Chicago Ramen empire expanding across area

Chef Kenta Ikehata is the man behind the Chicago Ramen empire.
Courtesy of Chicago Ramen

In just a few years, chef and entrepreneur Kenta Ikehata has become the king of suburban ramen restaurants.

Ikehata’s Chicago Ramen eateries have been hits in the suburbs, with seven storefronts serving steaming bowls of broth, noodles, vegetables and proteins to appreciative customers — and two more coming this summer.

There are even a couple sister restaurants: Chicago Sushi in Des Plaines and Tempuraman in Schaumburg.

Ikehata called the chain’s success “incredibly rewarding.”

“I believe Chicago Ramen resonates with people because of our commitment to authentic flavors and a high-quality dining experience,” Ikehata said in an email, with assistance from an interpreter. “Our customers appreciate the traditional Japanese ramen, which sets us apart from others in the market.”

A native of Japan who lives in Hoffman Estates, Ikehata was trained at Tsujita, a renowned noodle restaurant in Tokyo. He came to the U.S. in 2011 to open Tsujita LA; Tsujita has since expanded across the U.S.

Ikehata eventually struck out on his own with Tokyo Shokudo and B-bee Crepe, both inside Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights. He sold them in 2020 and, that same year, opened the first Chicago Ramen at 578 E. Oakton St., in Des Plaines.

The Chicago Ramen specialty is tsukemen, or dipping ramen. In tsukemen, noodles and flavored broth are served in separate bowls, and it’s left to the customer to give the noodles a bath before slurping them up.

The Chicago Ramen restaurants serve tsukemen, in which noodles are dipped in a bowl of flavored broth.
Courtesy of Chicago Ramen Annex

Chicago Sushi followed in 2022 at 574 E. Oakton St. in Des Plaines, in the same shopping center as Chicago Ramen. It specializes in hand rolls, which typically consist of rice and fish wrapped in cone-shaped sheets of dried seaweed. They are designed to be eaten by hand, without silverware or chopsticks.

Chicago Sushi also serves maki rolls, which are more commonly found in the U.S., as well as rice bowls, soups and other dishes.

Those locations weren’t enough for Ikehata. Next came Chicago Ramen Lab, 2222 W. Algonquin Road in Rolling Meadows, and then another Chicago Ramen at 743 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Wheeling.

It was off to the races from there, with more restaurants opening in Algonquin, Mundelein, Park Ridge, Schaumburg and — just last month — Palatine. A shop in Crystal Lake will launch in July, and one will open in St. Charles after that.

Expansion outside Illinois is coming, too, Ikehata said. Comparing his chain to McDonald’s, Ikehata said he wants to make Chicago Ramen accessible and popular across the U.S.

Des Plaines Mayor Andrew Goczkowski said he’s excited to see “one of our homegrown restaurants hit it big and expand.”

Chef Kenta Ikehata’s Chicago Ramen restaurant chain is expanding across the suburbs.
Courtesy of Chicago Ramen

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