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CHICAGO CUISINE: Japanese Ramen Noodles Become a Gourmet Delight

CHICAGO CUISINE: Japanese Ramen Noodles Become a Gourmet Delight

Editor's Note: This article is by Jane Bokun, Food and Wine Guest Contributor

Ramen noodles, once a staple of college campuses before everyone worried about salt content, have found a home and some true believers throughout the city of the big shoulders. Variations run from basic chicken to a gourmet Ramen dinner. It's so in demand that in the past two to three years, the not-your-grandmother's Ramen shops have become wildly popular in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.

In Wicker Park, there's Furious Spoon. For those who like to rap while eating Ramen noodle dishes, Furious Spoon may just be the new go-to spot. Furious Spoon has three locations and was started by the ever cool proponent of the food, Michelin Star Chef Shin Thompson. The restaurant is designed as a Tokyo-style quick service ramen shop in the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. The ramen is made fresh in-house by Michelin Star Chef Shin Thompson. He changed his mind about serving only gourmet food when he closed his restaurant, Bonsoiree in Chicago. On the menu are mushroom gyoza dumplings, and items like the Furious Beef Bowl which features spicy beef brisket over rice with Japanese eggplant and snow peas. It's all set inside a cozy atmosphere where you eat your food on the spot - no take-out. L,D - Sunday - Thursday | 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.; Friday - Saturday | 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., 1571 N Milwaukee Ave. (773) 687-8445. $

Jinya Ramen is a Japanese chain serving noodle soups and other foods in a modern restaurant with a Ramen bar right in the middle. The chef at Jinya told us that his favorite food is Schezuan Chicken, but he serves other favorites such as a variety of tonkotsu-based ramen but also offering variations on paitan (chicken-broth-based ramen), a few sides (or "tapas"), and rice bowls. Jinya Ramen also features pork based varieties of Ramen with honjuku egg and wood ear mushrooms. In fact, Jinya Rameen is fast becoming one of the largest and fastest-growing ramen chains in North America, with some 17 stores in six states and Canada. LBD Hours are Monday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. until midnight on Friday and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 553 W Diversey Pkwy, (773) 857-5140. $$$

At Momotaro in Chicago Chef Mark Hellyar spent time living in Japan and got immersed in its culture. The upscale restaurant features a farm to table Japanese concept, Hellyar says. In fact, he said he sources the food from fresh Japanese markets throughout Chicago. His colleague, Chef Jeff Ramsey - the only American-born chef to receive a Michelin Star in Japan - heads up the sushi bar. Momotaro also contains a subterranean Izakaya and an elegant second floor private space that overlooks the main dining room. We tried the Unagi Don which is barbecued eel rice, shiitake, kanpyo, and sansho pepper. The healthy restaurant also offers traditional fare such as the Alaskan King Crab with red chili kosho butter. D Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 5 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday 4:30 to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday 4:30 to midnight; and Sunday 4:30 - 10:30 p.m., 820 W Lake Street Chicago, (312) 733.4818. $$$$

One of the greatest concepts since the new Burger King Burrito, Sushi Burrito will soon be open in Wicker Park at 1238 N. Milwaukee Ave. The unique new restaurant is said to be opening this September according to owner Ganzorig Amgalanbaatar. It will be the third installment in this chain of Sushi Burrito restaurants. What can we say? Who won't love a burrito stuffed with sushi? Our favorite is the Shrimp Sushi Burrito with Tempura Shrimp, crab salad, katsu sauce and more for about $7.50. But there's also a Philly Cheesesteak Burrito that's perfect for taking back to work. Best thing about Sushi Burrito is its fresh ingredients and mid-range prices. Burritos are priced between $7.50 and $13, as well as poke bowls for $9.50. Poke bowls consist of raw fish salad and can come with yellowfin tuna and other fresh fishes. The restaurant is a chain and includes Sumo Sushi Burrito at 1752 N. Sheffield Ave. in Lincoln Park and Sushi Burrito at 2904 N. Broadway Ave. in Lakeview, which opened last March. $$

Looking for the next big thing? Pokiology may become known as the science of eating this delicious raw fish salad and Hawaiian staple. In fact, the new restaurant recently opened in early August at 4600 N. Magnolia Ave., Suite C in Chicago. Here, the poke bowls, which generally feature cubed raw fish in a marinade will surely be the next big thing in fast food. The new culinary phenomenon, Poke, has landed on food-trend lists for 2016, with people liking its convenience and healthy ingredients. We tried the ahi tuna over brown rice which was both tasty and a feast for the eyes. Bowls come with additions such as avocado, crab meat, wasabi and more. Drinks here include healthy juices such as apricot and guava. The meal itself or Poke, has a protein served over rice or salad. No guilt in this trendy eatery. Meals range from $10 for a regular portion to $16 for bigger sizes. Pokiology, open for L, D from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. (773) 961-7624. $$

If you like your Ramen with a touch of elegance try OIISTAR in Wicker Park. Here, the ladies that lunch can enjoy a full bar and even cartoons. There is danceable house music that makes patrons want to sip their Ramen a little bit faster. Here, there are homemade noodles with broth made daily. We tried the Goki, bbq beef, lettuce, cilantro, onion, sriracha, and cream fraiche. We also enjoyed the Ramen Tikkamen dish with chicken, masala, bean sprout, nori, and roasted sesame. Oiistar owner Chef Sunny Yim combines traditional Japanese ramen noodles with French and Italian touches. The daily-made pork stock is cooked for almost a full day to create four signature ramen dishes. Those looking for a tasty start to their meal will be pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of appetizers and signature steamed buns. L,D Lunch is Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday - noon to 3 p.m.; Tuesday / Wednesday - 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Thursday - 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Friday / Saturday - noon to 11p.m.; Sunday - noon to 10 p.m.; closed Mondays, 1385 N. Milwaukee Avenue 773-360-8791. $$$$

Meet Guest Contributor, Jane Bokun

Jane Bokun has worked in television for an ABC affiliate, but she has spent most of her career writing and editing such publications as Where Chicago Magazine, St. Petersburg Times, Gannett news, and even People Magazine. She has been an editor of the year for Gannett and is a member of Sigma Delta Chi (Society of Professional Journalists). For Shearson Lehman Hutton in Chicago, Bokun was one of the first Chicago Board of Trade market reporters. In her spare time, she is a maybe too hands on mom, wife, travel lover, and food writer. After living in Louisiana and Florida, she also is a member of the Mardi Gras Krewe of St. Brigit (Tampa) and Krewe of Les De Mystiques (Louisiana).

Photo Credit: Chicken Shio Ramen at Furious Spoon, Chicago

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