Urban Belly: Ramen for post-college crowd

CHICAGO You know those cheap packets of Japanese ramen noodles you can buy for a buck? College students have survived on them for years. Now imagine a four-star trained chef using high-quality imported noodles, making his own broths and adding some of the finest veggies he can find. The result? A Northwest Side experiment called "Urban Belly."

These aren't the dried-package-college-dinner ramen noodles you might be accustomed to. Mainly because they come from a place called Urban Belly, a noodle emporium devoted to using the highest quality ingredients.

"It's something that I have learned to like, traveling through Southeast Asia, love the brightness of the flavors of Vietnam, Cambodia, so it's a hybrid of many different cultures," said Bill Kim, Urban Belly.

Kim is Korean-born, but his love of Japanese ingredients and Southeast Asian broths forms the basis of his menu.

Consider the ramen: imported from Japan, he boils them briefly, then lays three slabs of pork belly over the top, finally ladling in a rich, earthy Vietnamese-inspired beef stock to enrich the noodles. Soba noodles are are also briefly boiled, placed in a wide bowl, then joined by vibrant Chinese broccoli and plump bay scallops.. finished with a hearty blue crab broth. Even his Asian egg noodles stand out: stir-fried with spicy garlic-chili, they're mounded with baby bok choy and Chinese eggplant.

Kim's fusion approach extends to his fried rices. Some have pea shoots and basil.. others, pork belly and pineapple. This "phat" version combines them all.. along with marinated, grilled short ribs crowning the top.

"That's one of the things that I love.. I cook it with basmati rice, which is a lot more fragrant, has a lot more flavor and I add a little citrus zest at the end and I finish with some fried shallots."

A handful of dumplings are also on offer.. all of them made in-house. His lamb and brandy dumplings arrive on a bed of edamame, each one dotted with a sun-dried tomato and black bean garnish, while the entire dish is drizzled with a mild soy-balsamic sauce. Dumplings and rice are great, but it's the noodles - and their tasty companions in the bowl - that will impress the novice noodle consumer.

"I take the elements of fine-dining, which has textural differences but it's done in a way where everybody understands tofu, noodles, crispy, crunchy and soft."

Nothing on the menu tops thirteen bucks. The dumplings and rices average seven dollars. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.. But do me a favor folks. Wait a day, or two, or three. Because if everyone goes there tomorrow, no one will get served in a timely manner, because the place is pretty small.

Urban Belly

3053 N. California Ave.


Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.