Monday, March 4, 2013

Tonkotsu Ramen Rundown

-Grubbing in Chicago 
Where's the ramen at?

Since my initial introduction to ramen I've been to Santouka as many times as I've been anywhere else to eat. This is the spot that turned me onto ramen and as more and more shops popup of late I've tried them to see how they compare with one of my favorite bowls of anything in the vicinity. For those unfamiliar Tonkotsu ramen is a rich and fatty almost milky pork bone based broth with ramen noodles and slices of pork amongst other things included in your bowl, those can vary. It's usually very rich and perfect for hangovers. This is a rundown of five different places in the city that offer it.

Slurping Turtle

When they were set to open shop the hype for here was high. With that came some big expectations. Since I'm not an expert I didn't know what to expect but was hoping for something as good or better than Santouka. Nope. The biggest plus from here was the sheer size of the portion which at $15 should get you full. I thought the noodles were pretty good and plenty but the broth tasted more like Pho than Tonkotsu to me. The biggest downer of this bowl was the pork. It was resistant which I like when it comes to ribs but not so much in my soup having to fight with it to break it down into bite size pieces. Good not great.

Tonkotsu Ramen from Slurping Turtle


It's hard to compare and contrast exact notes when the tasting is being done on different days in different months but this was the "as close to bowl" as there was for my partner in slurp. I liked it just fine as well. The broth, meat and noodles were all comparable to Santouka but not quite there. Easily the 2nd best of the broths in this round up. It cost more than Santouka ($13 to $11 w/ cheek meat) but on my visit they had the option to switch the regular option pork to cheek meat free of charge. This place is much closer to me than Arlington Heights so when you figure gas costs etc its close in price. There's been reviews all over the board on them. Maybe consistency is an issue. I featured them in a full post HERE.

Tonkotsu Ramen from Wasabi


I tried this spot last week but wasn't as impressed as others especially given the price ($15). So they have a machine that makes their own noodles but I didn't notice any difference that separated them from the rest except they were a little softer than all others. The up-charge to pork belly ($1.50) made a meal for two with a drink each just over $50 with tip. But the inside of the place has that trendy vibe going so welcome to Bucktown where hipsters drink cheap canned beer but eat $20 bowls of noodles. It fits right in. The broth was weaker than the rest. Though I do wonder if quality at ramen shops can vary like BBQ. But would also wonder why. People seem to be all over the place on who has the good stuff.

Tonkotsu Ramen from Oiistar

Izakaya Sankyu

Thanks to those on LTHforum that mentioned this cool little Izakaya in Mt Prospect this place was put on my radar. Some folks over there still share tips rather than just whine about it. Not far from Santouka I normally wouldn't try this place when my standard is so close. However Santouka is done for the day by 7:30p and this place is a bar with food open later. This was the cheapest bowl at $8.50. It was was good and hit the spot on a cold winter night but I wouldn't say it was great. Nothing really stood out except the steaming sweet smelling plate of yaki soba someone next to us ordered. I liked the little bottle of hot sesame oil at the table to boost up the spice in your bowl. All places should have those as an option at your side.

Tonkotsu Ramen from Sankyu


Still the standard as far as Chicagoland goes. I've never actually had ramen outside of the cityscape but will seek out legendary places when the chance comes. So really I'm just a sharp shooting 6 foot tall white dude from Indiana aka an amateur. I'm no Lebron but as of now Santouka is tops and it's not really close. Well worth the ride in my eyes. Best broth, best pork, best noodles and I love getting a cup of white rice topped with green onions and dumping it in the soup when the noodles are done. The rice soaks up all the milky pork broth, food court dining at it's finest. More on them HERE.

Torinuku Meat Tonkotsu Shia Ramen from Santouka

All mixed together

Slurping Turtle
116 W Hubbard St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 464-0466

2539 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 227-8180

1385 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 360-8791

Izakaya Sankyu
1176 S Elmhurst Rd
Mt Prospect, IL 60056
(847) 228-5539

Santouka (Inside the Mitsuwa Market)
100 E Algonquin Rd
Arlington Hts, IL 60005
(847) 956-6699


Steve D. said...

It is challenging. I have eaten at ramen shacks in Tokyo, Japan; but not enough that I consider myself a ramen adept.
Especially when trying those here in Chicago.
I tend to concur with your (& Keizo's) assessment that Santouka is the best in the area.
(I prefer shoyu ramen to tonkotsu.)
I can offer that the best aspect of Chicago ramen shacks is you do not have to queue up for 30 minutes in order to eat there. ;=)#

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