If you live in the DC area and haven’t heard of Toki Underground, I’m sorry to say, but you may be living under a rock. Fear not, I am here to enlighten you! Toki Underground is a Taiwanese ramen shop, located in the up and popping H Street neighborhood and nestled in a second-story shoe-box. No really, the place only has 30 seats! Due to its popularity and size, Toki consistently has a long, long wait, but it’s worth it! Just show up a few hours early, put your name on the list, and go grab a drink or two at below at The Pug or one of the many bars scattered along H Street, like H Street Country Club.
Jenna, Ariel, and I journeyed out to H Street last Saturday night. We planned to leave early and get a table at a reasonable time, but of course, we were having too much fun getting ready and enjoying a glass of wine, we didn’t end up leaving until around 6:30 pm. Whoops! We arrived, made our way up the steep staircase and quickly hit a line of people waiting to simply put their names down. As we approached the host, I saw he was wielding an iPad displaying a daunting list. After we gave him our party size, he responded as politely as possible, “Okay, your table will be ready in about two and a half hours.” Woof. Alas, we left our number and went to imbibe at various haunts around H Street.
At around 9, Toki called our lucky number and we were seated in the glowing dining room. The restaurant is one big room with an open kitchen at the end. Any seat in the house feels like the chef’s table!
Our server quickly bounced over to greet us and began to explain the menu to the two novices, Ariel and me (Jenna is a Toki pro). After listening to our server’s advice and a quick look over the menu, we kicked off our meals with a few fun cocktails.
Steamed perfectly, the rich dough of the dumpling opened up to an array of flavors: shrimp, fresh cut ginger, garlic, scallions, napa cabbage, secret house spice mixture and topped with Toki tare. Classic yet still exciting! The kimchi, fermented perfectly, had just the right amount of sourness and spice.
Jenna and I went for the classic ramen, while Ariel chose the vegetarian ramen with endorphin sauce. A roasted root vegetable broth makes up the vegetable ramen, with tofu, daikon, pickled cucumbers, shitake mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, sesame, scallions, and nori. Though I’m not usually a fan of purely vegetarian meals, this soup holds its own even next to the classic. But I think the endorphin sauce truly captivated Ariel’s attention. The endorphin sauce is a simple homemade sriracha but Toki makes it quite fun. You might be begging your server for a bottle for the road (as did Ariel).
A broth of tonkostu triple stock fills the Toki classic bowl accompanied by chasu pulled pork, seasonable vegetables, soft egg, red picked ginger, sesame, scallions, and nori.
Sometimes the noodles in ramen overpower the broth and severely take away from the experience. Not the case here. Toki maintains the delicate balance. Additionally, unlike many ramen shops that offer the same list of ramen additions (corn, extra egg, pork bell), Toki mixes it up! As soon as the words “fried chicken” came out of our waiter’s mouth as he listed special add on’s, I think I heard angels sing.
Toki Underground leapt past my expectations. Though the wait created a minor obstacle, you cannot beat the robust flavors, warm atmosphere, friendly servers, or insanely reasonable prices. Please don’t let the story of our wait scare you away, just don’t be silly like us. GO EARLY. I would not suggest Toki for a group however for two or three friends or a cozy date, you should give it a go! You’ll love it! I promise. Check out the website here.