Over the past ten years, Washington, DC has seen a culinary boom like no other; an influx of restaurants and chefs turning this town from food backwater to a city on parallel with any in America.
One of the best parts of this transformation is that it has been all encompassing. The city has added numerous $40-an-entrée restaurants, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, there has been just as much growth in terms of quality, inexpensive eats.
In no location has this change been more dramatic over the past several years than the H Street Corridor. The booming Northeast stretch, dubbed the Atlas District, seems to add a new, delicious and reasonably priced eatery every week.
And while a lot of those quality restaurants would be hard to top, Toki Underground may have done just that.
Toki Underground opened a mere two weeks ago, but it already has the D.C. food scene buzzing. The restaurant specializes in one item, Taiwanese style-ramen soup, and does it superbly well.
Located on the second floor of a row house on H Street NE, between 12th and 13th, Toki Underground is easy to miss. The entry door simply has the restaurant’s logo and, nestled between entrances to bars on either side, can be hard to spot.
However, because of the recent buzz, crowds are finding it. The location is very small, with fewer than 30 seats, and on a recent weeknight, the wait for a table of three was almost two hours. If you can’t be seated right away, the friendly host, usually Adrian, will gladly take down your phone number; leaving you free to wander the numerous bars that H street has to offer while your wait.
When you return, be sure to take a moment to admire the restaurants hip décor. The kitchen is right in front of you, open and visible from most seats.
The whole space is covered with graffiti art: wall-to-wall spray-painted images. Throughout the space, metal tubes have been shaped to mimic trees. They are wrapped with a thick, heavy twine to complete the look. The ceiling is given a bit of flair with reclaimed wood planks forming a high arch over the bar.
Once seated, your host will give you a small menu with few options. The only appetizer choice is dumplings: made from pork, chicken, beef, seafood or vegetables. All the fillings are ground in house and the wrappers are made from scratch. The dumpling come steamed, pan-fried, or fried and it would be hard to pick which is best. The pan-fried have a crispy, browned exterior that adds a nice snap, while the steamed dumplings are soft and melt-in-your mouth delicious.
After you finish your dumplings, next comes the ramen. There are five options, each costing $10. Four of them have a Tonkotsu based broth, made by simmering roasted pork bones for over a day. There’s also a vegetarian broth offered. The four pork-based options come in four different flavors: original, curry, kimichi and miso. They are all similar, but also have subtle nuances that make a great difference.
Each soup is loaded with a tasty meat, from fried chicken to pork loin, but the best part of the soup is a sous-vide egg that thickens the broth. Sous-vide eggs are basically soft boiled eggs, but instead of being cooked in boiling water for a brief period of time, they are simmered in 145-degree water for an hour to produce a barely solid, slightly runny egg that is simply amazing.
There are several add-ons you can order to customize the ramen, from different meats to the restaurant’s homemade “Endorphin” hot sauce, which mimics Sriracha. However, none of these are necessary — the soup is stellar as is.
After your meal, finish off the experience with a dessert Bento Box.
The Bento Box is a small tin (usually in the shape of a cute animal) filled with four fun desserts, like a petite coconut meringue stuffed with Pop Rocks.
It’s a sweet treat to end your evening on, after a meal that’s well worth any wait.
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