In the past, when my family just wanted a quick bite, we would go out and have burgers and fries and maybe some sandwiches – classic casual American food.
Today, burgers, fries and sandwiches take a backseat and ramen and sushi take the lead.A large part of this journey is thanks to the numerous SoCal affiliates HiroNori Craft Ramenwith locations in Pasadena, Orange, Santa Clara, Santa Fe Springs, San Diego and Long Beach.
HiroNori Craft Ramen has perhaps the shortest menu of any Japanese restaurant in town—ramen so simple it fits just right as part of a pocket-sized takeout menu. A page of explanation tells us that the tonkatsu soup is boiled for 24 hours (“for richness and flavor”) and that the noodles are “cut fresh every morning”. The soy sauce “tastes best after two years of barrel aging”.
In fact, the Bowl of Goodness does it all.
Tonkatsu ramen has lots of pork char siu and spinach. The shoyu ramen has a slightly different twist, with the addition of bamboo shoots and shell sprouts. There is a vegetarian ramen with sesame miso soup, broccoli, kale and tofu. There is a spicy cold dipping noodle dish in Bonita dashi with pork char siew.
And, speaking of noodles – well, that’s it. Delicious, delicious and easy… eat. (It’s not that simple to do.)
If ramen isn’t your fast food option, here are four donburi dishes – one with pork, another with chicken, spicy tuna and salmon poke. Had cucumber crab salad, spicy tuna rice with crispy rice, and pork buns. Food flies out of the open kitchen with incredible speed. And the prices are good – not much more than a burger and fries.
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to casual Japanese dining in the Long Beach area.
under the quirky name, bricks valley ramen (108 W. 3rd St., Long Beach; 562-435-1135), proudly labeled “Taps & Tapas” on the menu, and ramen we made ourselves, in downtown where parking is difficult. You can choose between ramen and thicker udon. There are also four spice levels and five basic toppings – char siew, chicken “lollipop”, tofu, spicy minced pork and tempura shrimp. Finally, there are 14 “extra toppings” that range in price from 85 cents to $3. There are also exotic flavors like mild chilli miso and Thai spicy tom yam.
Then there are tapas — 21 of them — side dishes such as crispy pork potstickers, spicy salad and garlic cheesy corn. There are three rice bowls in total. And, of course, beer — you can’t say “Taps and Tapas” and not serve beer. There may be a law against it.
The only law broken by mixed-name casual restaurants is called sushi mafia (649 E. Broadway, Long Beach; 562-269-0119, www.thesushimafia.com) to make the menu smaller than the phonebook. Check out Sushi Mafia’s stats: 25 nigiri, 25 hand rolls, 21 traditional rolls, 12 traditional sashimi, 15 special sashimi, 18 tempura rolls, 7 deep-fried rolls, 4 types of vegetable rolls, 13 types of grilled rolls, 13 types of grilled rolls, 17 types of fresh rolls, 5 types of cooked rolls and 5 types of rolls without rice. That’s 140 volumes, in case you’re curious. How the chefs do it, I don’t know. In fact, a lot of the rolls were overlapping – lots of spicy tuna to choose from, and lots of crab salad.
If you can’t make up your mind – really, who can? – There are 16 pieces of sushi dinner and 18 pieces of sashimi dinner. There is also a meal called “Queen Mary” which includes 25 pieces of sashimi, 10 nigiri and 4 special rolls. That’s good, but not as fun as ordering a Dizzy Roll, Screw Up Roll, Punk Roll, Yosemite Roll, and Evil Roll. There’s also Al Capone Roll, Scarface Roll, and Godfather Roll and Godmother Roll. There might also be a Don Corleone Roll, lost in the hustle and bustle.
Then, there are sushi maniac (4901 Long Beach Blvd, Long Beach; 562-317-5051, www.sushilococa.com), which has a reputation for pushing the edge—but not as crazy as Sushi Mafia. In this case, there are 16 basic volumes, 15 advanced volumes, and 20 special volumes. In the past, this would have been very impressive. But like canned olives, the selection of sushi rolls keeps getting bigger, crazier, and wackier. That is, how much do you really need?
I happily inhaled the Rock ‘n’ Roll (spicy scallops and spicy tuna), the Oh Baby Roll (spicy crab, spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, spicy mayo) and the Hot Night Roll (crab meat, spicy tuna, crocodile Pear, Jalapeno), Hot Sauce). Was crazy, not so crazy now.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food and beverage critic in Los Angeles. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
HiroNori Craft Ramen
- score: 2 stars
- address: 610 E. Carson St., Long Beach
- information: 562-676-4234, www.hironori.com
- Food: The Long Beach branch of a small SoCal chain serving casual Japanese food at reasonable prices.
- when: lunch and dinner, daily
- price: About $18 per person; no reservations
- On the menu: 4 bowls ($7.70-$13), 4 ramen noodles ($14.50-$16.20), 6 noodles ($4-$8)
- credit card: Mitsubishi Corporation, V
- Star means: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Best, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to eat. Worth a visit from anywhere in Southern California place to visit nearby.) 1 (If you’re hungry, it’s nearby, but out of traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)