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Move Over, Tonkotsu — There’s Another Broth in Town

Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai in Hoffman Estates gives the popular pork-broth variant a run for its money.

Green chile shio ramen
Green chile shio ramen Photo: Jeff Marini

Tonkotsu ramen, with its rich, creamy pork bone broth, turned America into a nation of slurpaholics. But that ramen, from Kyushu, isn’t the only regional variant you might inhale with the same gusto: The soy-sauce-tinged broth and thick noodles characteristic of the ramen from Kitakata are just as craveable.

At Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai, a Japanese chain with an outpost in Hoffman Estates, the pork bone broth is thin and subtle, and the noodles are kinky (in the literal sense of the word) and irregular, making them more fun to roll around in your mouth. As the website explains, these noodles are “hand crumpled”; sit by the counter to see a cook cut the ramen with a machine and squeeze the noodles in his fists.

Try the signature Kitakata ramen, with pork belly chashu, bamboo shoots, and green onion. But bring a group to sample others, like the green chile shio ramen, which is more complex, with curls of Chinese chive, toasted sesame oil, and green chile commandeering the pleasure centers of your brain, or the tsukemen, noodles served alongside smoky dashi with carrots, sprouts, and pork. Don’t miss the juicy fried chicken. No matter your taste in ramen, you’ll go bonkers for this bird.

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