Eat ramen. Eat all of the ramen, because there’s never a bad time to indulge. The good news for you is that ramen is no longer a novelty, and there are plenty of great options around. The bad news is everyone you know is apparently an expert and wants to share their “knowledge” on traditional Japanese cooking techniques. We have no such intentions, but we do know what tastes good.
These aren’t restaurants that happen to have a ramen on the menu, but rather places that are built around it. These are the best ramen joints in Chicago.
Strings is a casual Chinatown ramen spot ideal for a quick and easy meal. The combination of excellent noodles, tasty broth, and a large selection of fillings including vegetables, pork belly, pork loin, duck, seafood, and even turkey are what make Strings one of the best. Feel free to roll in wearing sweatpants. We do it all the time.
A tiny ramen shop in the basement of Green Street Smoked Meats that’s equal parts awesome and tasty. There are only about 15 seats here, which means you can sometimes luck out and get a spot, but more likely than not you’ll have to wait. So don’t plan on popping in here for a quick meal. Instead, grab a drink upstairs inside of Green Street while you wait, and plan to grab another one after. When it comes to the ramen, you’re here for the spice, and the Half Spice Ramen is the baseline order because it’s spicier than you would think. Feel free to kick up the heat from there.
Oiistar has a crazy *ss machine for making noodles in-house, and they’re cranking out great noodles as a result. In addition to the typical bowls you can get like pork belly ramen, there are also interesting and seasonal options. Try something like the “tikkamen” with chicken and masala or the “pozolmen” with pork loin and jalapeños for ramen outside the box. The space itself is ideal for a casual meal, no matter who you’re with.
The whole experience at Wasabi is exactly what you would expect from a Logan Square ramen shop: great ramen, and a large counter with plenty of space to sit at the bar. You can either get in and out easy, or hang out and kick it for a bit. The broths here are mostly pork-based, and the tonkotsu should be your go-to move.
Ramen Takeya is the sister restaurant to Wasabi, and, while similar, it’s not quite the same. The main difference is in the type of ramen. At Takeya, the specialty is chicken paitan, which is a lighter chicken-based broth than all the rich tonkotsu pork broth at Wasabi. But the two spots are similar in the fact there’s a large counter area and a few tables, so you can make it a quick meal or hang out for a drink if you want. The Fulton Market location also means there’s plenty of good bars nearby if that’s your move.
Ramen-San has very solid ramen, but the real selling point here is the vibe. It’s a cool space with brick walls that make it feel like a ramen club, and you can bet there will be hip hop along the lines of Tupac or Biggie playing loud enough that you’ll never lose track of it. Ramen, rap music, and a cold Asahi in a casual setting will help you get through the worst of days. It’s one of the few casual spots in River North if you’re looking to hang out and have a drink with friends.
If you’re serious about ramen, head to the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights, a supermarket where you can find specialty Japanese items. Not only can you buy the rare chocolate stuffed Koala cookies only available in Japan these days, but Santouka, a ramen shop inside the market, is the real deal. It’s a great weekend adventure, especially when it’s cold outside.
This is actually a rather large Japanese-based chain, but it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing. Ramen Misoya is also in the suburbs, but not there’s another location in Streeterville that you’ll probably find a lot more convenient. Sitting here feels like you’re in a mini Japanese ramen cafeteria, which is great when your focus is on a quick and delicious meal and not necessarily a whole experience.