Mike Satinover, known to many in Chicago and across the U.S. as Ramen_Lord, will finally make his long-anticipated leap from amateur cook to professional ramen chef. Satinover, a suburban Oak Park native who has over 13 years documented his ramen education for ever-growing hoards of online fans, aims to unveil Akahoshi Ramen in the fall at 2340 N. California Avenue in Logan Square.
For Satinover’s fans, this is welcome news. After earning the Ramen_Lord moniker via Reddit’s ramen forums, Satinover took to the pop-up circuit, demonstrating his passion for ramen by collaborating with restaurants across the city. Often, tickets for these pop-ups would be snapped up in minutes when placed on sale via Instagram.
Ramen restaurants in Chicago have a habit of creating extensive menus laden with dishes like bao and karaage, but Satinover will follow a more traditional Japanese model by exclusively offering ramen and a handful of donburi (rice bowls topped with chashu or ikura). He wants to keep his team of employees small and for them to focus on the main attraction rather than distracting appetizers.
“Ramen is really, really difficult to make well and consistently,” Satinover says. “To be honest, I don’t have a lot going for me except for quality — that’s what people know about me. It has to deliver because if it’s not awesome, the business is not going to work.”
Akahoshi, a Japanese surname that translates to “red star,” pays tribute to the regional nature of ramen and locations that shaped Satinover’s approach: Chicago (with its flag’s four red stars), and the island of Hokkaido, Japan, (with its flag that bears a seven-pointed red star).
Satinover credits his love of the genre to a year he spent during college living in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, which is internationally known for its ramen. Sapporo is particularly celebrated for its rich and satisfying miso ramen, a local invention that keeps residents’ bellies full and warm through snowy winter months, an experience that resonates with Chicagoans.
Styles of miso ramen vary across Japanese cities, but Satinover says his take is firmly rooted in Hokkaido (the miso will be prepared in a wok and feature crinkly, aged noodles). He’s also considering shoyu, shio, and tonkotsu ramen options, plus a couple of brothless mazesoba submissions.
Despite substantial critical attention, Satinover for years supressed the desire to open a restaurant. Soured by a negative workplace culture he encountered while staging at a restaurant in high school, he sought education and employment outside the hospitality industry and regarded his obsessive interest in ramen as a hobby, albeit one with a big audience on Reddit and Instagram. In 2017, however, Satinover’s attitude began to shift after he popped up for a week in New York City at the now-shuttered Ramen Lab, which is operated by world-renowned ramen manufacturer Sun Noodle. The experience led Satinover to throw pop-ups in Chicago which allowed him to circumvent any toxicity associated with restaurant kitchens.
Satinover initially wanted to emulate the extremely close quarters seen at ramen shops throughout Japan, but Chicago’s building regulations would have required expensive construction, an equation that didn’t add up with Satinover’s vision of a cozy restaurant with a limited number of seats. Satinover says he’s satisfied with an approximately 800-square-foot dining room that will seat around 50, including six spots along a bar in front of an open kitchen. The compact space will also include a communal table for 20 and six booths.
Satinover has sought the counsel of Chicago-based Siren Betty Design, behind the aesthetic at local spots including Nine Bar, Segnatore, and the Hi-Lo. As someone who is not Japanese, he says he wants to avoid veering into cultural stereotypes or creating the impression that he’s an expert. Chef Paul Virant took a similar approach with his West Loop Japanese restaurant, Gaijin.
“I don’t want to put on this air like I know so much,” Satinover says. “I’m a white guy making ramen, that is the dynamic of the situation so I’m just going to lean into that. I’m self-funding this thing: it is truly a passion project. I’m doing this because I love ramen and I want to show Chicago how good ramen can be.”
The Tribune first reported Akahoshi Ramen’s opening plans. Stay tuned for more details as the project progresses.
Akahoshi Ramen, 2340 N. California Avenue, scheduled to open in the fall.