Chicago’s Essential Japanese Restaurants

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a piece of sushi on a marble slab on top of a wooden counter Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Find some of the best obento, kushiyaki, and okonomiyaki in the city and northwest suburbs

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Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Between springy udon noodles, smoky grilled skewers, and juicy katsu sandwiches, there’s so much to love about Japanese cuisine beyond the usual suspects of sushi and ramen. Fortunately for locals, the Chicago area is seeing an influx in spots featuring both creative and nostalgic takes on heartwarming homestyle fare, regional hits that change with the seasons, and umami bar snacks that go well with booze. Explore Eater Chicago’s lineup of both city and suburban hot spots below.

Chicago’s flourishing sushi scene has its own map available here. Ramen is covered here.

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For many years, Chicago-area diners seeking well-made Japanese food knew the Northwest Suburbs were the place to be. The city’s offerings have grown and improved over time, but suburban spots like Sozai Banzai set the bar high when it comes to traditional bento and homestyle staples like oyakodon, kitsune udon, and curry rice.

A destination for Japanese American and ex-pat families since 1986, Daruma highlights an array of culinary styles including sushi, hot pot, yōshoku, soba, and more. Regulars adore its Japanese spaghetti, tempura udon, and saba shioyaki.

This venerable market opened its doors in suburban Arlington Heights in 1991, quickly garnering a reputation as one of the top Japanese food emporiums in the Midwest. The grocery section is a true delight for home cooks, but there are plenty of grab-and-go items like onigiri and a diverse food court with everything from Japanese crepes and bubble tea to yakitori and udon. The whole mall underwent a massive facelift in 2019.

Tucked inside a blink-and-miss-it strip mall in suburban Elk Grove Village, Tensuke is an unfussy treasure trove of Japanese ingredients, snacks, and candies, and includes a cozy food court. Sushi and sashimi usually get the most attention but don’t overlook comfort foods like gyudon and curry rice.

Casual and unfussy, Kurumaya brings the spirit of everyday Japanese dining to a suburban strip mall. There’s something for everyone, from crispy croquettes and juicy yakitori to katsu curry and ushio-jiru.

The title of “ramen lord” is already claimed by a certain Reddit-famous Chicago restaurant owner, but one could easily apply that honor to Japanese chef Kenta Ikehata, the engine behind a small empire of suburban ramen restaurants. Founded in Des Plaines, the original location of Chicago Ramen features a top-notch rendition of tsukemen, or dipping ramen, with thick cold noodles designed for dipping in rich, piping-hot soup. Ikehata had a near-immediate hit on his hands, and has gone on to open outposts in Rolling Meadows, Wheeling, Algonquin, Schaumburg, Mundelein, and Park Ridge.

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An institution for more than three decades in Lincolnwood, Renga-Tei has carved out a space in the hearts of both city dwellers and suburbanites with its comforting homestyle Japanese cooking. Obento are a reliable standby, but wise diners will look further for options like kaki fry, una-ju, and cold ume-orishi soba.

Chef Kelly Ijichi has fostered a loyal following with Mom’s, her virtual Japanese comfort food spot previously located inside shuttered food hall Politan Row. These days, Mom’s pops up around town at Japanese bottle shop Konbini & Kanpai and Indian restaurant Thattu. The best way to track Ijichi’s offerings is on Instagram.

Self-professed noodle nerd Katie Dong, an alum of mini-chain Strings, struck out on her own for the first time in 2022 with cozy neighborhood corner spot Monster Ramen in Logan Square. That leap of faith is paying off in a major way as diners all over Chicago flock to her restaurant for bison-based gyukotsu-style ramen and chicken-based tori chintan. Dong and her team also make their own noodles at their on-site noodle lab.

Getting Chicagoans excited about a new ramen restaurant has grown increasingly difficult as more and more chains come to town, but in late 2023, local diners went absolutely bonkers for the debut of Akahoshi Ramen, Mike Satinover’s hotly anticipated spot in Logan Square. A ramen aficionado with a prominent online presence under the moniker Ramen_Lord, Satinover is proving that he’s earned that reputation with a tight menu of staples like shoyu and miso, as well as a rotating monthly special that allows room for deep cuts like Toyama black.

Traditional izakayas are generally not glitzy affairs, but rather, come-as-you-are neighborhood retreats for a beer and a bite after a long day. Nomonomo, a Japanese pub and grill from the owners of neighboring sister restaurants Wasabi Ramen and Nomonomo Sushi, evokes a similar feeling with minimalistic design and a menu featuring binchotan-grilled yakitori and kushiyaki, plus comfort foods like soba, udon, and zosui, or Japanese rice soup.

