Eat This Now: Tonkotsu Ramen from Strings Ramen in Chinatown

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[Photographs: Dennis Lee]

After my recent disappointment at Ajida for Lunch in the Loop, I was excited to see the opening of Strings Ramen in Chinatown just a few doors down from The Phoenix Room. I got even more excited when I saw the menu only has four bowls of ramen on it, because I'd rather see a place with a few items it does well rather than a billion things it does a mediocre job with (I'm looking at you, Cheesecake Factory).

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The special of the day was the ikura and uni rice bowl ($9.95), which is a mound of rice covered in a generous helping of ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin roe), and a torn-up soft boiled egg. Just so you guys know, this is an insane value for the price. Most places would easily charge double that price for half the amount of salmon eggs and sea urchin that we received.

For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to jam your mouth with salmon eggs, they're soft and wrinkly little bubbles of saltiness that pop as soon as you bite into them. They do have a fishy flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but that's definitely not a bad thing, especially paired with rice. Sea urchin roe is a totally different beast; it's custardy with an iodine-like metallic flavor that you have to try to understand. It's one of my favorite things ever, even if it is like half my paycheck (which is zero since I'm still an unemployed loser). The soft-boiled egg adds protein and silky fat to the rice, and the rice is seasoned with a dash of soy sauce for even more savoriness. If they added this to the daily menu (hint, hint), I'd eat it every time I stopped in.

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But now, the main stars of the show, the ramen! I'm extraordinarily happy to report that the ramen at Strings is damn good. The shoyu ramen ($9.95) has a clear and beautifully clean broth with a smoky and savory flavor, thanks to the smoked bonito fish and soy sauce.

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What you really, want, however, is the tonkotsu ramen with kuro bota ($12.95). The broth is so rich with gelatin to the point that it coats your mouth and throat as you slurp on it. I wish cough medicine tasted like this. The soup has a meaty, salty, roasted flavor, and the only time you'll stop gulping it down is to chew on the house-made ramen noodles. The noodles aren't the squiggly kind; they resemble spaghetti and have an al-dente style chew to them. You have your choice between fatty and lean pork. Guess which one I chose? The one that my mom would probably slap out of my chopsticks.

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You absolutely have to order the lava egg ($0.95), which is just their name for a soft-boiled egg. It's perfectly executed with a firmly set white and creamy yolk. If you do it the traditional way, you'll just plop the sucker into your bowl. If you're a piggy like me, you just eat your egg with a big spoonful of broth with a side of zero dignity. Then you'll wish you had more.

Just a warning, though. Strings Ramen gets bumpin' really quick, so I'd suggest you plan an early outing before the small place gets filled up. There's no reservations, so you're on your own. But make sure you've got room in your stomach, because I'm sure you'll need it for that glorious, glorious broth.

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.

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