Even the brutal Chicago winter cold can’t stop a crowd from forming outside this Japanese spot located on a sparse stretch of Milwaukee Avenue 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.
This hidden oasis under Green Street Smoked Meats in the West Loop is managed by Hogsalt—the same culinary masterminds behind Au Cheval, 3 Arts and Doughnut Vault. Ambience doesn't fall short and neither do the flavors. The minimalist 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 signature ramen with a milder bowl, like the shoyu or special ramen, which are still impressive without the seductively creamy tonkotsu broth. Cool down with fruity slushie cocktail or sip on some sake.
The modern wooden tables, flatscreen TVs and golden beckoning cats give this ramen joint a modern, sports bar-like feel. And with three broths to choose from, it’s a solid bet for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. The Tokyo-style wavy noodles are spruced up with unconventional ingredients like fried chicken, ground pork and buttered corn. No matter what you pick, we highly recommend adding a creamy molten egg to your order.
Long, blond wood bar; small, rectangular menu card; concise booze lineup; pork belly buns; pork-packed ramen crowned with an oozing soft-boiled egg. If this Wicker Park ramen joint were channeling New York’s Momofuku any more, Dave Chang himself might serve a cease and desist. We hope he doesn’t, because while Oiistar may never incite the mania of the hipster ramen spots before it, we appreciate it as an option for a solid bowl of noodles, great garlicky fried chicken slathered with sesame soy and muddled cucumber mojitos so tasty we almost don’t mind that they’re served in stemmed mason jars.
This Fulton Market spot dishes out paitan and shoyu ramen in big bowls filled with umami broth. Takeya’s chewy egg noodles complement hunks of tender pork belly, making the Tokyo Classic shoyu an easy favorite. There’s even a vegan option on the menu, with seitan ragu in a mushroom-seaweed broth. Wash it all down with smooth Japanese whiskey over ice or a classic, crisp Sapporo.
Strings’ Lakeview location mirrors its Chinatown outpost with high-top wooden tables for two, shelves of bright succulents and a line of cooks whipping up ramen behind the counter. The menu offers three base options: light seaweed broth, miso-based chicken and turkey stock, and rich pork bone broth. No matter which route you go, each bowl is filled to the brim with complex flavors, tender egg noodles and whatever additions you choose. If you can handle intense heat, ask for the Monster Hell Ramen, which is available in five different levels of chili-fueled fire. But whatever you order off the extensive yet easy-to-navigate menu, you know the drill: Add a molten egg (ajitsuke tamago in Japanese) for just $1.
With five locations (and counting), this laidback ramen shop wins when it comes to customization. Simply choose a chef-crafted ramen bowl, add toppings, select sides and slurp quickly—the key to ramen consumption, according to chef Shin Thompson. First timers will love the shoyu bowl with tonkotsu broth, soy, pork belly, bean sprouts, nori and bonito flakes. If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, go with the namesake Furious bowl, a miso-based broth with lip-numbing heat that burns without being overwhelming.
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.
River West/West Town
Slurp hand-crafted concoctions from acclaimed chef Takashi Yagihashi at this River North post of the Ann Arbor-based shop. The menu features several different kinds of ramen, assembled with toppings, seasonings and all, but the house tonkotsu ramen is most beloved by fans. The creamy opaque broth fills each bowl to the top, hiding treasures like soft-cooked eggs, sumptuous pork belly, tangled ribbons of house-made noodles and a confetti of green onion.
This casual Asian fusion eatery stands out with its array of menu items, including rice bowls, dumplings, bimbibap and a pickled papaya-topped Belly Dog. If you choose to go the ramen route, you’ll be rewarded with a bowl of rich, spicy broth that’s adorned with pink pork belly, a tangle of noodles, ’shrooms and green onions. Pro tip: Ask for the junior bowl (still a hefty pour) in order to save room for soft serve.
Authentic and affordable are Misoya's key aspects. Known for its miso ramen, the menu is pretty straight forward and offers enormous portions. There are two central base options: either pork broth and vegetarian miso broth. 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. But the add-in list is where Misoya shines; from cripsy fried chicken to tender tofu, its ingredients are cooked and seasoned to perfection. It's no wonder this locale is Michelin recommended.
In recent years, Japanese food has emerged as one of the most sought-after cuisines in America, and Americans are becoming discerning—no longer are we satisfied by half-priced sushi rolls or sickly-sweet chicken teriyaki.