We have ramen

A hip and welcome addition to downtown

Tonkotsu ramen with egg, and pork belly guo bao.

Tonkotsu ramen with egg, and pork belly guo bao.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

230 W. Third St.
Hours: Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. & 5-10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.


230 W. Third St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 487-7488

It was the first fall day to actually feel like fall, chilly with a light rain, as I walked downtown to the new ramen shop on Third Street. The sidewalk sign in front of Momona read my mind: “Cool weather plus warm soup equals happiness.”

Momona opened two months ago in the former home of Spice Creek Café, and the new restaurant is very hip-looking, sparsely decorated with warm woods, white walls and a mix of table and counter seating. Simply put, it’s a noodle and bao restaurant, with the bulk of the menu made up of five variations of ramen ($11-$13) and six types of bao, (bun with filling, $4-$5). But as its website explains, Momona is “not a traditional ramen house … We are a combination of what we like most, the chefs who inspire us most, the parts of the world that melt our hearts.”

The three owners, Michael Lee, his wife and chef Sarah Schlobohm and GM Mahina Gannet—along with co-executive chef Noah Mansfield—have brought together their collective experiences of traveling and eating for an amalgam of Asian influences with a Chico twist.

Momona’s bao—those China-born steam buns that traditionally are stuffed with various fillings before cooking—is inspired by the Taiwanese version, where a flattened bun is cooked and then folded in half and lined with filling. For my rainy-day lunch, I ordered a the “gua bao” version of pork belly bao ($5), with two thick slices of crisped pork belly covered in crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro (there’s also a “classic” version—with pork belly, hoisin and pickled cucumber). As I sat on a stool at the window counter waiting for my steaming bowl of tonkotsu ramen to cool, I devoured my bao. There are only about four bites total, but with the pillowy bao bread and perfectly rendered pork belly—seared crispy outside and melt-on-your-tongue juicy inside—they were very pleasurable bites.

Momona might not be setting out to be “traditional,” but it is wisely making some of the same choices as the most popular ramen shops in the country, including buying their noodles fresh from Sun Noodle, the supplier that many credit with fueling the ramen boom in America over the last decade.

And to my taste, the restaurant is also doing the very popular tonkotsu-style ramen, with pork-bone broth, justice. The noodles were perfection, chewy and satisfyingly toothsome, and the opaque broth tasted like a bowl of meat juice—wonderfully porky with just a hint of heat from the added smoked chili oil. The tonkotsu ($13) is also topped with chopped scallions and a few ribbons of pickled ginger and two glorious hunks of well-seared pork belly (that dried out a tiny bit in the heat of the broth). Free extras include hot sauce, garlic oil or chili oil. And there are other ramen add-ons available as well, such as shaved vegetables (50 cents), garlic schaltz ($1), extra meat ($4) or a soft-boiled egg (for $2, which I had and was a perfect complement to the pork).

The only other variety of ramen I’ve tried so far (and enjoyed just as much), was the Double Dip, a combo of roasted chicken and smoked pork shoulder, hot sauce, egg and dashi and tonkotsu broths.

I tried three more baos in a takeout pack last week, and was blown away by two—the classic mochiko chicken (marinated and fried chicken, with kochujang sauce and fresno chili), and the star of the menu thus far, the classic pork belly (the hoisin was killer, and really brought the components together). I mostly enjoyed the third, the mushroom (with earthy oyster mushrooms and kale), but it was almost overwhelmed by the super-salty kalbi sauce.

Prices are high enough to preclude it from being a regular lunch spot for many Chicoans, but the quality and atmosphere justify the cost for a high-end-but-still-casual lunch or dinner. All in all, a very welcome addition of new flavors to downtown Chico.