Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
You know you've made it when you can name a restaurant (or anything, for that matter) after yourself. For example, take Wolfgang Puck, or a Foley catheter. If I had my own brand of anything, I think I'd call it Simply Dennis, and its logo would feature an extreme close-up of my face crying into a bowl of soup. But, let's be serious. My face couldn't sell a bag of free money.
Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi is yet another one of those places named after a fine specimen of humanity. The stand is located on the 7th floor of Macy's, where you can shop for designer brand products as well as slurp up a bowl of noodles. I've already been up in the food court multiple times, visiting Frontera Fresco as well as the famed Walnut Room.
For the insatiably food curious, like me, Noodles by Takashi offers combination plates, which I recommend in terms of value. You can get an entrée with a half order of potstickers or shrimp rolls for a reasonable price. The shrimp harumaki spring rolls ($6.95 for full order) are oily and crackly, but there isn't much by way of shrimp. The shiitake mushrooms are bold and take over most of the flavor. The spicy dipping mayo seems a little unnecessary; it adds another layer of fat on top of the already greasy rolls.
The potstickers ($5.50) consist of a dense, meaty pork center and have a puffed exterior that has the same texture as Rice Krispies®. I totally went out of my way to get that ® in there, I'll have you know. The main issue is the same—you come away with a mouth coated in oil. Between these two appetizers, the potstickers win out by a narrow margin due to the fun texture of the wrapper, but they're both equally greasy.
For pork fried rice ($8.95 for combo), there really isn't too much by way of flavor. The pork stands out with a decent kick of star anise, but the rest of the rice is relatively plain-tasting as well. And guess what? It's oily too. Starting to see a theme yet? The topper of pickled ginger helps cut the fat somewhat, in a sweet and sharp way, but it's a necessity with every bite, otherwise you're left with a bit of a bland mouthful.
I want to love the main star here. After all, it is called Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, but the miso ramen ($12.50 combo w/shrimp rolls) is also a bit of a letdown. It's not terrible, but nothing about it stands out, either. It's served with corn kernels, bamboo shoots, slices of fish cake, and tiny bits of pork, but there's nothing about it that really sings. The broth has that rich satiny feel from gelatin, but even the normally pungent miso flavor is muted.
I want so badly to love Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi. I love ramen and I violently eat the spicy instant stuff at home at least once a week, if not more. The problem is, I've had much better bowls (I really love the special pork bowl at Mitsuwa Marketplace). Everything in me wants to go back to Noodles by Takashi, except for the mouth portion of my face, that same sweet radio face that cries into a bowl of soup, for the upcoming brand Simply Dennis®.
Noodles by Takashi Yagahashi
111 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60602(map)
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.