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Santouka Ramen (Arlington Heights, IL & Torrance, CA)

Santouka Ramen (Arlington Heights, IL & Torrance, CA)
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  • Santouka Ramen (Arlington Heights, IL & Torrance, CA)

    Post #1 - April 30th, 2009, 6:13 am
    Post #1 - April 30th, 2009, 6:13 am Post #1 - April 30th, 2009, 6:13 am
    Santouka Ramen (Arlington Heights, IL & Torrance, CA)

    Santouka is unquestionably one of the most famous tonkotsu-style ramens found anywhere. Although some question its present efforts, having annoyingly raised their prices over the years and claiming that they do not take proper measures anymore to construct a superior bowl, it is still largely considered the benchmark, both here in the U.S. as well as in Asia for tonkotsu-based ramen. I see these negative claims in the same light as those who blast away at Din Tai Fung in the xiao long bao world. Both international companies produce an ultra-high grade product using prime ingredients and giving it their best to keep consistency from one store to the next indistinguishable from one another.
    Santouka (pronounced “san-toe-kah) is Asahikawa-style ramen; meaning from the city of Asahikawa in Hokkaido of northern Japan. This style is a combination of tonkotsu and local seafoods such as sardines (niboshi) and/or other various shellfish. This use of seafood is one of the main elements to what separates it from the Kyushu-style tonkotsu soups being made in southern Japan. The broth is then paired with the common tare of shoyu, shio, or miso. Many consider Santouka’s shio-tonkotsu to be their top effort.
    Like many, I am a true sucker for a good tonkotsu-based broth and Santouka’s, is spectacular. Being milky, fatty, and lush, this slightly oily, rich soup coats the noodles beautifully. Its seductive oiliness is later topped with an added fat or oil to the finished product. Coming from the cold, northern reaches of Japan, this technique was historically done to insulate and keep the soup hot long after being served as well as to enhance the broth.
    The noodles, imported from Japan, are toothsome and are marginally thicker than most noodles I tried elsewhere. The synchronicity between the broth and this noodle is a thing of beauty.
    The chashu (marinated pork belly) can be ordered either regular or deluxe. Both types, I believe, use Berkshire pork (kurobuta?), with the deluxe version (toroniku) being an extra-fatty cheek meat. Make no mistake about it, the deluxe pork is rich as hell. It is quite tasty, yes, but monumentally rich and definitely over-the-top for some palates. Both options have a lovely silkiness to them. Santouka serves this chashu, along with kikurage (wood ear fungus. Thanks, Dmnkly!), menma (marinated bamboo shoots), negi (scallion), naruto (fish cake), and umeboshi (pickled plum) on a side plate. This exemplary marinated sliced pork soaks up the luscious broth the instant you add it to the soup.
    Tontoksu-style broth is clearly not for everyone because of its extreme richness. But it is certainly a favorite for many ramen lovers throughout Japan, not just in its founding regions of Hokkaido or Kyushu.
    I have tried Santouka numerous times in Chicago and twice in L.A. (both times at the Torrance location) and have tasted absolutely no difference between the two on any given outing. However, many people report stark differences between their various locations in Los Angeles. Santouka North American has its headquarters and distribution center in Nevada and from this location, they provide all Mitsuwa Market-based U.S. stores (5 Southern California locations, San Jose, Arlington Heights, and New Jersey) the exact same product. Although people strongly hold this mechanized-process/system against them, they’re still producing some of the best ramen anywhere. One can make the point that there’s a significant variation between chefs from one location to the other but, again, cooking times at all stages, are supposedly strictly demanded and adhered to (according to the employees at the 2 locations I spoke with).

    This is a well-orchestrated bowl of ramen. If you haven’t tried it (anywhere), it’s a must.


    Deluxe Shio Tonkotsu (Chicago)
    Image

    Deluxe Shio Tonkotsu (Torrance, CA) Look somewhat simlar?
    Image


    Santouka Ramen
    100 E Algonquin Rd
    Arlington Heights, IL
    (847) 956-6699


    Santouka Ramen
    21515 S Western Ave
    Torrance, CA
    (310) 212-1101
    Last edited by PIGMON on November 25th, 2011, 6:52 am, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #2 - April 30th, 2009, 9:40 am
    Post #2 - April 30th, 2009, 9:40 am Post #2 - April 30th, 2009, 9:40 am
    Oh man. That just bubbled up to the top of my todo list. Bravo.

    Seth
  • Post #3 - April 30th, 2009, 12:58 pm
    Post #3 - April 30th, 2009, 12:58 pm Post #3 - April 30th, 2009, 12:58 pm
    ok, that looks great... i gotta try it
  • Post #4 - April 30th, 2009, 1:17 pm
    Post #4 - April 30th, 2009, 1:17 pm Post #4 - April 30th, 2009, 1:17 pm
    Hi,

    Has the salmon eggs on rice returned to their offerings? I was disappointed the last time I was there to learn they were temporarily, and maybe permanently, discontinued.
    The crab flakes on rice has never been available since day 1. Why they ever bothered to mention in the menu is beyond me.

