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A bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
Photograph: Martha Williams

The 17 best ramen shops in Chicago

The city's best ramen specialists will warm you up when the weather gets cold.

Written by
Zach Long
,
Morgan Olsen
&
Jeffy Mai
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When the temperatures begin to drop, few things are as comforting as ramen. The combination of rich, creamy broth with springy noodles is like a warm hug in a bowl. Though the dish may seem simple, a lot of love and labor actually goes into it. And only a handful of Chicago shops have mastered the art of ramen. You’ll find everything from Ramen Wasabi’s porky tonkotsu to gyukotsu-style ramen, a specialty of southern Japan, at newcomer Monster Ramen. There’s even plant-based broth for non-meat eaters from Tokyo chain Rakkan Ramen. Some places adhere strictly to traditional toppings, while others mix things up with unorthodox ingredients such as fried chicken and mussels. And you won’t break the bank, because these spots are among the finest cheap eats, as well as best Japanese restaurants, in Chicago. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned noodles expert or if your only ramen experience is with the instant variety, our guide to the best ramen shops in the city will have you slurping all the same.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of the best Japanese restaurants in Chicago

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

Steaming bowls of noodles have been a fixture of chef Bill Kim’s menus ever since he opened his first restaurant, and diners have always been eager to slurp his latest creations. Originally launched as a delivery-only concept, Bill Kim Ramen Bar specializes in broths that draw on Korean, Vietnamese and Mexican flavors, garnished with a creative array of toppings. Whether you’re looking for a conventional bowl or ramen or something a bit more adventurous, Kim has something you can enjoy by the spoonful.

Best ramen in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Logan Square
  • price 2 of 4

Even the most brutal Chicago weather can't keep us from venturing outdoors for a bowl of piping-hot soup from this Japanese spot in Logan Square. 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. You can't go wrong with the fan-favorite Original, which includes tender pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, 'shrooms and garlic oil.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

This teeny-tiny hidden oasis under Green Street Smoked Meats in the West Loop is usually tought to get into unless you arrive early. Those lucky enough to snag a seat are rewarded with tonkotsu, shio, shoyu or maitake ramen. You can adjust the heat level on all of the options, opting for full, half or quarter spice—all of which flaunt a satisfyingly painful burn. Cleanse your palate with a can of Asahi beer, sake or cocktail slushie.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • North Center
  • price 1 of 4

The folks behind Ramen Wasabi and Ramen Takeya landed in North Center for their third concept. The focus of Menya Goku is tantanmen, a Japanese take on Sichuan dan dan noodles. The pork broth gets its tingly, mouth-numbing properties from peppercorns as well as a slight nuttiness through sesame paste. Each bowl is teeming with noodles, ground pork, bok choy, green onions and marinated bamboo shoots. It’s the perfect dish for the cold.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Logan Square
  • price 1 of 4

Katie Dong, who previously worked at Strings Ramen, is the maestro running this new buzzy Logan Square shop. You’ll want to try the gyukotsu-style ramen, a specialty of southern Japan that’s made with beef bones and rarely found in the States. Craving something a bit spicier? Go with the creative mapo-men, a fusion between mapo tofu and Japanese dipping ramen known as tsukemen. The noodles are no afterthought, either—they’re crafted in-house using an imported machine.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Wicker Park

With outposts in New City and Wicker Park, this global ramen chain aims to bring the traditional Japanese experience to Chicago through its robust menu of flavor-packed ramen creations that are totally customizable (it's easy to add toppings or opt for a low-sodium broth). Keep it simple with the garlic tonkotsu with pork broth or go all in with the tsukemen, a deconstructed ramen variation that is presented with a separate bowl of broth for dipping.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Not content with just one noodle empire, Strings owner Kenny Yang opened a new shop in the West Loop this year. Although the house specialty, gyukotsu-style ramen, is typically made with beef bones, Yang eschews tradition and uses bison bones instead. If you’re feeling extra ravenous, the $30 premium bowl featuring wagyu, beef tongue, beef chashu, braised beef and wontons filled with wagyu and truffle will hit the spot.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

This Fulton Market spot (a sister restaurant to Ramen Wasabi) dishes out paitan and shoyu ramen in big bowls filled with umami-rich 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 whisky over ice or a classic, crisp Sapporo.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

