Culinary Ninja. That is the only way to describe Erik Bruner-Yang, the man behind Toki Underground, a tiny ramen sanctuary on H Street. Recognized only by the small blue emblem on the door, this Taiwanese restaurant is serving the best ramen I’ve ever tasted, and in the coolest, freshest environment I’ve been to in a while.
It’s not as if Toki hasn’t received a share amount of praise and hype and I found me a secret. Au contraire, it’s been one of the most buzzed restaurants in town, and given their no reservations policy, a one to two hour wait is to be expected. What the kimchi is right–but seriously–it is worth it.
When you walk up the stairs you enter Erik’s world. A world filled with the most wonderful smells–of fried dumplings, hearty ramens, and tempura vegetables–sights and sounds that transport you. Every inch of the place screams rockstar genius. The walls are filled with graffiti art, skateboards form a faux roof above the kitchen, plastic toys battle each other on the edges. It’s a man’s world, and one which I never wanted to leave. The music blares and track after track the beats just get better.
Hello ninja house party, where have you been all my life?
The drink menu includes imported beers, an extensive list of premium sake, and some Thai drinks I had never heard of. I opted for the Toki Monster- a perfectly stirred Bourbon with honey liqueur, served on the rocks, with a pork belly skewer accompanying it. I’ll repeat–a pork belly skewer, as a garnish. One bite and sip of this monster and I knew this place meant business. I also knew that pork belly skewer was singlehandedly responsible for my increased BAC as one is never enough. But on to the food…
hakata classic ramen @ Toki Underground, Washington DC courtesy of Plantains & Kimchi
The menu is inspired by the chef’s experience at a Taipei Ramen shop, offering obviously a variety of ramens, but also dumplings and daily specials. I ordered the Kimchi Hakata, a noodle soup with pork loin chashu (I just wanted to add to my pork intake for the day, naturally) seasonal vegetables, 1/2 boiled egg, sesame, scallions and kimchi. This massive bowl of goodness is comfort food at its finest. Every single ingredient alone was delicious and strategically placed, but when combined defines “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
While I had no plans of ordering dessert, the smell of freshly baked warm cookies got the best of me. That night, they were oatmeal raisin. I learned that our waitress Tiffany was responsible for these tiny creations. She is far too humble when it comes to her baking abilities; these were perfectly chewy, with crisp outer edges and a soft gooey-inside. You do know, cookies are making a comeback, as is two percent milk.
I have one warning: Toki is addictive.
On my second visit (in a week- no shame) I waited for well over an hour for my superbowl, but there are plenty of watering holes around Toki to drink up the appetite. Smith Commons, Granville Moores, The Pug (right below Toki), to name a few, all with their distinct character and charm. When you do make it up to Toki, you’ll find the service is attentive and incredibly friendly and you’ll be glad you waited.
How Erik and his team dish out such explosive flavors, spot on tunes, and cooler than cool ambiance is remarkable, all while keeping a laid back attitude. If you haven’t already… let this ninja kick your ass with flavor.