Way out in the Chicago neighborhood known as Logan Square lies a little ramen shop called Wasabi. It’s a no reservation, BYOB place known to have a line out the door and around the block just 20 minutes after opening. For downtown dwellers like me, it’s quite a trek to get to. So is it worth it?
Wasabi’s reputation has been built on its ramen, but they also serve an array of Izakaya-style Japanese dishes like yakitori, small plates and sushi. They claim to be “one of the few Japanese-owned Japanese restaurants in Chicago” (which always makes me happy) and their fish is flown in daily from around the world, including Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.
My friend and I went to Wasabi on a Saturday afternoon to discover a line waiting for the restaurant to open at 5 o’clock. Within minutes the restaurant was almost full and a line was forming around the block.
As you can imagine, the energy inside the restaurant was buzzing with excitement as everyone was either anxiously awaiting their ramen or happily slurping up a bowl. The staff ran behind the bar in the open kitchen, going back and forth between people.
Skewers and Small Plates
We bellied up to the bar so we could watch the action in the open kitchen, had our server pop open the bottle of sake we brought and started with some yakitori skewers. Unfortunately they were out of our first few picks so we went with a pork belly skewer ($3) and a beef shortrib skewer ($3.50). The beef was on the tough side, but the pork had better flavor and texture.
Next we tried the sashimi ceviche ($10) from the small plates menu. A nice combo of avocado, octopus, scallops, jalapeno and shrimp, it had good flavor but the octopus was on the chewier side for my taste and I was left wishing for more scallops. The cracker-like crisps were more confusing than anything and I honestly only ate them out of curiosity.
Now for the Ramen
Then moment we’d been waiting for arrived: ramen at Wasabi. I went with the tonkotsu ramen ($13). Not only is it my favorite, but it’s a good baseline for judging ramen at different restaurants. Small bits of pork, seaweed, bamboo, mushrooms and a perfectly cooked egg swam in a big bowl of broth and noodles. The broth was tasty but didn’t have the depth and complexity that I’d hoped and the pork was almost flavorless.
I later learned braised and torched pork belly (“Aburi Kakuni”) can be added for $4.60 extra and even an umami flavor booster can be added for $2. I’m curious how they would change the ramen, but disappointed added flavor comes at such a price.
My friend ordered the spicy roasted garlic miso ramen ($14), with all the same fixings as the tonkotsu but with garlic chips, chili threads and a spicier broth. It wasn’t as spicy as we expected, but were satisfied nonetheless.
At the end of the evening, Wasabi had a great buzzy atmosphere and good ramen. It’s an awesome neighborhood spot but for me, the payoff isn’t worth the hassle to get to. I’m curious to try their sister restaurant, Ramen Takeya in Fulton Market, that specializes in chicken ramen (and is much closer to where I live).
Go to Wasabi for :: affordable Japanese food and ramen in Logan Square. Notes :: No reservations. Come early and prepare to wait! Only entire parties will be seated. BYOB — one bottle of sake or wine or a 6 pack of beer is allowed per every 2 people.