Ramen house Strings cooks up delicious take on college classic

The kani tama miso ramen at Strings Ramen includes a bean broth infused with chicken, turkey bone stock and black mayu oil base, topped with pork and crab. Its Lincoln Park location is at 1629 N. Halsted.  (Mariah Woelfel / The DePaulia)
The kani tama miso ramen at Strings Ramen includes a bean broth infused with chicken, turkey bone stock and black mayu oil base, topped with pork and crab. Its Lincoln Park location is at 1629 N. Halsted. (Mariah Woelfel / The DePaulia)
The kani tama miso ramen at Strings Ramen includes a bean broth infused with chicken, turkey bone stock and black mayu oil base, topped with pork and crab. Its Lincoln Park location is at 1629 N. Halsted.  (Mariah Woelfel / The DePaulia)
The kani tama miso ramen at Strings Ramen includes a bean broth infused with chicken, turkey bone stock and black mayu oil base, topped with pork and crab. Its Lincoln Park location is at 1629 N. Halsted. (Mariah Woelfel / The DePaulia)

You’ll go because it’s the only place open for a 2 a.m. bite to eat. You’ll go back because you’ll crave the food at any given time of the day.

And when the host yells, “irasshaimase,” or “come in,” at you as you enter, remember that it’s only the beginning of unique evening at Chef Kee Chan’s recently opened ramen house, Strings 2, located at 1629 N. Halsted St. in Lincoln Park.

A rendition of its mother concept, Strings Chinatown, the approximate 80-seat, basement style restaurant offers menu items exclusive to its Lincoln Park location, including new topping choices of kinoko, dacho, kani tama, and a pairing of dacho and kuro buta.

Kinoko, or mushrooms, provides vegetarians with the opportunity to indulge, while other toppings such as dacho, or ostrich, promote the sense of competitiveness that Chan hopes to foster between his two chains. If you want dacho, you’ll need to go to Strings 2. Craving oden? Head to Chinatown.

Close to ordering the kinoko myself, our server sold me on the kani tama miso ramen: a fermented bean based broth, infused with chicken, turkey bone stock and accompanied by black mayu oil and butter. The fatty broth, infused with collagen and flavor to boot, was exactly what’s expected from a miso, known for its heavier base from the colder, Northern Hokkaido region of Japan. The noodles — thin, straight and al dente style — held the flavor of the ramen and provided a substantial base to each bite of crab and pork meat, topped with scallion or sesame seed. The bite takes you through a whirlwind of flavors, without disagreement. Bursts of salt from the fermented bean base and acidity from the scallions balance out the sweetness from the bata yaki, or butter infused with vegetables, that might overpower otherwise.

Though making a name for itself through its unique take on authentic style ramen, Strings’ two-side menu dedicates an entire page to yakisoba (pan fried ramen noodles), rice bowls, sides and non-alcoholic beverages.

The gyozo, or dumpling, side is another menu item exclusive to Lincoln Park. Order it in advance if you want it as an appetizer because they’ll take longer than your ramen to prepare. Choosing between kuro buta, chicken, seafood and vegetable, we tried the chicken and were not disappointed. The tenderness of the dumplings provided just the right vehicle for the pungent flavor of the jelly-textured chili oil they sat upon.

Appetizers and entrees are made in-house, while I recommend saving your sweet tooth for after you leave, as the desserts are ordered from a third-party vendor, and frankly, Chan said, not the focus of Strings. The only menu item that sparked my date’s interest and mine was the green tea mochi balls, which weren’t available yet.  We settled on the tiramisu, which neither of us cared to finish.

The menu, separated by style of dish, is easy to navigate, and offers user-friendly tips in the form of “Ramen 101” for the less inclined — an effort by the chef to give guests agency over this at times hard-to-navigate dish. A map of Japan explains where each style of broth comes from, while “Strings Guide 101” provides guests with basic ramen etiquette. And, yes, slurping is a must.

The food and fun facts didn’t distract from the more than adequate service and overall experience we had. If you’re looking for a folded napkin each time you go to the bathroom, or your food to be placed on your table at the same exact millisecond as your date, this isn’t the place for you. Coming from a background of training under a Japanese sushi chef and experience in his own now-shuttered restaurant Heat, Chan says Strings is about nothing more than good, fast service and good eats.

Bumping tunes from Gangstarr to Babbletron, furnished with high-top wooden tables, metal stools and hanging potted plants, Strings gives off a vibe of relaxation intertwined with an upbeat energy that’s unobtrusive. BYOB and adjoined by a tea spot that will feature local DJ’s on the weekends, Strings fills a gap at both North Halsted and in Lincoln Park in general for those looking for good time you don’t have to think about, at the centerpiece of which is impeccable food marked by an unparalleled attention to detail.

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