photo credit: Kim Kovacik
For years, Chicago ramen heavyweights High Five, Wasabi, and Menya Goku have been our go-tos, consistently impressing us with their fantastic pork-based, tonkotsu bowls. But a new challenger is vying for Chicago’s ramen throne. One with velvety, hard-to-find, beef-based gyukotsu broth. And that place is Monster Ramen.
Now our highest-rated ramen shop, it sits innocently on a corner in Logan Square—just a white neon sign glowing against a matte black exterior. The bright, narrow space has a few tables, but our favorite seats are the ones at the kitchen counter. Looking through glass separators, it’s like watching a TV that only broadcasts the Monster Ramen Channel. You can see all of the action: bowls being meticulously constructed, billowing clouds of steam emanating from pots, and the staff maneuvering through the narrow kitchen with well-timed, choreographed movements.
The menu has a few starters and a handful of non-soup dishes, but the ramen is why you’re here. Specifically, the four bowls made with gyukotsu, an incredible beef-bone broth. Unlike the almost-milky creaminess of pork-based tonkotsu, their gyukotsu is light (but still plenty beefy), and complemented with thin, springy housemade noodles. For a straightforward beef flavor, get one of their salt-seasoned shio bowls. But for more complexity, our favorite is “The Monster.” Toppings like beef jam, tender wagyu, and mushrooms give this bowl extra meatiness, while swirls of garlic miso tare mixed into the broth adds so much umami, the walls of reality practically disintegrate with each spoonful.
Monster Ramen already sets itself apart in Chicago’s ramen landscape simply by having beef broth on its menu. But the fact that their bowls are always balanced and flavorful makes it one of our favorite spots in the city for a casual meal—ramen or otherwise. Though it can get busy with friends catching up, couples, or parents trying to keep their kid from showering themselves in soup, we’ve often been seated immediately. But even if there’s a wait (usually 15 minutes or less), you can just happily pass the time by watching the Monster Ramen Show happening in the kitchen.
You can get these fried or poached, and with either a beef or vegetable filling. Both of the fillings are great, but we like our gyoza fried—the crispy bottom adds a nice contrast to the soft top. The accompanying yuzu ponzu sauce adds an extra layer of complexity, giving each bite some tart sweetness.
This dish is simple—just thinly sliced pieces of bamboo shoots drizzled in chili oil. But the menma has a perfectly crisp texture, and a sweet and earthy flavor that's nicely complemented by nuttiness and spice from the chili oil. This is a fantastic starter.
The gyukotsu broth in the shio tokusei has a focused, beefy flavor courtesy of shio tare. And though the addition of beef jam and chashu may feel like it will go overboard with the meatiness, a splash of yuzu lightens everything up with some citrusy brightness.
Like five students splitting a two-bedroom in New York, this bowl is packed. In addition to the aforementioned chashu and beef jam, The Monster comes with buttery wagyu rib roast, a sweet and savory soft-boiled egg, and a garden’s worth of vegetables and greens. Additional richness comes from the garlic miso tare, but it never feels overpowering. This is a must-order.
This is one of the two chicken-broth bowls on the menu, and though it has a much lighter flavor than the beef bowls, it has plenty of umami. This is from its soy sauce seasoning, the katsuo shoyu tare. Garlic, scallions, and raw red onions add some fragrance, while roasted sesame gives just a hint of nuttiness.