    There are other reports and pictures on this place here. I feel like I visiting the soup noodle shop in Tampopo whenever I have their ramen.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #5 - April 30th, 2009, 3:04 pm
    Post #5 - April 30th, 2009, 3:04 pm Post #5 - April 30th, 2009, 3:04 pm
    Had salmon eggs the last couple of visits (maybe March and early April).

    Santouka is very good, especially the broth, for its style. I don't know another place in the area with broth that is close (would be interested to know suggestions). Still trying to make it out to Ippudo in NYC...

    http://www.ippudo.com/ny/
  • Post #6 - April 30th, 2009, 4:02 pm
    Post #6 - April 30th, 2009, 4:02 pm Post #6 - April 30th, 2009, 4:02 pm
    I too can vouch that they had the ikura gohan (salmon eggs & rice) back on the menu, less than two weeks ago. I actually have to thank you Cathy, I got it along with my ramen because of a post you had a long time ago about it. It was very lucious and of the clean pure sea.
  • Post #7 - April 30th, 2009, 4:46 pm
    Post #7 - April 30th, 2009, 4:46 pm Post #7 - April 30th, 2009, 4:46 pm
    Thanks for the recommendation. That one's on the shortlist.
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  • Post #8 - May 1st, 2009, 9:56 am
    Post #8 - May 1st, 2009, 9:56 am Post #8 - May 1st, 2009, 9:56 am
    This is the best I have found in Chicago and in all things a grocery store food court.
    Last edited by Mario on May 1st, 2009, 5:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #9 - May 1st, 2009, 12:29 pm
    Post #9 - May 1st, 2009, 12:29 pm Post #9 - May 1st, 2009, 12:29 pm
    rats, in my excitement i thought this was a ramen place in arlington heights, but not in mitsuwa (and not kitikata)... but a re-read of the post tells me it's the mitsuwa stand i know and love. nothing wrong with that.
  • Post #10 - May 1st, 2009, 12:39 pm
    Post #10 - May 1st, 2009, 12:39 pm Post #10 - May 1st, 2009, 12:39 pm
    Also worth checking out in the same area is the ramen stand in Tensuke market, a generally lovely little japanese grocery at Higgins and Arlington Hts. Rd. in Elk Grove.
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  • Post #11 - May 1st, 2009, 1:07 pm
    Post #11 - May 1st, 2009, 1:07 pm Post #11 - May 1st, 2009, 1:07 pm
    kuhdo wrote:Also worth checking out in the same area is the ramen stand in Tensuke market, a generally lovely little japanese grocery at Higgins and Arlington Hts. Rd. in Elk Grove.


    I was going to post this at some point but decided against it. But...


    Tensuke Market (Elk Grove, IL)
    I was shocked to see that the food counter menu at Tensuke Market advertises a shio tonkotsu ramen. I asked the matron there if the soup was made in-house of which they surprisingly affirmed. Not really believing it, I still ordered it and closely watched the dude behind the counter construct the bowl. I knew I was in trouble the moment he carefully and covertly tried to slip in the instant tonkotsu soup packet in the bowl of waiting hot water.

    Cancel the order.

    (Sorry, no pics)
  • Post #12 - May 1st, 2009, 2:30 pm
    Post #12 - May 1st, 2009, 2:30 pm Post #12 - May 1st, 2009, 2:30 pm
    I've been living in Torrance for the past few years, and thanks to the fact that Toyota and at one time Nissan have their North American HQs here, we have an embarassment of riches in Japanese restaurants. But I haven't had a chance to get to Santouka yet, so thanks again for the post!
  • Post #13 - July 16th, 2011, 12:27 pm
    Post #13 - July 16th, 2011, 12:27 pm Post #13 - July 16th, 2011, 12:27 pm
    I noticed some people were given their toppings on the side and some weren't. Is this something you must specify when ordering?
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  • Post #14 - July 16th, 2011, 4:02 pm
    Post #14 - July 16th, 2011, 4:02 pm Post #14 - July 16th, 2011, 4:02 pm
    backorforth wrote:I noticed some people were given their toppings on the side and some weren't. Is this something you must specify when ordering?

