By now we’ve all gotten used to the idea that when it comes to ramen there’s nothing to fear from chains. The long-standing dominance of Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace food court and the rise of Misoya in Mount Prospect have conditioned us into thinking that these imports can offer predictable consistency and quality. Things have changed in recent times, of course. Now there are some very good locally grown ramenya that stand out from the crowd of weaker ones, and it’s become difficult to categorically dismiss it every time someone who didn’t apprentice rendering lard in Asahikawa for six years decides to jump into the fray.
But now comes Jinya Ramen Bar, a Toyko-based outfit that, since Jonathan Gold first sung the praises of its first U.S. outpost, may well have become the largest and fastest-growing ramen chain in North America, with some 17 stores in six states and Canada. The Chicago shop is located on a dense stretch of Diversey
Fullerton in Lincoln Park that until MFK showed up wasn’t worth going out of the way for if you expected to eat anything memorable. The good news is that Jinya is pretty good, specializing in a variety of tonkotsu-based ramen but also offering variations on paitan (chicken-broth-based ramen), a few sides (or “tapas”), and rice bowls.
Any of the tonkotsu-based ramen are the way to go here. The chicken broth is thin and insipid compared to our own Ramen Takeya, though the wonton chicken ramen, with a double pasta overload of springy thin noodles and fat, subtly spicy dumplings is a novel approach.
The pork-based varieties come in a standard version with jiggly, tender chashu (pork belly), molten honjuku egg, bean sprouts, and wood ear mushrooms ($11.50). It’s also available in a spicy version that can be upgraded to suit your capsaicin tolerance ($12), a spicy miso version ($13), and a “premium white tonkotsu” with additional chicken broth ($12.80). The standard tonkotsu is powerfully umamic, and if you aren’t conditioned for this level of glutamate intake it might leave your palate exhausted before you get to the bottom of the deep bowl. But if you have the buds you might want consider the garlic lover’s Cha Cha Cha option, served with chashu AND back fat, plus fish powder, and Korean gochucharu chile powder ($15). This is served with thicker noodles that, at least in my case, threatened to overtake the bowl, or perhaps just absorb more than their fair share of broth. Either way, I found myself seriously entertaining the otherwise absurd offer to take home the leftovers. (Don’t do that unless you plan to confront a container of swollen, mushy noodles for breakfast.) Get that balance right and this could be among the premier bowls of chain ramen in town.
Jinya is BYOB for now.
Jinya Ramen Bar, 553 W. Diversey, 773-857-5140