Five Places To Score Amazing Ramen
By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 15, 2012 9:50PM
The Slurping Noodles (Chuck Sudo)
One of the highlights of my recent trip to New York City involved a tour of old and new ramen noodle houses I later equated to a Death Row inmate's last meal. the ramen at Momofuku was as good as I expected, though the atmosphere was a bit staid for my tastes. Totto Ramen in Hell's Kitchen had a lively atmosphere enhanced by its tight quarters. My hands down favorite was Ippudo Ramen, which combined the best elements of the other two into an amazing dining experience. The idea of carbo loading for a 40-mile leisure ride was insane, but I was caught in the moment.
But I knew I didn't have to fly 800 miles east in order to get good ramen. If your experiences with ramen are limited to the dehydrated variety you loaded up on during your college and post-grad days, you're missing out on one of the simplest and best-tasting dining experiences of your life. Ramen, at its most basic, is a dish that can bridge class and income levels, like a good burger or a hot dog. It shouldn't have to break your budget but, if it does, the ones that do are often worth it.
Here are five of my favorite places to order ramen.
1. Slurping Turtle (116 W. Hubbard): You can't go wrong with getting ramen from Takashi Yagihashi. Noodles by Takashi in the Macy Field's food court is amazing. So is his Sunday ramen brunch at his eponymous Bucktown restaurant. But it's the ramen at Yagihashi's new Slurping Turtle that keeps us coming back to River North with its size, variety, and in the case of the Slurping Noodle, an amazing broth I could eat all by itself. The ramen at Slurping Turtle is good, but it isn't my favorite downtown. That honor goes to...
2. Ginza Sushi (19 E. Ohio): Don't let the outside facade scare you away. This restaurant, housed in the Tokyo Hotel, is home to some of the best Japanese bar bites, fresh sushi (another post for a later time) and ramen in Chicago. Period. It's the ramen (below) we come for the most, loaded with fish cake, scallions and pork, all floating in a mild soy-flavored broth. It's the most affordable ramen available downtown and the best bang for the buck.
3. Santouka (100 E. Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights) I could waste a day at Mitsuwa, the Japanese marketplace in Arlington Heights. When I need a breather from the sensory overload, I head to this shop in the heart of it all. The broth has amazing flavor, the noodles are al dente (and come in three sizes, and the accoutrements are always spot on. Sure, it's a chain. But it's a good link in the chain.
4. Arami (1829 W. Chicago Ave.): This Ukrainian Village outposts namesake ramen is worth its weight in broth and meat alone. The Arami ramen contains heaping amounts of pork belly and braised beef, served with house tsukemono, kamaboko, enoki, and egg, and is well worth its cost.
5. Urban Belly (3053 N. California): This list wouldn't be complete without sending some propers Bill Kim's way. The broth in Urban Belly's ramen is a straight-up, dark pho broth, served with wonderful chunks of shiitake mushrooms and pork belly. For some acidity, add some of Kim's house made kim chi to the mix and you'll go home sated and satisfied.