LAKEVIEW — There's a saying about ramen: It was born in China, raised in Japan and killed in America.
But with Strings Ramen Shop, said executive chef Katie Dong, American ramen is reborn.
"That's why we have Strings: to teach you how to appreciate it," Dong said. "I want the customer with their first bite to feel the chefs putting a lot of work into the bowl. You can't just throw something on the plate."
Dong and owner Kenny Yang are hoping the second location of their Chinatown shop will appeal to North Siders as they open at 919 W. Belmont Ave. Strings replaces Ramenster, a short-lived eatery owned by a Thai couple who closed up shop to move back to Thailand.
It's BYOB and dinner service only during the July soft opening, but already Dong said customers are excited to have a go-to ramen shop in the center of Lakeview.
Strings offers four styles of ramen for $12.95-$23.95, each made with a different broth and served with a variety of protein options:
• Shoyu ramen: A broth made of seaweed and soy sauce and can be served as a vegetarian dish with mushrooms or with filet mignon, spicy clams or pork. Served alongside the protein are bamboo shoots, roasted seaweed, bean sprouts and red ginger.
• Miso ramen: The bone stock is made with soybeans, chicken and turkey with corn, scallions, bean sprouts and crushed garlic.
• Tonkotsu ramen: A creamy pork bone stock seasoned with black mayu oil and garlic and served with scallions, bamboo shoots and sesame seeds.
• Hell ramen: Offered with five levels of spice that go all the way to a scorpion pepper-laced daikyokan broth, all are seaweed-based and come with ground pork and crispy pork skin. Rumor has it the higher levels require a medical waiver.
Take down the daikyokan bowl in 20 minutes to win the Monster Hell Ramen Challenge, which comes with a prize of a $50 gift certificate, Monster Hell T-shirt and the bowl itself free.
But be warned: Out of hundreds of challengers over the past three years, six have come away as champions.
Topped with crispy pork belly, this bowl from Strings Ramen is awaiting its decadent broth. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
While the ramen takes center stage at Strings, there are a few other meal options, including donburi bowls served over rice, which are exclusive to the Lakeview location. The $7.95-$15.95 donburi comes with uncooked sashimi like spicy scallops or with a choice of pork belly, beef or sunny side-up eggs.
To start off the meal, Strings has appetizers like edamame, sriracha broccoli with bacon or boiled gyoza dumplings with a spicy ponzu sauce.
If you do get the ramen, there are a few rules. Don't worry, though: They're on the menu. Each is meant to give diners the ultimate ramen experience, Dong said.
Gyu don has beef, onions, red ginger and an onsen egg and is served over rice for $15.95. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"It shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to finish your bowl — you have to eat it fast to get the taste and the texture of it," Dong said. Also, slurping is highly encouraged.
Dong has meticulously perfected the Strings ramen recipe for the optimal dining experience. The straight, square egg noodles are made fresh with egg whites and unbleached wheat flour and cooked for just 45 seconds. When first served, they've still got a little bite as they continue to cook in the hot broth.
"So by the last few slurps as you're finishing the noodles, they've absorbed more flavor and aroma," Dong said.
The bone broth is aged overnight, and the pork belly is made from the fine English-bred Berkshire pig, a boar-like variety that Dong calls the Kobe beef of pork.
This $8.95 sunomono dish is made with yuzu miso salmon and ginger soy tuna mixed with vegetables and sweet vinegar. [Provided/Strings Ramen]
"Our concept is making homemade ramen with bold flavors, using premium products," Dong said. "We're one of the top three ramen shops in Chicago because we put our heart into it."
Born in China, Dong came to the United States as a teenager. Her first part-time job was in a Chinese restaurant, and by the time she was 23, she was managing the place.
"There's not much chance for a person who doesn't speak too much English, so the restaurant was the place to go as a part-time job," she said. "And then I fell in love with making food."
With nearly 20 years of experience, Dong has taken it upon herself to educate unfamiliar Chicagoans with ramen that goes way beyond an instant Cup O' Noodles.
When Strings first opened in 2014, it was one of the only ramen shops on the scene. Many have followed, including a Lincoln Park Strings Ramen that opened in 2015 and lasted just over a year.
Strings Ramen strives to make dishes as close to what travelers would find in Japan's ramen shops, but with ingredients from nearby. [Provided/Strings Ramen]
Now, with Furious Spoon opening just a few blocks away, Dong knows the Lakeview Strings will have some stiff competition.
"I think competition makes you stronger and better," Dong said. "And besides getting some good food, you're learning where ramen comes from and its different styles. This is what sets Strings apart."