Our last ramen stop of the week was definitely a unique one, and that’s where High Five Ramen entered our lives.
After trying the previous night to get a table we where told there would be a 3 hour wait, which we couldn’t do on that particular evening.
We had one more chance before work got too intense to really try and get one more review under our belt, and so I made the ‘slot’ on time so that we would hopefully be able to make the table after we finished work that evening.
I’d like to warn you that you can not call in a reservation, and the spots book up fast, but if you arrive at 4.30pm and get in line for the doors opening at 5pm, you can get your name on the list and hope for the best.
After getting your name on the list you still have to wait, but with your number in the system you can text the restaurant to see how many parties are before you, and eventually you will receive a message that says you’re next in line and you can to go to the restaurant for your reservation (fair warning, if you get the text to say they’re ready and you don’t get there in a certain amount of time, your table will be gone and you’ll have to wait again).
We finished work just after 9pm so I tried to plan our spot, with the help from the general manager, to give it our best shot of making it to the restaurant on time.
The reason behind my absolute desperate need to eat at High Five Ramen was in all honesty the mystery to the whole experience.
Located underneath a smoked meat restaurant, hidden from view, with only around 16 seats to choose from, this dark little space houses a tiny kitchen, a bar, and a ramen that leaves you wanting more.
During the last half an hour of work I held my phone tightly in my hand, watching nervously as the parties before us entered single digits.
I was sweating, worried that we would miss our chance, and just as work was finishing I got a message to say that our party was up next.
In a panic I called my husband, at the other side of the building, and told him to be as fast as he could packing out his duties so that we could grab an Uber and drive the 15 minutes drive to get there in time.
I can honestly say that I don’t believe either of us have ever moved that fast in our lives. Within 10 minutes we where running towards the busy street in sheets of falling snow, to try and find our Uber.
It was busy, cars raced back and forth, and it took us a minute to find our ride. I’m not sure I’ll ever see the Uber driver again but I hope he forgives me for asking him to ‘drive it like he stole it’ as soon as I sat in the seat; nothing was going to get between us and the delicious ramen we had been waiting all day to enjoy.
The first night we had tried and failed to reach High Five Ramen we struggled to even find the entrance as there seemed to be no signs at all; this time however we where in the know.
Quickly slamming the Uber door shut we ran, through the snow, towards Green Street Smoked Meats where a cobbled alleyway would be waiting.
Fairy lights surrounded us, giving an illusion of heat on such a cold night, and to the left was the first sign of High Five Ramen we would see; a metal door, with a list of hours, a handprint, ramen printed in English, and ‘high five ramen’ printed in Japanese.
Upon entering there was a door directly in front to take you to Green Street Smoked Meats, and on the left a staircase which we quickly descended in order to get to ramen heaven.
The night before this staircase had been slammed with patrons all waiting out of the cold for their number to be called.
At the bottom of the stairs I got my first glimpse of High Five Ramen and they where not kidding about the limited space.
It was dark, punk music was playing, and all 16 seats where taken.
The lady at the hostess stand took our last name before saying ‘great, your seats are just opening up.’
Instantly I took a sigh of relief; the mad dash across town from our work had paid off, we where about to get seated at High Five Ramen.
As we walked past the other patrons I could smell their bowls of ramen distinctly filling the air; there was a lot of spice, and judging by the smell it was going to be a great bowl of ramen.
I caught myself staring up at the ceiling during our short walk to the high tops, and noticed the beams lining the whole roof; it felt almost like a bunker inside its gloomy depths, but it was a nice bunker – maybe the party bunker that you’d go to if the sirens did start to wail – and I found myself loving every second of it. I felt safe within its walls.
Our seats where in the perfect spot; we would be sat at the very top of the bar with a view of the whole space, and the kitchen! In fact, if we could have made a reservation I don’t think we would have been able to pick better seats.
Quickly I ordered a Sapporo, and with my menu in hand I tried over and over again to get a picture in the dim light with little success.
Of course I was going to order the Tonkotsu ramen for my bowl, but they also had choices of a ‘face numbing’ spicy Tonkotsu, a Shoyu ramen, a Shio ramen, and a Mitake mushroom ramen.
To give you more of an insight I attached the menu from their website, since my pictures came out pretty rough with the lighting.
It became fascinating watching the small space operate at such a high level.
Everyone was busy, bowls of ramen where speeding around the room, the bartender was handing out slushees and drinks, and the chefs where calling orders continuously, and yet nothing looked chaotic – nothing was stressful or a hassle – it was just a well oiled machine programmed for another night.
As we waited patiently for our ramen, sipping our beers away, a couple next to us began to finish up; as they paid their bill I heard the lady say to her husband “That was worth the wait. I could eat that every day and be happy.”
He agreed, handing her purse over, and off they went into the cold night.
Without saying a word my husband and I exchanged eye contact; I could feel the excitement in the pit of my stomach, or maybe it was hunger?
To the right of our seats sat the slushee machine, and I could have kicked myself for not ordering one of those instead of my Sapporo.
On the menu today they had a Vodka based slushee called ‘Yuzu Gimlet’ and a coconut slushee cocktail called the ‘Coconut painkiller.’
In all honesty I’m not sure which cocktail I would go for had I made that choice. Part of me thinks vodka would have been a wise decision, but I would be curious to try the coconut.
Another cocktail I had seen previously on their Instagram was a Matcha green tea slushee cocktail, which I was hoping would be available on our trip, but alas a good old Sapporo did not let me down.
