Chicago chefs prove that the Japanese dish is so much more than noodle soup.

1 - Chicago's Best Ramen Joints

Ramen-San tonkotsu with chasu pork and a molten egg, served in a savory pork broth.

In the United States, ramen has typically been synonymous with packets of dehydrated noodles in Styrofoam, but these days the Japanese staple has become Chicago’s latest sizzling culinary trend. Former Bonsoiree and Kabocha chef Shin Thompson, whose grandfather owned a popular ramen shop in Hokkaido, pays tribute to his ancestor’s legacy with Furious Spoon (1571 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-531-2120). Here, he amps up the sophistication factor by serving ramen with rich tonkotsu-style broth and the option of shoyu or miso, house-made noodles, and an assortment of toppings (think mushrooms, bamboo shoots, scallions, sesame, and pork). According to Thompson, though, his version still adheres to ramen’s signature appeal: “It’s cheap, fast, and good.”

Chicago flavors come to the forefront at Ramen-San (59 W. Hubbard St., 312-377-9950), Lettuce Entertain You’s interpretation of an urban ramen restaurant. Here, light shoyu broth is served with noodles and smoked brisket from nearby Bub City (435 N. Clark St., 312-610-4200), and kimchi-covered fried chicken swims in hearty tonkotsu broth, contrasting modern bowls and featuring more traditional shoyu ramen with mushroom and a molten egg. Says chef Doug Psaltis, “[The crowd] ranges from neophytes discovering ramen for the first time—rather than thinking of it as college eats that come from a plastic pouch—to veteran ramen lovers who’ve traveled and tried ramen all over the world.”