Judging Restaurants – Toki Underground

Toki Underground located above the Pug at 1234 H St, NE probably has gotten the most positive buzz for any new restaurant that I can remember. You can see their menus here. So is the food as good as the buzz? If so, what are the must order items?

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  • Toki was the best that DC had to offer in the ramen department (and that is not saying much of anything at all), but then they started doing ramen at the chicken place in Columbia Heights, so Toki’s no longer the only game in town. I am dedicated to my ramen spot in NYC, but I caved to the craving and tried Toki with a friend a few months ago. I had the Toki ramen – bland, with fatty char-shu pork, and they charged me for sriracha! Not cool. My friend’s scallion pancakes were oily and gross – not any better than you’d get from bullet-proof Chinese takeaway. Overall, totally not worth the wait or the hype.

    • What is your spot in NYC? I lived in the East Village before I moved here, and Toki has evolved into a top notch ramen-ya. I think I would put it in 2nd place in my old hood, since nothing touches Ippudo’s broth.
      I found the broth at Toki pretty bland in the beginning, but it’s drastically improved. I think it’s better than Minca or Rai Rai Ken now, and maybe matches Momofuku.

      • I’m gonna be the voice of dissent here and say Ippudo is overrated as hell. Their noodles were pretty bland every time I tried, would honestly much rather just have a bowl at Setagaya. Maybe if they concentrated on the food rather than trying to attract the meatpacking crowd…

        Minca was great, the top for me was probably Menchanko-tei.

        • Oh and Toki sucked the first time I went (a month or so after they opened) but went back recently and they’ve definitely upped their game. Kim chi ramen was pretty bangin. Would certainly go back again.

      • Rai Rai Ken’s my spot, has been for years. (I’ve filled more frequent ramen cards there than I’d like to admit, though I’ve been going slightly less often since I moved here from Brooklyn). I think their miso ramen with fried garlic is the jam. Plus, there’s no pretense, no painted skateboards, no fake-y harajuku schtick.

    • Oh come now, Ms. P. (BTW, the first anon reply to you was me as well). Is it really about the decor (which I think is great)? I too have filled many a ramen card at RRK (lived a couple blocks from there for a few years). But Rai Rai Ken has just as much “pretense” in that sense as it’s made to be a rustic ramen-ya.

      If Toki was going for a “Harajuku schtick,” I suppose you’d see all the waiters dressed like dolls at a funeral. But they’re not. They wear black t-shirts, and are super nice. Let’s not look to hard for things to hate on.

  • IMO, the food is really good, though I’m not sure anything could possibly live up to the ridiculous amount of buzz. The first time I went I was satisfied but not wowed; the second time I went a took a couple of out-of-town friends and they really loved it. It made me realize that I really liked it a lot, too, but perhaps my expectations were a tad too high the first time. I’ve since been back and my experiences have been great every time. I’m a creature of habit and tend to order the same thing, so I’ve only tried two of the Rames: the Toki Hakata Classic and Chicken Curry Hakata; both are excellent. I have had three types of dumplings (chicken, pork, and beef). The steamed pork are my favorite.

  • I like it, but I go at off-peak times due to the ridiculous wait, which is usually still 45 minutes or more. They don’t take reservations.

    Must orders:
    Curry chicken hakata ramen
    Toki hakata classic ramen

    Word to the wise: If you have a Deals for Deeds coupon, PRINT IT OUT. They will not accept the code via smartphone. The way things went down last time I was there, I consider this a deliberate, possibly diabolical move.

    All in all, I go despite many factors including the above, which should attest to the quality of the food. The hip vibe rubs me the wrong way and the perceived chip on their shoulder due to people waiting 45 minutes to 2 hours and more for a bowl of soup is a negative. But, if you plan ahead, you should have an OK time. Go upstairs, put your name on the list and grab a beer somewhere like Granville’s and you’re good to go.

    • I think you mean:

      “Go upstairs, put your name on the list and go somewhere like Granville’s and put your name on the list, and go to the Pug and grab a drink, then get into Granville’s a grab a drink, then get into Toki.”

      • I’ve never had a problem sitting at the upstairs bar at Granville’s. Actually, it’s usually fairly unoccupied. But then again this has been at like 6:00-6:30 on a week night, which is before much of the dinner crowd rolls in. Point taken, though.