Our Tonkotsu’s arrived together and landed in front of us in perfect unison with a pleasant ‘enjoy’ from the bartender.
It was hard in the darkness to really see what was going on in the bowl, and I laughed at how exciting it would be to have a dish you knew nothing about to simply taste test and feel your way around in the dark.
With a quick flash of my phone I saw just how thick the broth looked. The black garlic oil was leaving a rim of residue around the bowl, and with a scoop of my spoon I had my first taste of ramen broth at my fingertips. I was right, it was thick.
Thick and creamy with a charred taste; the porky broth was like satin – delicate and lavish – coating my mouth with a residue of bold Tonkotsu heaven. It was hard to find a broth this good in most cities, and I’d definitely say that Strings and High Five where my number one picks for thickness and quality of broth; the charred taste almost added to the atmosphere and vibe of the restaurant, and as I picked up my first piece of pork later I would find a similar flavor within its succulent depths.
As I swooned over their delicious broth I realized that I had actually broken my long time tradition of trying the ramen egg first.
There was just something about the broth that looked mysterious. It was darker than usual from the black garlic oil, which I absolutely loved, but still epically creamy with all of those traditional Tonkotsu flavors from the 18 hours their pork bones had spent cooking in the pot.
I dove into the egg immediately, and noticed that instead of the usual ‘half cuts’ this little guy was one whole egg.
I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it, and I knew that my chopstick skills would never fair up to slicing a whole egg in half without causing a commotion.
Quickly I took a look around me to investigate any wandering eyes. I was in the clear. I pushed the whole egg into my mouth and bit down.
The explosion of yolk almost forced my mouth back open, but thankfully I hunkered down and began to chew.
In all the ramen trips we’d taken in Chicago I had yet to be impressed with a good marinated ramen egg, and had felt slightly upset at all of the boiled eggs I had been eating. High five definitely took the top spot for the egg competition, and I mmmm’d and ahhhhh’d at the taste of soy sauce and garlic this little guy had most probably been sat in before making it to my bowl.
It wasn’t the best marinated ramen egg I’ve ever had, but out of the establishments we had chance to visit, it was definitely my favorite. I’d also like to point out that the quality of the egg was great too. Just like the Tonkotsu the egg was creamy in its own right, and the yolk was so rich and beautiful that it clung to the sides of my mouth as though it too wanted to stay with me forever.
Before I move on to talk about the pork I’d also like to mention something that, I personally, appreciated a lot about High Five Ramen; their bowl was not filled with bamboo shoots or seaweed, or any kind of mushroom like a lot of traditional Tonkotsu’s, and I know that a lot of people will say that they enjoy those parts of the dish, but I really liked that the focus was simply on the pork, the egg, the noodles and the broth without any distractions or fillers. For me the main ingredients I judge a bowl on are those 4, and that’s how I can choose the good from the bad, so that definitely added an extra tick to my book for High Five Ramen love.
And now, back to the pork.
The pork was sliced thinly into the bowl, the thinnest of the 4 restaurants, but it housed a smoked flavor as though it had a lingering char from something magical that had happened in a smoker.
It too, like the other restaurants, fell apart at a single touch, and I found myself enjoying the many thinner cuts of pork belly more than I anticipated; each bite seemed to burst with smokey flavor, and the juices of the broth had soaked into the meat so that each bite flooded your mouth with a river of happiness.
It would seem that High Five ramen had not only perfected the ‘mysterious’ restaurant speakeasy vibe, but they’d also perfected their ramen game to new levels.
Lastly I tried the noodles, and I’d like to say that the beansprout addition to the dish threw me at first and I noted that I had never seen a beansprout in a bowl of ramen before. However, having the beansprouts intertwined in the mix was extremely refreshing, sourced locally these little guys packed a freshness that seemed to almost clean your palette between each ingredient in order for your tastebuds to really get the full effect of the labor of love that is a good Tonkotsu bowl.
My first bite of the alkaline noodles made me want to slam my fists on the bar and rejoice; they where perfect.
They seemed to be the same texture as egg noodles – not too soft and not too al dente – each bite was full of flavorful broth and their thickness was the perfect consistency.
I was in love, and when I tell you that I slammed down the rest of the bowl in 5 minutes before stopping, I am not lying.
In fact, I couldn’t finish the last part of the bowl, which is extremely uncommon for me, because the broth was just so thick and everything was so good that I savored in it.
I would later tell my husband, as I unzipped the top of my high waist jeans, that I would happily fill up a bathtub of High Five Ramens Tonkotsu bowl and eat my way out.
Honestly, if you are having any doubt or worries about the long wait, I would tell you to just go for it. I can guarantee it’s worth every moment of the wait, and you’ll leave a happy customer.
High Five Ramen is without a doubt a gem of a find, and we loved every second of it.
From the absolutely amazing ramen, to the punk music, to the basement vibe, and the overall atmosphere – it was fantastic and unique.
Also, I’d like to point out that waiting for your slot to open up in order to get a table isn’t so bad if you pop over to the Smoked meats joint upstairs and have a few drinks and snacks.
Their sign in the doorway gives you a 6 step guide on how to truly live the High Five Ramen life.
I’m so glad that we made this happen, and I’m so glad that my husband and I could finally dine at High Five Ramen.
Next time we’re in the area we will be back without a doubt.
Thank you to everyone at High Five Ramen, we had a great evening and couldn’t have been happier with our delicious Tonkotsu’s.
(If you liked this review don’t forget to find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ AHangryWife)
Until next time,