Once thought of as the meal for college kids on a budget, ramen has grown into a formidable culinary dish appreciated by all—as there’s something for everyone. From the newest faces in the Chicago restaurant scene come dishes that highlight both the accessibility and versatility of the great Japanese staple: noodles.
This casual Kickstarter-funded shop in Wicker Park has been giving the hungry masses a fast and authentic ramen experience since February, with no wait staff and no orders to-go. The noodles—which are made in-house—are meant to be slurped “furiously” at the long communal tables for a quick service lunch or even a 1AM dinner that’s found commonly in Tokyo. Furious Spoon founder and chef Shin Thompson, whose grandfather owned a ramen shop in Hokkaido, spent time in Osaka learning skills from a ramen master who eventually sold him the vintage noodle-making machine (you can spot it behind the counter when you order).
In anticipation of the warmer weather, Furious Spoon has added tsukemen to their menu. The dipping noodles are topped with slices of chashu (tender, melt-in-your-mouth pork), nori and scallion, and are meant to be dipped into a broth served in a separate bowl—you can also add toppings like Spanish octopus. For those who can’t stay away from the signature, piping hot Furious Spoon this summer, cool down with a side of pickled veggies and their great selection of cup sakes.
The non-restauranteur couple that opened Wasabi in Logan Square didn’t realize just how popular their pork broth (the rich tonkotsu base can take up to 45 hours to make) ramen would be. To offer their loyal line-waiting, BYOB-toting customers some different menu options, they quietly opened their second venture Ramen Takeya in Fulton Market in March. This restaurant, decorated with wooden interiors and vintage Japanese signs (sourced directly by the owners from antique shops in Japan), specializes in chicken paitan ramen as well as a light “Tokyo Classic” shoyu (which blends both chicken and pork broth).
The milky, full-bodied paitan broth is made from cage-free (as well as hormone- and antibiotic-free) chicken bones. The darkish shoyu ramen is incredibly tasty—it was a rare occasion when we slurped up the entire soup long before the noodles were finished. And vegans, fret not: there’s a mushroom and seaweed broth on the menu especially for you. Top your meal off with Asahi Super Dry on draft, or choose from their selection of Japanese whiskeys.
When your paycheck arrives, make a beeline for West Loop newcomer Momotaro, brought to you by the same folks behind the ultra-popular Girl & the Goat (in fact, just a block away). The expansive menu (along with the noise level and liveliness) might overwhelm first-time guests expecting something more traditional, but the contemporary Japanese restaurant’s ambitions pay off in a memorable night filled with inventive dishes.
While many have lauded the namesake Momotaro appetizer (a cold tomato-based “tartare”), we were more delighted with the hot offerings, like the marinated shiitake mushroom yakitori and off-menu grilled bamboo with ramps. Our favorite, however, came in the form of a simple comfort dish: a chili mentaiko spaghetti, a Tokyo specialty that’s topped with roe and made creamy with egg yolk, that the restaurant considers its light Japanese take on carbonara.
Not to miss: the red-lit basement izakaya has a darker, more intimate vibe than the restaurant upstairs and is decorated with vintage Japanese movie posters (some of which aren’t afraid to get risqué). Perfect for a pre- or post-dinner drink and bite.
Momotaro interior courtesy of Huge Galdones, all other images by Nara Shin