Long ago in 2018 — before Chicago saw a glut of splashy omakase spots from out-of-town hospitality groups — eccentric chef Otto Phan left his lauded restaurant in Austin, Texas to launch Kyoten, an intimate eight-seat sushi den in Logan Square. In the years since then, Kyoten has joined a small club of standard-bearers that underpin the city’s high-end Japanese dining scene thanks to Phan’s lauded technical skill and thoughtful use of premium ingredients, from robust Osetra caviar to succulent fatty toro. In 2023, Phan opened Kyoten Next Door, a slightly more casual and less pricey sister restaurant.

Sando fans have patiently waited for an enterprising Chicagoan to launch a dedicated spot serving the iconic Japanese sandwiches, which feature sweet or savory fillings couched between two slices of fluffy milk bread. Their dreams came true in early 2024 when cousins Rich Letheby and Chris Yoo opened Sando Street with a menu of nostalgic hits ranging from panko-crusted tonkatsu to Japanese egg salad to strawberries with whipped ube cream. The duo also serves Korean-style rice bowls with bulgogi, crispy eggplant, and more. The operation promptly went viral, so don’t be surprised if there’s a wait.

An egg salad on milk bread. Sando Street

This neighborhood hit in West Town is known by many for its enormous and colorful maki, but there’s also a robust robata selection. Skewer options range from yakitori to squid karaage to nasu (eggplant) with ponzu and teriyaki sauce. There are no losers here, especially when paired with a Japanese highball.

A longtime favorite among Chicago sushi fans, Arami skillfully navigates the line between a come-as-you-are neighborhood spot and a special-occasion destination in West Town. The menu allows diners to choose their own adventure from a lineup of traditional and inventive maki, nigiri, and sashimi, or opt for omakase offered in 10-piece, six-piece, and five-piece varieties.

A dining room inside Arami. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Perched between a Hooters and CVS on a busy River North block, Cocoro offers sushi but its real strong suit is izakaya cuisine. Nostalgic options include maguro natto, shabu-shabu, and nabeyaki udon.

Decorated chef Paul Virant made a splash in 2019 when he opened the first Chicago restaurant dedicated to okonomiyaki, Japan’s savory regional comfort food cooked on a griddle like Western pancakes. Though he is admittedly a gaijin — a Japanese term for “outsider,” or non-Japanese — Virant did his homework to produce delectable versions of Osaka-style and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Other options include several types of yakisoba and chewy mochi doughnuts.

Boka Restaurant Group’s elegant Fulton Market destination from chef Gene Kato touts strong sushi and nigiri menus but wise diners know not to skip over the list of robata yaki, succulent skewered bites of nigima (chicken thigh), Alaskan king crab (shiso ginger mayo), and Berkshire pork loin. Other delights include a cold, delicate shiso soba (shiso buds, bottarga, white tensuyu), an Itameshi-style spaghetti (spicy beef curry, scallion oroshi, black garlic oil), and crispy fried sea bream collar (lemon, sea salt, scallion). Downstairs, patrons will find the subterranean Izakaya at Momotaro, a casual space with low lighting and an East-meets-West menu of burgers, noodles, maki, and more. In 2023, Kato and Boka unveiled Itoko, a sushi and robata restaurant in Lakeview. It also serves Japanese breakfast items for weekend brunch.

Kumiko, the nationally acclaimed cocktail hotspot from star bartender Julia Momose and her skilled team in Fulton Market, has rocked Chicago’s storied bar scene with smart, inventive Japanese-inspired drinks and bespoke flights. After an early pandemic-era pivot, Momose reopened Kumiko as “dainingu bā,” a Japanese dining bar where there’s a strong connection between food and beverage offerings.

At its heart, omakase — a highly formal, ritualized genre of Japanese dining — flies in the face of a key convention in Western hospitality: the customer is always right. In Japan, traditional omakase isn’t about the diner, it’s about the chef, as well as the skill and prestige they wield. The locus of power shifts in a way that adherents find exciting, even liberating. Over in West Loop, chef Sangtae Park, a Korea native, replicates this experience to great effect at Michelin-starred Omakase Yume, his intimate minimalist restaurant that specializes in Edomae-style sushi. Park, along with wife and business partner Kate Kim-Park, are also behind izakaya-style sister spot Tengoku Aburiya and most recently, Bonyeon, Chicago’s first all-beef omakase restaurant.

A hand sprinkles seasoning on a piece of nigiri. Omakase Yume

This cozy, casual izakaya-style restaurant doesn’t always get the press afforded to its Michelin-starred sister restaurant Omakase Yume, but its menu from chef Sangete Park is a nostalgic wonderland of Japanese hits to accompany beer or cocktails. Standouts include kaki fry, hamburg steak (ground beef, bean sprouts, onion, fried egg, demigras sauce, cabbage), and sea yosenabe, or Japanese seafood hot pot. There are also tons of kushiyaki, plus some nigiri, maki, and sashimi.

