Noodling around at Noraneko, a slurpworthy new PDX ramen spot.
Ramen is not just the right kind of food to welcome the return of the rainy season — the Japanese noodle soup is also great for kids. After all, slurping is not just encouraged, it’s practically unavoidable.
Foodies with good memories will recall that it was Biwa, the subterranean little restaurant off of Southeast Ankeny Street that kicked off the modern ramen era in Portland when it opened in 2007. Before kids, this was one of our go-to date night spots, but nowadays, the long waits to get a table are beyond what our kids can handle.
Enter Noraneko, the new ramen-ya from the duo behind Biwa, tucked away in industrial SE Portland, a short walk from OMSI and the Eastbank Esplanade. It opened in the spring, and on a recent Friday night, we were able to snag a table with no wait at 6 pm, though several other families with young kids were already happily digging in.
(We should have made an effort to get there half an hour earlier, though, for happy hour, when plates of three plump little gyoza dumplings, a platter of seasoned popcorn and three not-too-spicy kimchi and cheese croquettes all go for just $1 a pop. Happy hour is an everyday affair here, between 4 and 6 pm.)
The food comes out quickly. Our kids had barely had time to peruse the Japanese anime magazines on display before appetizers arrived, including a small plate of Japanese-style boneless fried chicken, devoured by both kids, and a salad of grated jicama, kale, cabbage, daikon radish and almonds that I ordered to counterbalance the richness of the ramen. Pro tip: Pull the small pieces of broccoli out of the salad on the chopsticks and feed them to your kids. Kids will eat anything if you give it to them on chopsticks.
Our steaming bowls of ramen arrived not long after, hot enough that the kids had to wait awhile before digging in — and even then, they blew ostentatiously to cool things down. The noodles were snappy, my mushroom broth was earthy and the garnishes are simple, just the way ramen purists like it: a few bamboo shoots, a tangle of seaweed, and that’s it. (That’s also why a ramen bowl costs only $8, though add-ons are extra, including a perfectly cooked poached egg for $1, marinated in soy and worth every penny.) Kids might prefer the more familiar miso ramen, or the shoyu ramen, infused with soy sauce and with a meaty taste.
If you’ve got a ramen skeptic in your family, no problem: there’s a rotating specials board of Japanese-inspired comfort food, and Biwa’s famous cheeseburger makes an appearance on Monday nights for only $9.
I noted a booster seat and high chair, but bring along your kids’ own sippy cups or water bottles; the restaurant served our kids their water in heavy glass cups, making the spill that followed seem inevitable.
Noraneko is open daily, 11 am-2 am. 1430 SE Water Ave. For more info: noranekoramen.com
PDX is home to several other great ramen stops for gray days when you just want a bowlful of broth.
Just down the street from Noraneko, Boke Bowl is bigger and even more kid-friendly, with plastic chopsticks topped with zoo animals and steamed PB&J buns for the doubtful. Killer Brussels sprouts salad, too.
1020 SE Water Ave., and 1200 NW 18th Ave. bokebowl.com.
Catty-corner from the Schnitz, this is a good post-theater stop. Their lengthy menu includes sushi, too, so kids can get their fill of eel rolls and edamame.
910 SW Salmon St. shigezo-pdx.com.
Kukai Ramen & Izakaya:
Just opened in the natty new Timberland Town Center mall in the Cedar Mill area of Beaverton, the ramen here has been winning rave reviews from a steady stream of hungry eaters.
11830 NW Cedar Falls Dr. kukai-ramen.com.
For more kid-friendly restaurant reviews visit: metro-parent.com/FamilySupper