We are lucky to have friends in the restaurant business, because neither of us like to wait in line. When we found out a friend could get us in to TOKI UNDERGROUND
(1234 H St, NE, Washington), we grabbed the chance, and were happy as when we left the place people were waiting over 20 minutes for seats. It was not easy to find TOKI UNDERGROUND (http://tokiunderground.com) as it is only marked with their Chinese symbol on the small door. You ascend a narrow stairway to the upper floor where high chairs faces all the walls and the bar and open kitchen.
There can't be more than 40 seats and while the music level is not high, three people probably could not converse well as you are all lined up facing forward. Indeed, obtaining seating for more than two could probably
be an even longer wait.
But it is worth the wait, as you will find the best ramen in town for sure.
Our super friendly and helpful server, Sam, explained that Taiwanese ramen is thicker and richer in its broth, and wow what a treat and taste it has.
Will ordered up a Sorachi Ace Draft Beer while I savored a fabulous small bottle of DASSAI Otter Fest 50 Dunmai Daiginjo Sake with honey overtones and a smoothness that is like the rice it is made from!
Our starters were delicious SEAFOOD DUMPLINGS (there are also pork, beef or veggie) and we chose steamed as opposed to fried (gotta keep that slim look!). They are cooked to order and are full of flavor with only a little soy dashed on top. The GALBI WAGYI BEEF Lettuce Wraps are as tender as they should be with a hint of spice, but not a lot and a light hoisin-like sauce. I took some of the Kalbi off the PICKLES PLATE we ordered to give it a kick. The pickles packed a punch and really had lots of flavor.
We started to discuss the décor which is stickers or pop-art on peeling wallpaper and more (ok, nobody can describe this for sure) and above is a shelf running around the walls with Pokeman-like Asian rabbit-eared dolls (I have no clue what they are....) which are indeed oh-so-cute and seem to be the Toki mascot. Indeed, I am unsure why the name "underground" as it is one flight up. No matter.
If you like to dine slowly, this is not the place to come. They want your seats cleared and I think we finished in about 75 minutes total from arrival time....we should have told Sam to hold our ramen when we ordered,
but it didn't occur to me.
The bowls arrived and Will had the TOKI CLASSIC of pulled pork, greens, egg & pickled ginger. He ordered and add-on of Pressure-cooked pork Cheek in a 5-Spice Marinade. There are many add-ons and they are indeed worth the thought as the huge bowls of heavy tasty broth and noodles do not have a lot of meat. At $12 this makes sense, so a side or two is a good idea. I had the KIMCHI RAMEN with kimchi infusion, pulled pork, greens, egg, kimchi, pickled ginger and an add-on or Berkshire PORK BELLY. I had more meat than Will did and my soup really had an edge and super-spiciness that we both loved (we switched halfway).
The eggs come cold to the table soft boiled in shell in a small bowl. Sam instructed us to crack it open and let it slide (like a poached egg) into the broth and then heat up for a bit. It's great. If I go back, I will do a Nitamago (extra egg) add-on for sure for $1.50! We savored the broths and yummy noodles for a long time and then realized we were way over-stuffed. YUM!
No way could we order the only dessert choice of Chocolate Chip Cookies (Red Miso Buttercream, Trickling Springs Milk), but we loved the small chewy Walnut Candies that came with the check. The labels were in Chinese (except for the words "chewy walnut candy") so I assume they are not easy to buy in the USA!
Next time we will have to try the Red Miso Ramen or maybe the Taipei Curry Chicken. Sam said the Fried Chicken BAO starter is great, but we were glad we didn't do that high starch-hi carb dish as it truly would have filled us up! Next time.