Looking for new spots to try? During Dining Month, Lori Fredrich is dishing out must-tries in 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between. Here's what she's recommended so far!
There's a chill in the air, which means it's the perfect time for a hot bowl of ramen. But where should you go? There are a good many choices these days, thanks to the ramen boom which kicked off in 2014 with spots like Red Light Ramen (RIP) and Tochi (which is worth the trek to Sheboygan!); but the scene has only grown from there, producing spots that truly capture the spirit of the Japanese dish.
What you'll find on this list is a combination of some of the best traditional bowls in the city (full disclosure: I'm a big fan of tonkotsu, so that generally guides my palate), plus a couple of spots that do an amazing job of getting creative while still delivering on the savory umami flavors that make ramen such an amazing dish.
530 E. Mason St., (414) 888-8800
Artisan Ramen has always stood out from the crowd, largely because they make their own ramen noodles. And if you think that doesn’t matter, you should definitely pay them a visit. The bounce of fresh ramen noodles is incomparable.
As for their bases, the chicken paitan boasts a broth, essentially the chicken-based cousin of tonkotsu, made rich with collagen from chicken bones. It’s lovely. As is their kimchi broth, which offers an amazing departure from the ramen norm.
But Artisan is also one of the only places where you can craft your own ramen! Ultimately, you can choose every element that goes in the bowl from broth and tare (extra spices) to toppings and noodles. I love the complexity you get from adding umami-rich black garlic and enjoy the dark, dramatic contrast that the squid ink noodles bring to a bowl.
Despite its playful, easy-going vibe and fun menu, there are some serious chops being exercised in the kitchen at Easy Tyger, and you'll find them demonstrated in full force in offerings like their ramen.
While their classic tonkotsu is stellar (including the spicy version pictured above), it’s an absolute must to venture out and try some of their variations. Take, for instance, their buttered corn ramen, which takes the premise of traditional Sapporo-style ramen (popular in Hokkaido, Japan) to a new level. It begins with a lovely savory miso-based broth that gets a bit of subtle sweetness from the addition of corn. It’s topped off with a fragrant coriander-lime butter, herbed tofu, soy egg, scallion and more charred corn before being finished with chili oil and cilantro. It’s perfect for this time of year. Oh -- and don’t sleep on their specials. They regularly serve up creative gems like roasted jalapeno mazeman and southwest chicken miso ramen. Watch their social media for all the delicious deets!
Kawa Ramen & Sushi
The folks at Kawa put months of effort into designing their ramen offerings, even bringing in an expert ramen chef from Japan who spent three months training the kitchen staff. The result is a rich, almost milky, tonkotsu broth that’s been simmered, tended and painstakingly skimmed for up to 12 hours. Made with Berkshire pork bones from a nearby Wisconsin farm, the broth is tested in numerous ways to ensure consistency. A salt meter indicates the sodium content of the broth; meanwhile, a refractometer measures the concentration of the broth itself.
The same care goes into the chicken-based ramen they serve at 3rd Street Market Hall. If you want something delightfully different, order their Yuzu Chicken Ramen made with light, clear chintan broth flavored with citrusy yuzu fruit. The broth is magical with nuances you don't get from an average bowl of ramen.
Tanpopo Ramen & Sushi
I’ve always mourned the overall lack of ambiance at Tanpopo Ramen & Sushi; but it’s never stopped me from heading there to enjoy a bowl of ramen. And that’s because it’s delicious.
You’ll find eight variations of the Japanese dish on the menu, from traditional tonkotsu, shoyu and miso to choices like vegan and spicy dan dan. But, I always gravitate towards the tonkotsu with its long simmered pork bone broth that’s smooth, silky and layered with flavor. It’s accompanied by equally delicious pork belly, shredded pork, a traditional soft-boiled egg, kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), bamboo shoots and scallions.
On the other hand, if you're like me and you love the texture of the bouyant alkaline noodles that accompany a great bowl of ramen, try their mazeman, a "brothless" variation on ramen that Tanpopo flavors with garlic, a hint of black vinegar and red chili sauce and tops with with fresh cucumber and bean sprouts.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.