Between springy udon noodles, smoky grilled skewers, and juicy katsu sandwiches, there’s so much to love about Japanese cuisine beyond the usual suspects of sushi and ramen. Fortunately for locals, the Chicago area is seeing an influx in spots featuring both creative and nostalgic takes on heartwarming homestyle fare, regional hits that change with the seasons, and umami bar snacks that go well with booze. Explore Eater Chicago’s lineup of both city and suburban hot spots below.Read More
Chicago’s Essential Japanese Restaurants
Find some of the best obento, kushiyaki, and okonomiyaki in the city and northwest suburbs
For many years, Chicago-area diners seeking well-made Japanese food knew the northwest suburbs were the place to be. The city’s offerings have grown and improved over time, but suburban spots like Sozai Banzai set the bar high when it comes to traditional bento and homestyle staples like oyakodon, kitsune udon, and curry rice.
A destination for Japanese American and ex-pat families since 1986, Daruma highlights an array of culinary styles including sushi, hot pot, yōshoku, soba, and more. Regulars adore its Japanese spaghetti, tempura udon, and saba shioyaki.
This venerable market opened its doors in suburban Arlington Heights in 1991, quickly garnering a reputation as one of the top Japanese food emporiums in the Midwest. The grocery section is a true delight for home cooks, but there are plenty of grab-and-go items like onigiri and a diverse food court with everything from Japanese crepes and bubble tea to yakitori and udon. The whole mall underwent a massive facelift in 2019.
Tensuke Market and Food Court
Tucked inside a blink-and-miss-it strip mall in suburban Elk Grove Village, Tensuke is an unfussy treasure trove of Japanese ingredients, snacks, and candies, and includes a cozy food court. Sushi and sashimi usually get the most attention but don’t overlook comfort foods like gyudon and curry rice.
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Casual and unfussy, Kurumaya brings the spirit of everyday Japanese dining to a suburban strip mall. There’s something for everyone, from crispy croquettes and juicy yakitori to katsu curry and ushio-jiru.
An institution for more than three decades in Lincolnwood, Renga-Tei has carved out a space in the hearts of both city dwellers and suburbanites with its comforting homestyle Japanese cooking. Obento are a reliable standby, but wise diners will look further for options like kaki fry, una-ju, and cold ume-orishi soba.
Mom’s Chicago (Konbini and Kanpai)
Chef Kelly Ijichi has fostered a loyal following with Mom’s, her virtual Japanese comfort food spot previously located inside shuttered food hall Politan Row. These days, Mom’s pops up around town at venues like Ludlow Liquors and Guild Row. For the time being, Ijichi has paused her rotating takeout-only bento program but plans to bring it back in the future at Konbini & Kanpai, a self-described Japanese-American slashie in Lakeview.
Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill
This neighborhood hit in West Town is known by many for its enormous and colorful maki, but there’s also a robust robata selection. Skewer options range from yakitori to squid karaage to nasu (eggplant) with ponzu and teriyaki sauce. There are no losers here, especially when paired with a Japanese highball.
Perched between a Hooters and CVS on a busy River North block, Cocoro offers sushi but its real strong suit is izakaya cuisine. Nostalgic options include maguro natto, shabu-shabu, and nabeyaki udon.
Decorated chef Paul Virant (Vie) made a splash in 2019 when he opened the first Chicago restaurant dedicated to okonomiyaki, Japan’s savory regional comfort food cooked on a griddle like Western pancakes. Though he is admittedly a gaijin — a Japanese term for “outsider,” or non-Japanese — Virant did his homework to produce delectable versions of Osaka-style and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Other options include several types of yakisoba and chewy mochi doughnuts.
Boka Restaurant Group’s elegant Fulton Market destination from chef Gene Kato touts strong sushi and nigiri menus but wise diners know not to skip over the list of robata yaki, succulent skewered bites of nigima (chicken thigh), Alaskan king crab (shiso ginger mayo), and Berkshire pork loin. Other delights include a cold, delicate shiso soba (shiso buds, bottarga, white tensuyu), an Itameshi-style spaghetti (spicy beef curry, scallion oroshi, black garlic oil), and crispy fried sea bream collar (lemon, sea salt, scallion). Downstairs, patrons will find the subterranean Izakaya at Momotaro, a casual space with low lighting and an East-meets-West menu of burgers, noodles, maki, and more.
Kumiko, the nationally acclaimed cocktail hotspot from star bartender Julia Momose and her skilled team in Fulton Market, has rocked Chicago’s storied bar scene with smart, inventive Japanese-inspired drinks and bespoke flights. As she prepares to reopen for indoor service, Momose is applying the philosophy of a “dainingu bā,” a Japanese dining bar where there’s a strong connection between food and beverage offerings. That means patrons can expect thoughtful pairings like a rosu-katsu sandwich (complete with Kumiko’s adored milk bread) and a Seaflower (Nikka Coffey gin, yuzu-kosho, blanc vermouth, kabosu juice, lime).
This cozy, casual izakaya-style restaurant doesn’t always get the press afforded to its Michelin-starred sister restaurant Omakase Yume, but its menu from chef Sangete Park is a nostalgic wonderland of Japanese hits to accompany beer or cocktails. Standouts include kaki fry, hamburg steak (ground beef, bean sprouts, onion, fried egg, demigras sauce, cabbage), and sea yosenabe, or Japanese seafood hot pot. There are also tons of kushiyaki, plus some nigiri, maki, and sashimi.