Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich has dished out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories, from brunch to BBQ and everything in between.
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 (which is worth the trek to Sheboygan!), 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.
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.
Of course, if you're a fan of tonkotsu, you can't go wrong with their tori paiton, a cousin of pork-based tonkotsu that’s made with chicken. The visibly cloudy broth has a creamy, rich texture that’s somewhat similar to tonkotsu, but with an intense chicken flavor. You can even amp things up with their spicy hellfire version (pictured above).
2. Easy Tyger
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 (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. They regularly serve up creative gems including BBQ miso, onion tonkotsu and Southwest miso ramen (pictured above).
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.
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.
4. Hungry Sumo
Heading to Hungry Sumo is never a losing proposition. And that’s true of nearly everything on their menu, from Thai curries to sushi. And yes, they also offer ramen (including creamy plant-based yasai ramen). As usual, I'm a fan of their rich tonkotsu topped with goods like their tasty chashu pork, mushrooms, bamboo, scallions, corn, seaweed and soft egg. But their spicy miso ramen is a close second.
For a special treat, head to Hungry Sumo on Sundays for Ramen Night, which features an all-ramen menu showcasing favorites, plus extra slurpable specials like shoyu chicken ramen and mushroom based kinoko ramen (pictured above). The all-ramen menu is offered starting at 4:30 p.m. with the last seating at 8:30 p.m.
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, 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. 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.