Holu isn’t a Japanese restaurant, exactly, but the Asian-influenced steakhouse in Pilsen’s 88 Marketplace is noteworthy for its selection of Japanese A5 wagyu, which includes Kyushu ribeyes, filets, and carpaccio, as well as Honshu New York strips. Patrons get to cook the meat to their desired temperature on a tabletop grill.

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For many years, Chicago-area diners seeking well-made Japanese food knew the Northwest Suburbs were the place to be. The city’s offerings have grown and improved over time, but suburban spots like Sozai Banzai set the bar high when it comes to traditional bento and homestyle staples like oyakodon, kitsune udon, and curry rice.

A destination for Japanese American and ex-pat families since 1986, Daruma highlights an array of culinary styles including sushi, hot pot, yōshoku, soba, and more. Regulars adore its Japanese spaghetti, tempura udon, and saba shioyaki.

This venerable market opened its doors in suburban Arlington Heights in 1991, quickly garnering a reputation as one of the top Japanese food emporiums in the Midwest. The grocery section is a true delight for home cooks, but there are plenty of grab-and-go items like onigiri and a diverse food court with everything from Japanese crepes and bubble tea to yakitori and udon. The whole mall underwent a massive facelift in 2019.

Tucked inside a blink-and-miss-it strip mall in suburban Elk Grove Village, Tensuke is an unfussy treasure trove of Japanese ingredients, snacks, and candies, and includes a cozy food court. Sushi and sashimi usually get the most attention but don’t overlook comfort foods like gyudon and curry rice.

Casual and unfussy, Kurumaya brings the spirit of everyday Japanese dining to a suburban strip mall. There’s something for everyone, from crispy croquettes and juicy yakitori to katsu curry and ushio-jiru.

The title of “ramen lord” is already claimed by a certain Reddit-famous Chicago restaurant owner, but one could easily apply that honor to Japanese chef Kenta Ikehata, the engine behind a small empire of suburban ramen restaurants. Founded in Des Plaines, the original location of Chicago Ramen features a top-notch rendition of tsukemen, or dipping ramen, with thick cold noodles designed for dipping in rich, piping-hot soup. Ikehata had a near-immediate hit on his hands, and has gone on to open outposts in Rolling Meadows, Wheeling, Algonquin, Schaumburg, Mundelein, and Park Ridge.

An institution for more than three decades in Lincolnwood, Renga-Tei has carved out a space in the hearts of both city dwellers and suburbanites with its comforting homestyle Japanese cooking. Obento are a reliable standby, but wise diners will look further for options like kaki fry, una-ju, and cold ume-orishi soba.

Chef Kelly Ijichi has fostered a loyal following with Mom’s, her virtual Japanese comfort food spot previously located inside shuttered food hall Politan Row. These days, Mom’s pops up around town at Japanese bottle shop Konbini & Kanpai and Indian restaurant Thattu. The best way to track Ijichi’s offerings is on Instagram.

Self-professed noodle nerd Katie Dong, an alum of mini-chain Strings, struck out on her own for the first time in 2022 with cozy neighborhood corner spot Monster Ramen in Logan Square. That leap of faith is paying off in a major way as diners all over Chicago flock to her restaurant for bison-based gyukotsu-style ramen and chicken-based tori chintan. Dong and her team also make their own noodles at their on-site noodle lab.

Getting Chicagoans excited about a new ramen restaurant has grown increasingly difficult as more and more chains come to town, but in late 2023, local diners went absolutely bonkers for the debut of Akahoshi Ramen, Mike Satinover’s hotly anticipated spot in Logan Square. A ramen aficionado with a prominent online presence under the moniker Ramen_Lord, Satinover is proving that he’s earned that reputation with a tight menu of staples like shoyu and miso, as well as a rotating monthly special that allows room for deep cuts like Toyama black.

Traditional izakayas are generally not glitzy affairs, but rather, come-as-you-are neighborhood retreats for a beer and a bite after a long day. Nomonomo, a Japanese pub and grill from the owners of neighboring sister restaurants Wasabi Ramen and Nomonomo Sushi, evokes a similar feeling with minimalistic design and a menu featuring binchotan-grilled yakitori and kushiyaki, plus comfort foods like soba, udon, and zosui, or Japanese rice soup.

Long ago in 2018 — before Chicago saw a glut of splashy omakase spots from out-of-town hospitality groups — eccentric chef Otto Phan left his lauded restaurant in Austin, Texas to launch Kyoten, an intimate eight-seat sushi den in Logan Square. In the years since then, Kyoten has joined a small club of standard-bearers that underpin the city’s high-end Japanese dining scene thanks to Phan’s lauded technical skill and thoughtful use of premium ingredients, from robust Osetra caviar to succulent fatty toro. In 2023, Phan opened Kyoten Next Door, a slightly more casual and less pricey sister restaurant.

