’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee!
Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich will be dishing out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories throughout the month of October.
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 and Tochi, and the scene has only grown from there.
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.
1. Kawa Ramen and 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. If you love heat, go straight to their HellFire Ramen, which contains Japanese chilies. But get it while you can. The restaurant only serves up to 120 bowls of ramen per day.
2. Easy Tyger
Despite its playful, easy-going vibe and fun menu, there are some serious chops being exercised back in the kitchen. And it comes out full force in offerings like their ramen.
While their classic tonkotsu (my usual go-to) is stellar, 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. Last week they served up a Southwest miso ramen (pictured above) that I’m still sorry I didn’t get to try.
3. 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.
4. Hungry Sumo
Heading to Hungry Sumo is never a losing proposition. And that’s true of nearly everything you can order from Thai curries to sushi. Of course, it also includes their ramen. Their rich tonkotsu is always a great bet, topped with goods like their tasty chashu pork, mushrooms, bamboo, scallions, corn, seaweed and soft egg.
But you also want to keep your eyes out for their specials. In fact, if you see them announce their tom kha ramen special, run (don’t walk) and grab up a bowl. It’s usually served with a choice of shrimp or chashu pork, mushrooms, tomatoes and both white and green onion. The classic creamy tom kha broth makes a perfect foil for the usual pork broth. And noodles in tom kha? Why not? It’s delicious.
5. Artisan Ramen
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 chicken paitan boasts a broth that’s 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.
Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also craft your own ramen by choosing every element that goes in the bowl from broth and tare (extra spices) to toppings and noodles. Try the squid ink noodles for a dark, dramatic contrast in the bowl.
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.