Growing up in the middle of the country, good Ramen is one of those things that you at first think is an oxymoron wrapped in a little square plastic package, then think is a styrofoam bowl with any number of mysterious flavor packets, and finally – if you’re lucky enough – learn is something amazing, transformative, satisfying, and just a little mysterious. I say if you’re lucky because, well, good ramen is something that for a very long time existed almost at the fringes.
It was in the almost obsessive dedication to Wagamama brought back by friends returning from mid 90’s stints at work or school in the UK.
It was in a few secretly sought-after, jealously guarded, passed by word of mouth shops in San Francisco, L.A., Seattle, and New York. Shops known only to obsessive asiaphiles, ex-ex-pats, and of course ever Taiwanese and Japanese hipster kid in any of those cities.
It existed in the almost mad scientist like experimentation of the devout: 2 hour drives to asian markets; religiously stiring pots of charred onions, kombudashi, pork stock; forcing friend to watch Tampopo over and over.
Now -‘good’ or not- Wagamama has three locations in Boston, and another one opening here in DC sometime in the long promised future.
And now Toki Underground has come into my life. ERik Bruner-Yang’s H-Street shop isn’t a traditional Japanese Ramen shop. It’s a Taiwanese interpretation, and let me tell you … it’s one of the best meals I’ve had out in a long time.
After about a 30 minute wait (which we spent grabbing a beer down the street) Kate and I were seated along the walk in the tiny 20 seat room nestled in above the Pug. That’s right. Toki Underground? Upstairs. The room is amazing: wound rope, graffiti, Japanese toys, exposed brick, skate desk bar rails, brushed steel, and salvaged details – a hipster/anim- nerd/skate-rat train wreck of a space that’s somehow welcoming, that somehow … really works.
And then there’s the food. Rich chewy but tender dumplings. Steaming hot bowls of rich broth, toothsome noodles, egg, and vegetables that satisfy some craving deep inside you. Some craving you probably didn’t even know you had. These aren’t the clear brothed fussy composed bowls of traditional tokyo style shops. This is rich porky Tonkotsu broth spiked with almost in your face flavors like curry and kimchi. And that fussy delicacy isn’t missed at all. I ran out of room in my stomach before I ran out of food to eat. And then I kept eating.
Oh, and did I mention a bowl of this stuff is $10. Yeah. This may be the best, most affordable meal in the whole city.
If you’re in DC… go. Don’t take a big group. Don’t take your parents. But go. And go back.