Sando fans have patiently waited for an enterprising Chicagoan to launch a dedicated spot serving the iconic Japanese sandwiches, which feature sweet or savory fillings couched between two slices of fluffy milk bread. Their dreams came true in early 2024 when cousins Rich Letheby and Chris Yoo opened Sando Street with a menu of nostalgic hits ranging from panko-crusted tonkatsu to Japanese egg salad to strawberries with whipped ube cream. The duo also serves Korean-style rice bowls with bulgogi, crispy eggplant, and more. The operation promptly went viral, so don’t be surprised if there’s a wait.

An egg salad on milk bread. Sando Street

This neighborhood hit in West Town is known by many for its enormous and colorful maki, but there’s also a robust robata selection. Skewer options range from yakitori to squid karaage to nasu (eggplant) with ponzu and teriyaki sauce. There are no losers here, especially when paired with a Japanese highball.

A longtime favorite among Chicago sushi fans, Arami skillfully navigates the line between a come-as-you-are neighborhood spot and a special-occasion destination in West Town. The menu allows diners to choose their own adventure from a lineup of traditional and inventive maki, nigiri, and sashimi, or opt for omakase offered in 10-piece, six-piece, and five-piece varieties.

A dining room inside Arami. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Perched between a Hooters and CVS on a busy River North block, Cocoro offers sushi but its real strong suit is izakaya cuisine. Nostalgic options include maguro natto, shabu-shabu, and nabeyaki udon.

Decorated chef Paul Virant made a splash in 2019 when he opened the first Chicago restaurant dedicated to okonomiyaki, Japan’s savory regional comfort food cooked on a griddle like Western pancakes. Though he is admittedly a gaijin — a Japanese term for “outsider,” or non-Japanese — Virant did his homework to produce delectable versions of Osaka-style and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Other options include several types of yakisoba and chewy mochi doughnuts.

Boka Restaurant Group’s elegant Fulton Market destination from chef Gene Kato touts strong sushi and nigiri menus but wise diners know not to skip over the list of robata yaki, succulent skewered bites of nigima (chicken thigh), Alaskan king crab (shiso ginger mayo), and Berkshire pork loin. Other delights include a cold, delicate shiso soba (shiso buds, bottarga, white tensuyu), an Itameshi-style spaghetti (spicy beef curry, scallion oroshi, black garlic oil), and crispy fried sea bream collar (lemon, sea salt, scallion). Downstairs, patrons will find the subterranean Izakaya at Momotaro, a casual space with low lighting and an East-meets-West menu of burgers, noodles, maki, and more. In 2023, Kato and Boka unveiled Itoko, a sushi and robata restaurant in Lakeview. It also serves Japanese breakfast items for weekend brunch.

Kumiko, the nationally acclaimed cocktail hotspot from star bartender Julia Momose and her skilled team in Fulton Market, has rocked Chicago’s storied bar scene with smart, inventive Japanese-inspired drinks and bespoke flights. After an early pandemic-era pivot, Momose reopened Kumiko as “dainingu bā,” a Japanese dining bar where there’s a strong connection between food and beverage offerings.

At its heart, omakase — a highly formal, ritualized genre of Japanese dining — flies in the face of a key convention in Western hospitality: the customer is always right. In Japan, traditional omakase isn’t about the diner, it’s about the chef, as well as the skill and prestige they wield. The locus of power shifts in a way that adherents find exciting, even liberating. Over in West Loop, chef Sangtae Park, a Korea native, replicates this experience to great effect at Michelin-starred Omakase Yume, his intimate minimalist restaurant that specializes in Edomae-style sushi. Park, along with wife and business partner Kate Kim-Park, are also behind izakaya-style sister spot Tengoku Aburiya and most recently, Bonyeon, Chicago’s first all-beef omakase restaurant.

A hand sprinkles seasoning on a piece of nigiri. Omakase Yume

This cozy, casual izakaya-style restaurant doesn’t always get the press afforded to its Michelin-starred sister restaurant Omakase Yume, but its menu from chef Sangete Park is a nostalgic wonderland of Japanese hits to accompany beer or cocktails. Standouts include kaki fry, hamburg steak (ground beef, bean sprouts, onion, fried egg, demigras sauce, cabbage), and sea yosenabe, or Japanese seafood hot pot. There are also tons of kushiyaki, plus some nigiri, maki, and sashimi.

Holu isn’t a Japanese restaurant, exactly, but the Asian-influenced steakhouse in Pilsen’s 88 Marketplace is noteworthy for its selection of Japanese A5 wagyu, which includes Kyushu ribeyes, filets, and carpaccio, as well as Honshu New York strips. Patrons get to cook the meat to their desired temperature on a tabletop grill.

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