Ramen Misoya opened in Mount Prospect in midsummer, yet word spread rapidly that this unassuming 45-seat Japanese ramen noodle shop offers something special.
A lot of the buzz was generated by its pedigree as part of a Japan-based chain whose 50 outlets worldwide -- including two U.S. outposts in New York and California's Silicon Valley -- have consistently won raves.
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Ramen Misoya1584 S. Busse Road, Mount Prospect; (847) 437-4590, misoya.net
Setting: Small casual eatery with open kitchen
Cuisine: Japanese ramen miso soup
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 5 to 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday to Sunday
For this longtime noodle fan with limited exposure to miso ramen soups' more elevated culinary possibilities, a recent visit to Ramen Misoya proved eye-opening. The restaurant's confident, well-trained chefs demonstrated a knack for transforming this humble Japanese comfort food into something visually enticing and intensely flavorful.
The tightly focused menu concentrates on three regional miso ramen soup specialties: Hokkaido-style kome, Nagoya-style mame and Kyoto-style shiro. The thick noodles are springy, and the broth is on the salty side, though not overpoweringly so. Its hue and savoriness will vary depend on the stock and added ingredients. Ground pork, green onions, bean sprouts, cabbage and menma (fermented bamboo shoots) seem to find their way into each dish.
My tasty meal in a bowl, the full-bodied Nagoya-style mame miso, exceeded expectations. It came with three thin slices of cha-shu (fermented pork loin) and shrimp, breaded, fried and formed in a cigar shape.
Meanwhile, my wife's lighter but equally delicious Hokkaido-style soup included potatoes and sweet corn.
Diners have the option of customizing their entree; there's even a vegetarian option. Among the add-on toppings, priced from $1 to $3.50, are spicy miso paste, fried tofu, kimchee and seaweed. One addition I definitely recommend is the molten soft-boiled egg.
Orders come piping hot in a frightfully large bowl, the contents of which can be a challenge to consume at one sitting. For anyone not up to the task, the staff will pack up leftovers.
Finesse isn't a requirement for tucking into ramen miso soup, so dive in, slurp and enjoy. Because spills are almost a given, it's not a bad idea to keep an extra napkin or two handy.
Besides the ramen miso soup choices, the restaurant, managed by Kohei Tomita, offers a handful of tofu, chicken and pork appetizers. A good one to share is the gyoza, five pan-fried crescent-shaped dumplings filled with zestily seasoned ground pork and minced vegetables and served with soy sauce for dipping.
Ramen Misoya keeps its beverages simple, limiting it to soft drinks and Sapporo, Japan's popular beer.
Reservations are not accepted, and management says the place is often packed by 6:30 p.m. A small waiting room off to the side serves as a staging area.
The restaurant, situated in an inconsequential strip mall, has a clean, simply appointed interior. Service is friendly and attentive whether you grab a seat at the counter or at one of a handful of tables.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.