    I believe the deluxe pork option is served on the side by default, while the standard pork is served in the bowl. I don't know if they would be willing to accommodate special requests.
  • Post #15 - October 26th, 2011, 9:04 pm
    Post #15 - October 26th, 2011, 9:04 pm Post #15 - October 26th, 2011, 9:04 pm
    Image
    Santouka's Miso Ramen

    I'd stopped by Santouka a number of years ago and was awfully enamored of it from the get go, but for me it fell into the category of things for which my appreciation has only grown over time. My ramen experience is still nowhere near as far-flung as I'd like it to be, but every time I've sampled a bowl in the intervening years, I think back to this one and am annoyed it's not the one I'm eating. So it was nice to have a chance to calibrate once again, and after consuming my own bowl of shio ramen a couple of days back, I proceeded to polish off most of my wife's miso ramen.

    I'm not sure how much I have to add, since PIGMON's characterization is spot-on... it's a lush and beautifully fatty bowl, great bite on the thin and slightly kinky noodles, and the pork is really delightful. I confess, I'm a little surprised there isn't more fuss about this place. Phoenix is desperately lacking in this department and I'm reaching the point where I'd give one of my digits for regular access to a bowl that hits 75% of this quality. Please continue to consider yourselves fortunate.

    (P.S. One point of clarity, PIGMON... I believe the dark item is wood ear mushroom rather than kombu, is it not?)
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #16 - October 27th, 2011, 4:18 am
    Post #16 - October 27th, 2011, 4:18 am Post #16 - October 27th, 2011, 4:18 am
    Dmnkly wrote:(P.S. One point of clarity, PIGMON... I believe the dark item is wood ear mushroom rather than kombu, is it not?)


    Absolutely. Thanks for the clarity, Dmnkly.

    Wood ear fungus in Japanese is called kikurage (キクラゲ)

    Santouka
  • Post #17 - October 28th, 2011, 12:25 pm
    Post #17 - October 28th, 2011, 12:25 pm Post #17 - October 28th, 2011, 12:25 pm
    Dmnkly wrote:I confess, I'm a little surprised there isn't more fuss about this place.

    Agreed. Santouka is really good. The fully hard boiled egg is the main thing that disappoints (that can't be how they serve it in Japan, can it?). Well, I guess I wish they would serve gyoza as well.

    A tip that is probably old news to many. If you sign up for the Mitsuwa circulars you get notice of the special food fairs they run. There's a guest ramen stand maybe 3 times a year. Generally very good given that it's just a temporary stand, and a different style from Santouka.
  • Post #18 - June 9th, 2012, 2:23 pm
    Post #18 - June 9th, 2012, 2:23 pm Post #18 - June 9th, 2012, 2:23 pm
    I've lived within walking distance of Mitsuwa for the past six years and I've purchased many items to go. I've never eaten in the food court because it's so freakin hard to get one of their limited tables. But today, I was determined to try the ramen from Santouka come hell or high water. After waiting about 5 minutes today at 11:45am, my wife, 2 sons and I were able to snag a table. With table secured, I made my way to Santouka and ordered a miso ramen. Holy revelation!! This was heaven in a bowl. Uncutuous, rich broth!! Tasty, slighty fatty beautiful pork. Perfectly slurp worthy noodles. And delicious delicate wood earth fungus. OMG!!! How could I have not eaten this before today?? The rich delicious broth coated my toungue for an hour after we left. Just heavenly. It won't be long before I'm back for the best bowl of ramen I've ever had in my life. Believe it!!!
  • Post #19 - June 10th, 2012, 8:49 pm
    Post #19 - June 10th, 2012, 8:49 pm Post #19 - June 10th, 2012, 8:49 pm
    I'd only eaten at Santouka once before but after seeing this thread get bumped yesterday decided I needed to make it in for lunch today. Had the miso ramen a-combo and everything was amazing. Definitely need to remember to head back here more often.
  • Post #20 - August 20th, 2012, 2:57 pm
    Post #20 - August 20th, 2012, 2:57 pm Post #20 - August 20th, 2012, 2:57 pm
    I went to Santouka yesterday right when they opened at 11:00am and there was already a line about 25 people deep. I'm not kidding. But my craving for their luscious ramen was strong, so I waited it out. Forty five minutes later, I was in ramen heaven. I opted for a combo which came with a simple bowl of rice topped by pieces of pork and scallions. How something so simple can taste so absolutely delicious is beyond me!! I've really never had pork of such a high quality. It's amazing. I'll be back again very soon. It was well worth the 45 minute wait.
  • Post #21 - August 20th, 2012, 3:06 pm
    Post #21 - August 20th, 2012, 3:06 pm Post #21 - August 20th, 2012, 3:06 pm
    Seamus wrote:I went to Santouka yesterday right when they opened at 11:00am and there was already a line about 25 people deep. I'm not kidding. But my craving for their luscious ramen was strong, so I waited it out. Forty five minutes later, I was in ramen heaven. I opted for a combo which came with a simple bowl of rice topped by pieces of pork and scallions. How something so simple can taste so absolutely delicious is beyond me!! I've really never had pork of such a high quality. It's amazing. I'll be back again very soon. It was well worth the 45 minute wait.


