On the same day, TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE told me I had to try ramen at their respective favorite spots in the city for noodles. After listening intently to both of their rants on why THEIR ramen is superior, I decided there would only be one way to settle the dispute. And off I went…
Ai Japanese Restaurant and Lounge (358 W. Onatio St.) rests humbly in West River North in a row of good restaurants the likes of Reza’s and Zocalo. Ai prides themselves in serving a traditional Tonkatsu ramen featuring a ten hour pork broth. One of the more similar ramen to Wasabi, the reigning champ, we were thoroughly impressed with Ai.
The broth is rich and has nice body. All of the veggies and protein in the soup were cooked separately and were plentiful in portion size. We didn’t expect too much as Ai didn’t even feature their ramen as a house specialty, but we would definitely recommend it. I’m sure other menu items are excellent, but that wasn’t the purpose of the trip. One and a half thumbs up to this bowl of happiness.
Union Sushi + Barbecue Bar (230 W. Erie St.) opened up with a focus on yakitori skewers and fresh sushi. We didn’t even realize ramen was offered until we were luckily informed. Their ramen isn’t a traditional version though. The Spicy Pig Tail House Ramen is a darker richer broth.
With more of a soy influence and a great deal of heat – which I loved – this was more robust and had just a general rustic brooding quality that was exciting. Not necessarily inferior to the Tonkotsu, just different. This one with unique ingredients such as tofu, cucumber, pickled chili and napa cabbage made a serious impression on me as hitting the same notes as Urban Belly’s Ramen. Intense and truly soul warming.
Overall, the two examples were different and hard to compare. We slightly preferred the Tonkotsu at Ai though. More authentic, slightly more complex and layered flavors, and while I loved the spice in the one at Union, it was a tad too much for Jill. A great showdown of noodles. What should the next showdown be kiddies?…
I’m hungry. Let’s eat!