As an Asian from the New York metropolitan area, I’m very picky with my ramen shops. But when my friends in Chicago told me about Strings Ramen Shop – some of the best ramen in Chicago, they'd say– in Chinatown, I finally decided to take the plunge and give it a go. If you’re one of those people who’s heard about the hype, or even if you’re just craving ramen, I definitely encourage you to give Strings a chance. You won’t regret it!
My friend and I arrived at about 9 PM on a Saturday night. The atmosphere was pretty standard for a ramen shop, and there was great music playing (e.g. “Red and White” by Guitar).
We thought we’d missed peak dinner hours but were mistaken, as the restaurant was still super busy. But we only waited for a table for about ten minutes, which was just enough time to look over the menu.
After our table was ready, we were quickly seated and our orders were taken almost immediately. I opted for the Tonkotsu Kuro Buta, while my friend got the Kokujou Hell Ramen (Level 2).
FYI, The Hell Challenge is a Strings trademark. The restaurant serves up signature spicy ramen dishes with hotness levels 1 through 5. If you can empty a bowl of level 5 in 20 minutes, you get a $50 gift certificate and a shirt! If you think you’re game for extreme spiciness, Strings' challenge is definitely for you.
Once our ramen came, we quickly dug in. Here's the breakdown.
Kokujou Hell Ramen (Level 2): 5/10
I tried to get my friend to do the Hell Challenge, and thank God he refused! The hotness levels of this dish did not fuck around. The pork skin was crispy, and the taste otherwise was fine, but I thought the spice kind of overwhelmed that rich ramen flavor that I know and love.
Tonkotsu Kuro Buta: 7/10
It might not be Ippudo, but this Tonkotsu definitely held its own! The marinated egg was soft and tasty, but the yolk was a little cold. The broth was flavorful but too thin. The noodles were just a tad too “al dente” for my taste, but in the end this dish really came together with flavor that was more substantive than just spicy.
Overall, Chicago is no New York in my book, but Strings Ramen Shop a fantastic addition to Chicago nonetheless. I’ll definitely be back.