A local noodle wizard who worked at one of Chicago’s top ramen spots will soon step out on her own to bring her creative bowls of Japanese soup noodles, gyoza, and fun Asian snacks, to Logan Square. Katie Dong, a self-proclaimed “noodle nerd,” plans to open Monster Ramen in late 2021 or early 2022 at the cozy corner space at 3435 W. Fullerton Avenue. That’s just steps from busy retro sports bar Park & Field and the shuttered Acapulco Night Club.
Monster Ramen will serve as Dong’s platform to explore her passion for making noodles and educate patrons about the intricacies of ramen culture. A self-taught ramen chef, Dong in 2014 opened the first location of one of Chicago’s premier places to slurp noodles, Strings Ramen in Chinatown. Dong says she helped to invent String’s super-spicy Monster Hell Ramen Challenge, an eating contest for chili fiends. There she primarily focused on classic varieties like pork-based tonkotsu and chicken ramen.
Now that she calls the shots, Dong plans to open with a straightforward menu of beef bone-based gyukotsu broth (in spicy miso, shio, and shoyu varieties) and ramp up over time, eventually highlighting experimental ramens with non-traditional ingredients.
“I’m trying to put ramen around the world on the menu and combine Asian flavors with local ingredients,” she says. “Maybe one day you will find hot giardiniera in your ramen!”
Dong will also offer Mapo Men — cold and thick noodles with spicy mapo tofu broth for dipping — as well as vegan and vegetarian ramen, pan-fried and boiled gyoza, teppanyaki-style fried rice, and a rotating selection of “seasonal surprises.”
Once restaurant operations are underway, she aims to launch “ramen school” — in-person and virtual classes that detail the steps behind her noodles, broths, and other components. She’ll share the history and culture of ramen, a relatively modern regional Japanese culinary genre based on Chinese noodles, and sell products made on-site like marinated eggs and chili crisp in a small retail section. Dong hopes to expand her selection over time, adding packaged Asian snacks and other goods that are hard to find outside of Mitsuwa, the Japanese market in suburban Arlington Heights.
At 1,500 square feet, Monster Ramen will make for close quarters. The kitchen will take up half that space, leaving about 750 square feet for seating, restrooms, and retail products. Fortunately for Dong, the location includes a private courtyard she hopes to transform into an outdoor patio.
The Chicago area has seen a ramen boom in recent years, with a rush of international brands popping up alongside local chains like Furious Spoon and Ramen San from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Independent operators have also fostered strong followings, with prominent contenders such as offbeat hotspot Oiistar and tsukemen-focused Chicago Ramen in Des Plaines.
Making ramen is a laborious and time-intensive process, and its challenges have induced some chefs to guard their techniques and secrets closely. That won’t be the case at Monster.
“Monster Ramen will be different,” Dong says. “We love to tell you the secrets. We want to share our secrets with you.”
Monster Ramen, 3435 W. Fullerton Avenue, Scheduled to open in late 2021 or early 2022.