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A bowl of ramen on a tray.
Ramen-san is open in Lincoln Park.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

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After Nearly a Decade, Ramen-san Evolves to Stay Relevant in Lincoln Park

In opening a new location, Lettuce Entertain You banks on brand recognition

Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

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.

The exterior of a restaurant with a garage door.
Ramen-san replaces Oyster Bah.
A ramen set with a bowl and ladle on a tray
Fried chicken ramen

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.

A restaurant with garage door dinwo
Garage door windows are like the new Edison bulb as far as restaurant design trends.
A stocked bar with stools.
There are 52 different varieties of Japanese whisky.

“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.

A wooden booth

It’s a familiar aesthetic.

A set of fried chicken fritters.
Karaage chicken nuggets
Salad-san with carrot ginger dressing.
An open-faced bun with fried food inside.
Pork belly bun
a plate of dumplings
Shrimp dumplings.

Oyster Bah

1962 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 (773) 248-3000 Visit Website

Cai

2100 South Archer Avenue, , IL 60616 (312) 326-6888 Visit Website

Ramen-san

219 North Green Street, , IL 60607 (773) 645-0085 Visit Website

After

1338 W. Fulton Street, Chicago, IL Visit Website

Star of Siam

11 East Illinois Street, , IL 60611 (312) 670-0100 Visit Website

Lettuce Entertain You

5419 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 878-7340

Andros Taverna

2542 North Milwaukee Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 365-1900 Visit Website

Sushi-san

63 West Grand Avenue, , IL 60654 (312) 828-0575 Visit Website

High Five Ramen

112 North Green Street, , IL 60607 (312) 344-1749 Visit Website

Chicago Ramen Annex

1608 East Algonquin Road, , IL 60173 (847) 907-4755
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