Where is the Elusive Chicago Ramen?

This is a question I find myself contemplating on practically any given cold and dreary evening in Chicago.  We had tried a few noodle shops only to be let down by the lack of flavor in their ramen broth.  But we have been comparing our Chicago ramen with the likes of San Francisco’s Genki Ramen. Perhaps there is no comparison in the midwest?  When we saw Tampopo on “Check Please” we decided to venture north in hopes that we would find our Chicago ramen spot.

Without our camera, GPS or the address we recalled that it was definitely in Lincoln Square.  After driving in circles for five minutes we gave my ever-so-slightly drunken brother a call to identify the exact location.  He notified us that we were about 5 minutes too south and needed to get to the Roger’s Park area.  So with an address in mind we headed toward our destination quite hungry and concerned about a potential wait.

Parking was a breeze and we headed towards the intimate family-run operation.  As we entered a party of five was leaving and two other pods of people were waiting.  The waitress told us it would be about 10 minutes.  We didn’t mind as we expected a busy crowd post “check please”.

After about 15 minutes we were seated and served hot tea.  As I perused the menu I was delighted to see items such as Yakitori (skewered chicken in a mirin/sake/soy glaze) and Negima.  Naturally, I become a little disheartened if I don’t see something resembling either of these at japanese restaurants.

We ordered the Negima, Spicy Salmon Roll, Shoyu Ramen, and another favorite of mine Yakisoba. Our negima and sushi arrived at our table at the same time.  I must say that I was quite impressed with the lightening speed of the sushi chef.  The fish was fresh and ample, but the sushi rice seemed a bit dry.  The negima was different than others I have had before but tasty none the less.  The beef was sliced thinly around the fresh scallions and the sweet soy-based sauce was light.  This dish was simple in its execution but had the essence of a fresh and home made meal.

The ramen and yakisoba appeared next.  Perhaps we have too high of expectations, but I would say that both meals were average, and for our chicago ramen adventure thus far just didn’t match what they are serving in San Francisco.  The yakisoba was… well… okay I guess.  I appreciated the thinly sliced carrots, cabbage, and bamboo shoots, but I am unhappy to report that we weren’t incredibly impressed with the execution.

Unfortunately,  I can’t say that we will be giving up our search for the elusive Chicago ramen.  I do think that we will return to Tampopo one day, perhaps after the hype from the show has died down. We still want to try a few more of the many appetizers we didn’t have room to order, and give the staff a chance to cook on a less hectic evening.

Tampopo| 5665 W. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60686 |  773-561-2277

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4 responses to “Where is the Elusive Chicago Ramen?

  1. Great tip on San Francisco ramen – I’ll be there in March, can’t wait to try Genki. What’s your favorite there?

  2. I believe we had gyoza, yakisoba and the chashu ramen. It was all good. I can’t wait to go back to San Fran so I can try some other ramen spots!

  3. I love San Frans Ramen, but i am proud to tell you Chicago has a ramen of that caliber. Japonais Restaurant. Its only one type, and only served during lunch.Let me know what you think.

  4. Thanks for the tip! Is this something they have normally on the menu or a special request we should make? We have only been to Japonais for dinners before, I’m excited to try out lunch!

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