One of the Chicago area’s most celebrated ramen experts is making waves in the local Japanese culinary scene with his new suburban restaurant that features Jiro ramen, an aggressive style with a cult following that isn’t offered anywhere else in town. Chef Kenta Ikehata on Thursday opened his third ramen-ya, Chicago Ramen Annex, at 1608 E. Algonquin Road in Schaumburg.
A Tokyo native, Ikehata has developed a devoted following at Chicago Ramen in Des Plaines where he serves tsukemen, also known as dipping ramen. With his new restaurant, Chicago Ramen Annex, Ikehata is bringing diners a dish from his hometown. Created in the late 1960s at Ramen Jiro, a restaurant that has since grown into a chain in Japan, Jiro-style ramen draws on Chinese culinary influences for its porky, garlicky, and rich profile. Also known as “Jirolian style,” the subgenre is characterized by firm, udon-like noodles and a sumptuous, fatty shoyu-tonkotsu broth, all topped with a tall pile of shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and lots of raw chopped garlic.
Jiro-style can be an acquired taste, so Chicago Ramen Annex is offering alternatives such as beef curry ramen, shrimp wonton ramen, and white mabo tofu ramen. The menu is also stacked with appetizers like takoyaki, kaki fry, and chicken karaage.
In Japan, Ramen Jiro has cultivated a reputation for brusque, some might even say rude, service. On this particular issue, Ikehata has veered from Jirolian tradition and will prioritize patrons’ comfort at Chicago Ramen Annex. He’s gone so far as to build out a 40-seat restaurant with booths, tables, and counter seating along the open kitchen. The attention to design highlights a dramatic shift from the original Chicago Ramen, Ikehata’s first Illinois restaurant, which opened in early 2020.
Despite pandemic obstacles, Ikehata’s momentum has remained strong: in spring 2022, he opened a sister restaurant, Chicago Sushi (also in Des Plaines), and by the fall he launched Chicago Ramen Lab in Rolling Meadows. Once Ramen Annex is running smoothly, he hopes to open two more ramen shops in the Northwest Suburbs later this year.
Chicago Ramen Annex, 1608 E. Algonquin Road in Schaumburg, open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.