Strings Ramen Shop
2141 S. Archer Ave. 312-374-3450
Opened: January 2014
I've probably had more than two dozen bowls of ramen in Chicago over the last few years, but never a broth like the one on the kurobuta and kamo (duck and pork) tonkotsu ramen ($14.95) served here. At Strings, black Berkshire hog bones are boiled for 48 hours to create a rich broth so thick it almost quivers when you dip your spoon in. As I slurped, the soup left a trace of satisfying fat on my lips. Slivers of rare duck, tender (you can order your pork fatty or lean; I went with fatty) cutlets of pork and a runny golden-yolked egg add even more richness and heft. This was also the only bowl of ramen I tried that was garnished with a square of toasted nori, which offered a crunchy contrast to the soup. Strings' oden ramen ($10.95) featured a clearer, lighter soy-flavored broth filled with diced pork belly, though the chewy garnish of wooden-skewered seafood cakes aren't necessarily for everyone. Both bowls featured chewy, satisfying noodles. Though they're machine-made on-site daily, Strings' noodles tasted the closest to a hand-pulled noodle of all the ones I tried.
806 W. Webster Ave. 773-935-3474
Opened: November 2013
So many of Lincoln Park's Japanese restaurants are pretty but mediocre, serving slightly better than instant ramen and grocery store-level raw fish. Kameya somehow transcends that. It is so tiny (when I was there, seven people sat at a table meant for four) that if you're not comfortable bumping butts with people you don't know, you might stay away. Those who don't mind near-claustrophobic conditions will be rewarded with an excellent ramen ($13.99) featuring a light and smoky broth studded with caramelized bits of beef, a nest of scallions, planks of tender bamboo, scalloped-edged fishcakes and a hard-boiled egg.
201 N. Wells St. 312-332-6878
Opened: December 2013
A soul-sucking Loop workday requires a soul-satisfying bowl of ramen. Until recently, this was tough to find. That is until Ajida, which offers five different ramens, hopped on the scene in December. I tried the shoyu ramen ($13) which featured a clear, light broth dappled with spicy chili oil, but preferred the classic shiromaru ($13) with its garlicky broth, pink strands of pungent pickled ginger, lava-centered soft-boiled egg and chewy square noodles (made fresh daily, according to my server). The best part of the bowl was the chashu, or pork belly roulade, covered in a sweet soy glaze and broiled until the outside was crispy and the inside was melting. Of the six bowls I sampled for this article—and five of six contained some pork—there was no tastier pork garnish.
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