Though billed as a supermarket, Mitsuwa Marketplace, located in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights, is so much more. Really, it’s a unique escape that will please even those with the most discerning of tastes for Japanese fare.
Chicagoland’s is one of 11 nationwide locations. Mitsuwa, of course, does have a supermarket. But it’s also flush with additional shops and stands. I quite admire the fancy, colorful mochi store and quaint bookshop that greets you when you walk in.
The main attraction, at least for me, is Santouka, the ramen restaurant nestled in the far corner of the food court. It’s always packed. And it’s always packed with an eclectic mix of people who clearly knew about this suburban gem long before I did. When we go, Fanwife and I deploy our usual strategy—she scopes out a place to sit while I order and wait as patiently as I can. Santouka is cash only, but well worth any ATM fees should you forget.
There’s a range of saltiness to the broth you can expect at Santouka. It tends to vary by visit. I would credit this inconsistency to the homemade nature of the dishes, not for lack of care. No matter where the broth falls on the salty spectrum, the noodles and the pork and the number of other flavors combine for delicious medley. I like to pair our main course with a side of cha-shu, a pork rice bowl. The meat is tender and the rice adds a nice balance to the salt of the ramen. Ramen is a homey dish, providing satisfying warmth and comfort on a cold Chicago day. Done well, ramen is something I yearn for whenever the temperature breaks. Santouka certainly does it well.
I can’t say much about the other restaurants in Mitsuwa. Santouka’s gravity is too strong at the moment. Other food stands include Tokyo Shokudo, a popular restaurant serving traditional Japanese Cuisine, and Mugimaru, preparing udon noodles paired with a bevy of tempura fried accessories. The much hyped Toritetsu anchors the food court—you have to pass their grilled skewers before finding a seat. Online reviews are mixed, but this is the only location for the Tokyo-based chain in the U.S., so it may be worth trying for novelty alone. Our post-ramen tradition is desert at Re Leaf Cafe, where my wife gets matcha ice cream, a flavor that both confounds and excites her every time.
Our tradition is to explore the rest of Mitsuwa as we stroll with our desert. In a sea of suburban chains, it’s a refreshing escape. We’ve spent many cold winter dinners here. As long as Ratouka keeps serving up their hot, salty broth, many more will be.
100 E Algonquin Rd, Arlington Heights, IL 60005
9:00AM – 8:00PM Daily