flecks of chili in the classic High Five ramen with one of the milder bowls like the shoyu or special ramen, which are still impressive without the seductively creamy tonkotsu broth. The bracingly chilly bite of the fruity slushie cocktails will help tame the heat, too.

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West Loop

Ramen Misoya

The Chicago outpost of the Japanese chain might be a bit of a drive, as it's located in a strip mall in Mount Prospect, but the trip is worth it. Known for its miso ramen, the shop is adorably littered with miso propaganda, highlighting the fermented soybean paste’s supposed health benefits (it’ll make you smarter, more alert, skinnier, clear up your skin and cure most illnesses). The miso broth is some of the best in the city, imparting each noodle-packed bowl with a nutty and complex flavor from the rich soybean paste. If you can handle the heat, be sure to add more spice, which has a pleasant and warming heat.

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Mount Prospect

Santouka

Tucked into the sprawling suburban Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights, Santouka is the Chicago branch of a popular ramen chain that was first opened on the island of Hokkaido in Japan. Before stocking up on rice noodles and jars of chili oil from the market shelves, make your way to the sparse central food court and order a bowl of ramen. The soups here are straightforward and unfussy, but the grid-like menu is extensive and can be overwhelming, offering miso, shoyu and shio broths. You can’t go wrong with any of the choices, but we’re partial to the spicy miso ramen, with an intensely silky broth. Regardless of your broth choice, make sure to order your soup char-siu style, which comes topped with the tender slices of barbecued pork for which the restaurant is known.

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Arlington Heights

Slurping Turtle

Bucktown’s Takashi has closed its doors, but you can still grab a steaming bowl of chef Takashi Yagihashi’s famous ramen at his second location in River North. The menu currently features three different kinds of ramen, one crafted with red miso and another spicier option featuring pork meatballs, but it’s the house tonkotsu ramen that has a legion of devoted fans. The creamily opaque tonkotsu broth fills each bowl, hiding treasures like soft cooked eggs (make sure to add an egg), sumptuous slow-cooked pork and tangled ribbons of housemade noodles, topped with a confetti of green onion.

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River North

Strings Ramen Shop

Strings sets itself apart from the recent influx of ramen slingers by making its own noodles in the basement on a Japanese machine. They’re firm, with a nice bite. Get them in a variety of ramen bowls, like the tonkotsu, which has a deep, meaty broth filled with garlic, sesame, scallions and thick slabs of pork. Add an egg and it’ll come with a perfectly cooked yolk that spills into the broth. There’s a happy hour from 3–5pm, when you can get three free oden sticks, which are skewers served in broth—we liked the soft egg as well as the fish ball.

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Chinatown

Wasabi

Even the brutal Chicago winter cold can’t stop a crowd from forming outside this Japanese spot located on a sparse stretch of Milwaukee in Logan Square. Once inside, you’re greeted by a huge pot behind the bar, enthusiastically bubbling with an intensely flavored tonkotsu broth. The ramen here is simple and unembellished, free of the trends and cutesy interpretations finding their way into many of the city’s noodle bowls. The subtly spiced broth is rich and cloudy with pork fat rendered from Berkshire pork bones, made in a time-consuming process that takes over 45 hours. Make sure you add the spicy miso ball to your bowl, which transforms the broth via a warm and peppery heat.

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Logan Square

Yusho

Ramen addicts are a particular bunch, and a bowl that strays too far from the conventional has to be executed perfectly. Matthias Merges’s two Yusho locations serve up bowls of inventive and satisfying soups that are always on point. The standout here is the spin on a traditional tonkotsu bowl, the Logan Poser Ramen, which features a meaty rectangle of crispy fried pig tail and comes topped with a scattering of tobiko flakes that wriggle over the top of the steaming broth. On Sundays, a bowl of ramen of your choice, soft serve and a cocktail will only put you out $20—it’s still one of the best (and least crowded) brunch deals in the city.

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Logan Square

Comments

2 comments
jon a
jon a

Strings=Best ramen spot is chinese owned, cooked and managed. Chinese best copiers in the world.

Eric M
Eric M

I'm amused that the Slurping Turtle photo shows someone who clearly has no idea how to properly use chopsticks.