Pictured: Sunda (All photos courtesy of each restaurant.)

Chicken noodle soup may be the quintessential American comfort food, but as more chefs are embracing Asian flavors and techniques, the rise of ramen is indicative of an increasingly adventurous casual diner. Even in a simple meal out, guests are more open to unfamiliar flavors and the rich, unctuous ramen broth has become so ubiquitous that it can no longer be called exotic. From a Michelin-starred restaurant throwing ramen on the bar menu to new restaurants dedicated solely to this Japanese delight, here are some of our favorites in Chicago and the northern ‘burbs.


The bar food at this South Loop restaurant keeps regulars coming back weekly, and while the lobster roll and burger have been much-lauded, on Sundays you can now get Tonkatsu Ramen too. Chef Ryan McCaskey gets his noodles handmade from Chinatown and seasons them with 48-hour sous vide pork shoulder, BBQ pork belly, woodear mushrooms, bean sprouts, sambal, charred scallion and spicy lobster oil. 1639 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, 312-360-9500

Furious Spoon

Chef Shin Thompson’s grandfather ran a ramen shop in Japan and he hopes to bring that same Tokyo style to Wicker Park with affordable prices and late night hours. He’s making his noodles from scratch like grandpa did, with a special-order machine from Japan, which you can see in action from a prime bar perch. The menu features veggie, chicken and pork ramen, along with apple hot sauce, pickles and handmade gyoza dumplings. Ramen-eating tip from chef Shin: slurp your noodles in 10 minutes or less since they continue to cook in the hot broth. 1571 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-687-8445


Belly Shack

At chef Bill Kim’s unassuming restaurant under the Western blue line ‘L’ stop, find a creative porky Lechón Ramen with Puerto Rican flair. A creamy broth spiced with chilies and chimichurri sauce is piled high with slices of juicy lechón, marinated overnight then cooked in the rich broth. Chunks of Genoa salami and a few crispy tortilla chips top off this carnivore’s dream. 1912 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 773-252-1414



Visit chef Matthias Merges’ Japanese izakaya for Sunday Noodles—for $20 you get a choice of noodles, house-made soda or draft cocktail plus some seasonal soft serve. Ramen options range from maitake mushroom with angry red miso and tofu to the popular Logan Poser ramen with pigtail, fishballs and hen egg. The regular menu features ramen too, but with fewer options. 2853 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago, 773-904-8558


Pick your own ingredients for a DIY Miso Ramen at this River North hotspot. For both lunch and brunch you can choose from 17 different toppings, including sliced Korean beef, bone marrow, fish cake and seaweed. The basic noodles, with poached egg, scallion and carrots starts at $8 but can easily rocket past $20, even for a vegetarian bowl. 110 W. Illinois St., Chicago, 312-644-0500

Slurping Turtle

Chef Takashi Yagihashi wanted to offer guests his version of “Japanese comfort cuisine,” and his bestselling Tonkatsu Ramen with thin housemade noodles and silky pork broth has been on the menu since day one. Bok choy, mustard greens and braised wood ear mushrooms balance the meat and a touch of chili oil adds heat. Feel free to slurp. 116 W. Hubbard St., Chicago, 312-464-0466


High Five Ramen

Find the hidden door in Green Street Smoked Meats and descend into the dark and gritty basement for the best ramen in the West Loop. Snag one of the bar stools and pick between one of four different ramens, then watch the small kitchen prepare your bowl. Try the namesake High Five Ramen for an explosion of spices, melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork belly and springy noodles. If you don’t have a high tolerance for spice, opt for a half-spice version. 112 N. Green St., Chicago, 312-754-0431


Find this food court ramen franchise in the back of Asian food emporium Mitsuwa Marketplace. The Salt Ramen is simple, but consistent—a mild, creamy soup topped with pickled Japanese plum. Soybean paste and soy sauce flavors are also available. Order a combo set to add sides like negi meshi (rice topped with condiments) and pickled egg to your meal. The dining experience is akin to a cafeteria—pick up your food, bus your own tables and fetch your own water. 100 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, 847-956-6699

Ramen Misoya

This Japanese chain has more than 40 locations worldwide and the Chicagoland outpost is inside an unassuming Mount Prospect strip mall. Serious Eats declared it the best ramen in all the land in 2013 and it’s still worth seeking out. Super savory broth with thick, perfectly pliable noodles is garnished with fried potatoes, agedashi tofu or fried shrimp, along with your choice of vibrant, assorted veggies. 1584 S. Busse Road, Mt. Prospect, 847-437-4590