A meal at Ramen-San usually starts with an order of buns or dumplings, but regulars know that these appetizers are just the opening act. The restaurant's Tokyo-style wavy noodles meet their match in unconventional ingredients like fried chicken and buttered corn. Vegetarians dig the Tantan-San with a veg-based broth, cremini mushrooms, bok choy and chunks of tofu. Better yet is the fact that you can upgrade any bowl with a menu of add-ons, like fried garlic, spicy sesame chili, chashu pork or wontons.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Bridgeport

When you slurp the broth at this Bridgeport ramen shop, you're tasting the product of hours of simmering (nine hours for the pork broth, six for the chicken). This time-consuming approach to cooking is what gives the bowls at E Ramen their rich flavors, which are best appreciated in their unadulterated classic configurations. But if you're looking for something a bit more interesting, a variety of spicy ramen options ratchet up the heat, while the niku ramen adds some acidity to the dish in the form of a ginger pickle. E Ramen's chicken wings, sushi rolls and Tokyo curry bowls don't disappoint, but we recommend eating your way through the broth-y noodle bowls first.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Ramen broth is deeply rich and satisfying but generally produced by boiling animal bones, leaving vegetarians with little to no options. Fortunately, this new chain from Tokyo has has arrived to expand the local scene. Rakkan’s umami-laden broth is 100% plant-based, made with dashi, mushrooms, onions, ginger, carrots and garlic. As a result, the bowls here are roughly 40% less fat than traditional tonkotsu ramen. Diners with dietary restrictions will be happy to know there are also gluten-free and kale noodles on offer.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Lake View

Whether you're ordering from Strings in Chinatown, Lakeview or Hyde Park, there's a section on the menu that will undoubtedly catch your eye: Hell Ramen. With three spice levels to choose from, the appropriately named dish is crafted with dashi broth that's infused with hot peppers and chili sauces (level 3 incorporates ghost peppers). For everyone else, there are plenty of tamer options, including turkey miso ramen. Noodle fiends can request kae dama or "extra noodles, please!"

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Wicker Park
  • price 1 of 4

This Wicker Park ramen shop puts its 18-hour pork stock and chewy, house-made noodles to good use in imaginative creations like the Pozolmen with pork loin, jalapeños, red onion and tomato. Get funkier still with the Tikkamen, which is dripping in masala and sesame flavors and filled with tender bits of chicken and bean sprouts. No order is complete without a few buns to share, and with options like tempura cod and duck breast, there's something for everyone in your crew.

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  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

When a popular ramen chain from Canada set up shop in the West Loop, we raised our eyebrows in interest. But Kinton had us at first slurp. The Toronto import's menu is sorted by base, with pork, chicken and vegetarian bowls. Forgo tradition and spring for the spicy jalapeño variety, which is topped with chicken breast, nori, white onions and jalapeño paste. Maybe Canadians know a thing or two about ramen after all.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Bridgeport

Nicknamed the "Midnight Diner," this Bridgeport restaurant stays open until 1:30am most nights of the week, serving affordable eats and an impressive lineup of ramen. The yuzu-chicken variety boasts a citrus-laced broth, grilled chicken and wood ear mushrooms, while the tomato-vegetable ramen spotlights matcha noodles and stir-fried produce. Treat yourself to the taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake with red bean filling, for dessert.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Logan Square

With locations in Logan Square and Lakeview, this laidback ramen emporium wins when it comes to customization. Simply choose a chef-crafted ramen bowl, add toppings and slurp quickly—that's the key to ramen consumption, according to chef Shin Thompson. First timers will dig the Tokyo shoyu bowl with tonkotsu broth, soy, pork belly, mushrooms, cabbage, nori and naruto. 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.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Sheffield & DePaul

A small, unassuming Japanese restaurant just off the bustling Halsted Street corridor in Lincoln Park, Kameya offers a mighty selection of sushi—but that shouldn't stop you from ordering the ramen. The bowls here sport a buttery yet surprisingly light broth, garnished with your choice of pork belly, bulgogi beef, chicken katsu or gyoza dumplings. A simple array of cabbage, green onions and an egg add some other flavors to the mix, but the simplicity of these bowls is what makes them so appealing.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Lake View

A minimal but handsome dining room and friendly staff await at this Lakeview restaurant. The welcoming committee also includes three types of ramen: extra thick tonkotsu; rich, porky miso; and dipping ramen. The first two are loaded up with pork chashu, spinach, corn, a soft-boiled egg and seaweed, but diners can boost any ingredient for an additional fee. Before you start slurping, pad your belly with an order of geso karaage, tender squid tentacles rendered golden-brown and delightfully crispy with help from the kitchen's deep fryer.

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