  • I’ve tried 3 of their ramen options (classic, chicken curry, and kimchi). The kimchi one was the most flavorful of the three and i’ll def go back there again for it (not the others). i also got the housemade sriracha complimentary because it was opening week and it tasted like water. maybe they’ve improved it since then, but if not, it’s not worth the extra monies.

    ps. get the cookies for dessert.. crazy delicious!

  • The hype is probably a bit out of hand, my experience seems similar to others. But it’s a classic limited supply, big demand situation. A place, no matter how great or even mediocre is gonna create a lot of buzz and always have lines out the door when you can count the number of seats on two hands. The soup is okay, but didn’t wow me. But I am impressed by the very unique daily specials they offer and the solid list of quality (mostly Japanese, including a high ABV Japanese IPA that isn’t Hitachino!) beers that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the area.

  • Their hakata classic ramen is completely bland. Their miso ramen and kimchi ramen are much better. Dumplings come with a really sweet sauce instead of vinegar and gyoza sauce.

  • It’s the most over-hyped trendy hipster joint of 2011. Personally, I feel much more at home with a boilermaker and a couple hot dogs downstairs at the Pug. But that’s just me.

  • Pretty much agree with the jist of other comments. Food good, not worth wait or at level of some ramen spots in you know where. Love love love the decor, vibe, space though. Worth at least one trip (off peak) for that alone. Just wicked cool.

  • I went and only waited about ten minutes, we went down to the pug, ordered pints, and were called shortly. They let up bring our pints up to have with dinner which was great. I got whatever the only vegetarian ramen was and loved it. I, however, and not a ramen expert. But in a generally great food category, I though it passed with flying colors. Can’t wait to go back.

  • I think it puts the Columbia Heights People’s Bao ramen to shame. Whole different catagory, imo. I agree about the sriracha (it’s not that great and should be free), but everything else I’ve had has been outstanding (classic ramen, miso ramen, veggie ramen, dumplings). Plus they always have new interesting things you can’t get anywhere else in DC(octopus fritters, grilled Japanese yams). You can tell the chef is having a good time with the menu and the atmosphere / decor is fun and well thought out. I think it deserves the hype.

  • I have never tried to go at a “peak time” (after 7 or on a weekend), but if I roll up at 6 on a Tuesday, I can always sit right down.The staff is friendly and pleasant. Their ramen broth is wonderful, and the portions are so large I usually have leftovers for lunch the next day. The dumplings are also excellent.

    I also must mention their cocktails. They are quite pricey ($10 ea), but every one is unique and delicious with inventive garnishes. They offer a whiskey drink which comes garnished with fried pork belly, my boyfriend’s favorite.

  • Yeah, it’s good, but it’s ramen noodles. Normal people don’t wait in line for 45 minutes to 2 hours for ramen noodles. Me, I’ll stick to the hot dogs downstairs at The Pug.

  • I’ve always had great food there. Props for having a veggie broth option and the siracha was great the couple times I went. Yes, it’s uber-hyped and there’s often a line, but since they call you when your table is ready, it’s no problem to just chill at the Pug with a beer until you get a seat. Definitely not worth going in a group of more than two though, since there aren’t tables where you are facing each other.

  • I think it’s overrated, but it’s not bad for the amount of money you pay. Their dumplings are not good, they taste like they bought them frozen and not made fresh. Every now and then they have this pork belly special, that’s the dish to get! I can eat about 10 of them. The cocktails are good. Sometimes the noodles are overcooked and mushy. I wouldn’t go across town to try this place

  • SHHHHHHHH I am heading there in an hour for dinner! I hope this blog post doesn’t cause a huge rush that makes it hard for me to get a table. 🙂

    It’s my favorite restaurant in DC. Partially because of the food, partially because I am a total Asia-phile and thus, yeah, I kind of adore it.

  • Love the noodles at Toki. No problem with hotdogs but ramen rule and Toki knows how to cook them with savory both. Oh yeah.

  • This is my favorite restaurant in the city (although I’ll give Pho in VA the edge on pure tastiness).

    It’s a great place at a great price point. To all the naysayers, where else are you going to get this quality of food, with rotating avant garde nightly and seasonal specials, for $10-$20 per person? The decor is the best in the entire city, as is whatever soundtrack they have pumping on any given evening.

    The Kimchi Hakata is where it’s at. If you’ve been disappointed with the standards, don’t hesitate to order the specials.

  • Toki is legit – it is sooo good, especially the Chicken Curry Ramen.

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