LOGAN SQUARE — Katie Dong ate a lot of beef noodle soup growing up in Nanjing, China — a habit that stuck with her as she got older and took up a cooking career in Chicago.
“It’s so popular in China. We basically ate that every day for every meal,” Dong said. “Having my own beef noodle shop was always my dream.”
Dong is bringing flavors of home — and Japan — to Logan Square with Monster Ramen, a restaurant specializing in beef broth ramen. The restaurant at 3435 W. Fullerton Ave. is open Wednesday-Sunday for dine-in service only.
Monster Ramen, Dong’s first restaurant, serves three types of ramen: shoyu, shio and miso. All of the noodles and broth are made in-house with speciality equipment from Japan.
The restaurant also serves gyūdon, a Japanese rice dish; gyoza, or Japanese pan-fried dumplings; and small plates such as tataki, thinly sliced Wagyu beef with spicy yuzu aioli, wakame, micro greens and sesame seeds.
The menu is a reflection of Dong’s background and culinary journey, she said.
Dong came to Chicago from China with her parents when she was 14. She helped run her father’s now-closed Chinatown eatery, Cantonesia Restaurant, for a decade. Most recently, she was the chef and manager of Strings Ramen in Chinatown for six years.
Dong said she’s always been drawn to ramen, and especially the gyukotsu-style beef bone broth variation, a specialty of southern Japan that is said to have drawn influence from Chinese beef noodle dishes before the end of World War II. Gyukotsu-style ramen used to be a rare find in Japan, but it has become more popular in recent years, Dong said.
Gyuro Ramen, also specializing in gyukotsu-style ramen, opened in the West Loop this year.
“I”m always more of an experimenter and pioneer when it comes to ramen, so I think doing a beef ramen is a great fit for us,” Dong said.
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Monster Ramen filled a corner storefront previously occupied by Nuevo Laredo Food & Liquor. Dong signed a lease on the space in 2020, but supply shortages caused by the pandemic pushed the opening timeline back two years.
“My noodle-making equipment is from Japan. It took 10 months to get them, when it usually only takes five to six months,” Dong said.
Dong said another reason the restaurant opening was so delayed is because she’s struggled to hire kitchen staff, an increasingly common issue for restaurant owners amid the pandemic.
Monster Ramen finally had a soft opening last month. The restaurant is only open for dine-in service for now, but Dong and her team plan to roll out delivery, carryout and online ordering as they get their footing.
So far, the restaurant — outfitted with a wooden bar and minimalist tables — has received a warm welcome from neighbors, Dong said. It also got a glowing review from the Tribune’s food critic.
“I see people crushing their bowls without leaving us food waste. … That’s a good sign. I love it. I love to see people really pick up [the bowl] and drink the last drop,” Dong said.
Dong said this is just the beginning of what patrons can expect from Monster Ramen. She’s bursting with creative ideas, like incorporating Chicago’s favorite condiment, giardiniera, into a ramen dish, and serving her own version of her grandmother’s meatball stew, a Chinese dish called Lion’s Head she ate with her family every Sunday growing up.
Dong named the restaurant after her passion for ramen, and she hopes Chicagoans leave the restaurant with a renewed appreciation for the noodle soup.
“I always tell people, ‘When it comes to ramen, I’m a monster,'” Dong said. “It represents my team here. We’re so crazy about ramen, and we want to share our passion for it.”
Visit Monster Ramen’s website for the restaurant’s hours of operation.
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