With multiple restaurants near the intersection, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises has been a Lincoln Park fixture for decades. And now they’ve opened a Ramen-san at Halsted and Armitage to replace Oyster Bah and Sushi-san is on its way.
Ramen-san debuted in 2014 in River North, and at that point, there weren’t many ramen shops in Chicago. They partnered with Sun Noodle, a well-known manufacturer, to bring daily shipments from the New Jersey noodle factory to Chicago — LEYE has tested more than 100 different noodles for their broths. Investments like that generated buzz over the last nine years. Ramen-san also became an industry favorite for Japanese whiskies; the Lincoln Park location will stock 52 varieties.
But as more ramen arrived in Chicago, Ramen-san evolved to try to keep pace with places like High Five Ramen in West Loop and Strings in Chinatown. Chicagoans are now interested in ramen from different regions and broths made from different bones. The Tribune just ran a review about the virtues of Jiro-style ramen, which is served in suburban Schaumburg at Chicago Ramen Annex. Chicago Reddit star Mike Satinover, after years of trepidation, plans to open his own ramen shop in Logan Square.
“I love that ramen continues to grow as a category or a cuisine type in America and in Chicago,” says LEYE partner Amarit Dulyapaibu.
One of LEYE’s hallmarks is customer service, and Dulyapaibu says listening to customers has helped Ramen-san evolve. For example, they’ve introduced Chinese-style mantou buns and other items to produce a menu that differs from an authentic ramen shop.
“I think what’s unique is about Ramen-san is it’s not just about ramen noodles,” Dulyapaibu says. “We want to continue to add, not just in the ramen category, but around it as well.”
The main floor, which seats 75, was the former home to Oyster Bah (a nautically themed Lettuce property). It’s been transformed into the same simple aesthetic as other locations. A hip-hop soundtrack, often associated with Japanese restaurants, remains.
Downstairs there’s a 35-seat private dining room. LEYE will also use the space to court chefs for a monthly pop-up series. On Wednesday, Henry Cai, of the Cantonese virtual restaurant 3 Little Pigs, is selling barbecue pork ramen. Dulyapaibul, raised in Lincoln Park, just a few blocks from the restaurant, grew up in the industry and the pop-ups series is important to him. His family owns Star of Siam off the Mag Mile and opened Tiparos in Lincoln Park (Grant Achatz once said the latter was his favorite Thai spot in Chicago).
LEYE obviously has the scale to transfer staff from other locations and part of the allure of having multiple restaurants nearby is to share resources — a manager can just run to Summer House or Cafe Baba-Reeba if they run out of an ingredient. But COVID has made hiring harder and customers have changed their dining habits. Ramen purists, much like Neapolitan pizza pursuits, don’t readily endorse carryout orders saying quality degrades. No one wants to enjoy cold and congealed noodles at home. But LEYE pivoted to more carryout and invested in packaging aimed to preserve the soup. Likewise, they’ve 86ed items like french fries that don’t necessarily carry out well.
There’s also been a desire to reduce late-night hours by city officials. All of these factors mixed means something has to change. Ramen-san’s late-night fried rice, created by former LEYE partner Doug Psaltis (Andros Taverna) as a way to drum up business after 11 p.m. is now served at 9 p.m. But, as Dulyapaibu says, LEYE is always listening. If summer keeps the restaurant busy, they may extend hours.
Walk through the space below.
Ramen-san, 1962 N. Halsted, open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.