THAT NORANEKO—meaning alley cat in Japanese—is under the Hawthorne Bridge only helps to lend a certain air of dirty deeds. Appropriate for a place that's quickly becoming a spot to score a hit for a burgeoning addiction.
Under that concrete overpass, Noraneko, like its parent restaurant Biwa (a downstairs izakaya made for late-night assignations with yakitori and agedashi tofu), also has a subterranean vibe. The counter service and seating are not as clinical as the inferior and too family-friendly Boke Bowl down the street. And at Noraneko, the first bowls of piping hot ramen often arrive before your full party has finished ordering.
That ramen, ladled from steaming vats of broth, comes standard with impeccably chewy Sun Noodles, bamboo shoots, and seaweed for $8. The format demands customization, a process that will probably push your bill to $10 or more. This is ramen reality—not many spots let you walk away with a full bowl for less than that.
If that's a problem, head in at lunch, when an order of ramen with egg and pork, plus a small chopped salad, will run just $10. The daily happy hour from 4 to 6 pm dishes up $1 bar snacks and $5 cocktails.
The miso ramen stands above the other varieties. Its cloudy, blissful, and deep broth has serious Sapporo soul. Do not hesitate to add a special egg ($1), which will leech just the right amount of yolk into the broth, and be at peace ordering both kinds of chasyu pork for $3. The pork belly version ($2) is a soft, fatty contribution, while the classic pork shoulder (also $2) is a citrus-tinged take on Chinese barbeque pork—it rivals Umai's crispy pork shoulder as the best cut of pig to grace a Japanese soup.
The shio broth was overly reduced on each visit, embracing its salty namesake too much. The traditional shoyu soy sauce base will please purists, but isn't noodle-slap-your-mama good. Vegans and vegetarians are well served by a mushroom-based vegetable broth that built depth with an ample shake of togarashi spice.
While Noraneko doesn't boast the best ramen in town, when you throw in the force of Biwa's expertise in izakaya fare and cocktail craft, it may be one of the best overall ramen experiences. Avail yourself of the cocktail list ($7-10)—the yuzu whisky highball and the Campari chuhai were both tart and boozy. Avoid the juice, small 10-ounce servings of blended vegetables and fruit for $6; nothing doing there.
But the truly addictive and transcendent menu item at Noraneko arrives on a small plate with a simple slice of lemon. The tori kara age chicken ($5 for a generous small portion or $8 for a veritable bucket) is the juiciest goddamn deboned bird I've tasted in a hot minute. It's brined for hours and then dipped in rice flour, which puffs up but clings to the meat, soaking up the citrus for the most balanced fried bite I've had in a year. A server confirmed the rice flour breading is a tweak—nay, a revelation!—on Biwa's version. I've been running around feeding it to people to make sure I'm not crazy: Survey, so far, says I'm not. This is the real deal, people.
After a meal here recently, one of my best friends rerouted her whole birthday plan to incorporate Noraneko's noodles and fried chicken. You don't need a special occasion—this is working-class food served under a bridge—but make one up if that's what it takes.
Open daily 11 am-2 am. Full bar and no reservations. Order at the counter, grab a seat.