    Try going during the week. I've never experienced a wait on weekdays.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #22 - August 20th, 2012, 3:18 pm
    Post #22 - August 20th, 2012, 3:18 pm Post #22 - August 20th, 2012, 3:18 pm
    I've been eating there once a week pretty much for the last 8 months--the spicy miso ramen combo with either the salmon roe or pork over rice is absolutely addictive. And, yes, if you're able to go during the week, there is rarely a wait longer than the time it takes to find a table.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #23 - August 20th, 2012, 4:48 pm
    Post #23 - August 20th, 2012, 4:48 pm Post #23 - August 20th, 2012, 4:48 pm
    I work in Arlington Heights so can go after work at 3pm-- is it marked specifically or which stall is it in the food court??
  • Post #24 - August 20th, 2012, 5:30 pm
    Post #24 - August 20th, 2012, 5:30 pm Post #24 - August 20th, 2012, 5:30 pm
    This recent blog entry has some helpful pics:

    http://www.foodishappiness.com/search?q=santouka
  • Post #25 - August 20th, 2012, 5:50 pm
    Post #25 - August 20th, 2012, 5:50 pm Post #25 - August 20th, 2012, 5:50 pm
    Yes, that blog photo makes it easy, but I believe it's also the only booth in the food court selling ramen, so even easier. One of my favorite lunches is the ramen followed by a dessert of the green tea shaved ice topped with red bean paste.
  • Post #26 - August 21st, 2012, 6:08 am
    Post #26 - August 21st, 2012, 6:08 am Post #26 - August 21st, 2012, 6:08 am
    I've been going here pretty regularly, as it is (somewhat) on the way to one of my vendors. My standard is the special pork (cheek) soy ramen with a pork rice bowl. It is remarkably consistent.
  • Post #27 - November 8th, 2012, 5:00 pm
    Post #27 - November 8th, 2012, 5:00 pm Post #27 - November 8th, 2012, 5:00 pm
    I had an outstanding miso ramen combo for lunch today. I only dripped on my shirt once. Not a bad day! :D
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  • Post #28 - November 23rd, 2012, 1:42 am
    Post #28 - November 23rd, 2012, 1:42 am Post #28 - November 23rd, 2012, 1:42 am
    If you order the one with the special pork, they'll give you pork jowl on the side instead of the pork shoulder. The pork jowl is amazing and worth every penny!
  • Post #29 - December 27th, 2012, 2:56 pm
    Post #29 - December 27th, 2012, 2:56 pm Post #29 - December 27th, 2012, 2:56 pm
    I got to Santouka as part of the promotion for my show for the Central Electric Railfans' Association back in May 2012. It was a weekday. There was no line, and hardly anybody dining in the food court. Image Image Image
    Having been to Tokyo & Yokohama now nine times, I have had bowls of ramen which define the standard.
    This includes bowls from Keizo near Shin-Daita station in Tokyo.
    Chicago is not quite there as far as quality ramen goes. :|
    When Keizo was in the area for the Chicago Food Film Fest, he eventually decided that the best ramen he had here was from Santouka.
    I thought the ramen I had at Santouka was pretty good. But I concur that I haven't had a bowl with as much rich flavor here as I have had in Japan.
    Maybe one of these days. :wink:
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  • Post #30 - March 14th, 2013, 9:01 am
    Post #30 - March 14th, 2013, 9:01 am Post #30 - March 14th, 2013, 9:01 am
    There has been a lot of discussion about Ramen lately, with new spots popping up like mushrooms. I'm hoping that this is the beginning of a wave of good ramen soon to flood Chicago. So far, although there are lots of new ramen places opening up, I've found most of them to be lacking in one way or another. My favorite ramen in Chicagoland remains Santouka, at least for the present time.

    Santouka Ramen Stand in Mitsuwa Marketplace
    Image

    Lot's of people swear by their tonkotsu ramen, but personally, I've settled on their spicy miso ramen as my favorite. On this most recent visit, I opted for the special pork cheek Toroniku version, which, as others have pointed out, comes with slices of amazingly tender pork cheek and other add ins on the side.

    Santouka Ramen Toroniku Spicy Miso Ramen
    Image

    Image

    In addition, I ordered egg and a negi-rice bowl on the side.

    Image

    Image

    These last two items can normally be ordered as part of "Combination A" with nearly any bowl of ramen, but in a strange case of menu manipulation, when you order the Toroniku version, you've got to order those items ala carte.

    March 3rd was Girl's Day in Japan. As part of the festivities, Mitsuwa had set up a special mochi both, selling a bunch of varieties of mochi snacks. Although the line was long, I purchased a variety of snacks that I brought to a LTH get together at Monti's.

    Mitsuwa Marketplace Mochi Stand
    Image

    Image

    Image
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven

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