Toki Underground: Elevating Ramen to an Art Form


It seemed to take no time at all for H Street’s Toki Underground to morph from one of D.C.’s hidden gems to one of its worst kept secrets.

The tiny ramen shop opened at the beginning of April, 2011 and within weeks, its twenty seats were some of the most coveted in town. While waits of upwards of an hour were commonplace, many patrons were willing to content themselves with a pint or two at The Pug, the downstairs bar, until they received a text to signify it was their turn. Five years later, Toki still hasn’t lost steam, and it can be as hard as ever to grab a seat during prime-time – although insiders know that their chances of being seated promptly increase quite a bit during lunch hours, which are 11:30 to 2:30 daily.

The word may be out about Toki Underground, but the place still has the inconspicuous signage of a speakeasy, and the décor of a funky hostel for weary backpackers. The interior, which features big-head figurines, a wall made of skateboard pieces and a wrap-around bar decorated with old anime panels, is practically a shrine to Japanese pop culture. A pulsing soundtrack of indie rock and hip-hop helps to contribute to an aura of calculated quirkiness.

Weekend Food Events: Toki Underground Brunches, Potomac Beer...

Late-night kolaches at Dacha: Republic Kolache is popping up again this weekend for all your late-night needs, serving  Texas pastries at the Dacha Market from 9:30 pm to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Look out for news about its  in the near future.

Toki Underground does brunch: The “chef-approved” apparel line Tilit is collaborating with Dirty South Deli and Toki Underground on Friday and Sunday, respectively, offering limited-edition menus at Toki. On Friday starting at 11 am, Dirty South Deli will serve the “Bill Cutting Sandwich,” named after theGangs of New York character, which combines chorizo, queso fundido, pickled jalapenos, avocado and lime. On Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., Toki’s chefs are cooking up a traditional Japanese-style breakfast of smoked sable and catfish, kippered salmon, ferments and housemade Tofu with tomatillo salsa. You can reserve a one-hour slot on Friday or Sunday (or both) for $30

5 Odd Questions With Jonathan Uribe, Toki Underground's New Chef

By Holley Simmons

Last month, Uribe took over the kitchen at Toki Underground, H Street’s (still) white-hot ramen shop. We had a few weird questions for him.

How many unread emails are in your inbox right now?
A very casual 30,589.

Who was your first celebrity crush?
I think all guys have the hots for Lara Croft.

What’s something not a lot of people know about you?
I’ve had more than 10 concussions. And I’ve been hit by a bus and a minivan.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
“Captain America: Civil War.”

My First Job: Toki Underground's Neil Dundee

By Anna Spiegel

We asked DC bar folks how they first dipped their toes into the biz. Here’s Neil Dundee, beverage director at Toki Underground:

“My first bartending job was at the Holiday Inn in Frederick. It was the mid-nineties and we had the biggest dance floor in the county, plus hotel rooms. When I accepted the job I was specifically asked to work the first Sunday night every month. I agreed and found out why later. The first Sunday of every month was ‘The Frederick Singles Dance.’ The bar loaded up with about 100 guests strong by 10 p.m. My tip jar filled up quickly with quarters from the men and phone numbers from the women. I was 21 and the average age in the room was 45. The worst night was getting a phone number from a friend’s mother, and then later cleaning up her throw-up in the lobby. I mixed a ton of rum and cokes, poured a lot of Coors Light draft beer, and learned a lot about people who stay in hotel rooms regularly.”

Food Network's Guy Fieri Hits H Corridor for 'Triple D' Filming


By Andrew Ramonas

The “Mayor of Flavortown” made a stop on the H Street corridor today.

Food Network star Guy Fieri arrived at Toki Underground (1234 H St. NE) about 8:30 a.m. to film an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

This morning, parking in front of the popular ramen restaurant owned by chef Erik Bruner-Yang was limited to police and the “Triple D” crew. About 7:45 a.m., the show’s iconic red Chevrolet Camaro convertible rumbled up to the eatery, driven by a man who wasn’t Fieri.

The Triple D host, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and shorts, arrived in another vehicle, entering Toki about 8:30 a.m. He reemerged in a plaid short-sleeve shirt and sunglasses to film near the convertible about 11 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., he was gone, whisked away in a black Cadillac Escalade.

DC Ramen Sensation Toki Underground Will Pop Up at SouthBites

By Meghan McCarron

The wildly popular SouthBites trailer park will return to SXSW this year, and the festivities will include a two day ramen pop-up. DC's cultishly loved Toki Underground, who specialize in Taiwanese-style ramen, will team up with Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen. A rep for the restaurant tells Eater Toki will serve a special mazemen-style ramen with meats by Woodberry chef Spike Gjerde and local Texas produce March 17 and 18 only.

Other members of SouthBites' 2015 lineup are now online as well; while SXSW confirms the listed vendors will appear this year, they cannot share details on their schedules or offerings. Out of town trucks include Ohio sensation Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Houston's The Modular Unit, and Nomad Street Cuisine, a Colorado truck serving up burgers and sandwiches. Micklethwait Craft Meats will return to sling barbecue, and Austin favorites like East Side King, Chi'Lantro, and Burro Cheese Kitchen will set up shop again this year. New additions include Lucky Lab Coffee and beloved taco purveyors Veracruz All Natural. SouthBites will be open March 13 -21 from 11 a.m. - 12 a.m. daily.

The East Side King pop-up at Toki Underground

By Lavanya Ramanathan

For just one day, Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya of Austin's East Side King food trucks have uprooted from their usual perch on some of Austin's streets to serve a handful of mint-and jalapeno-covered treasures atToki Underground.

Why the pairing? Qui (of "Top Chef" and Austin restaurants Uchiko and, now, Qui) is in town to take part in this weekend's charity foodie marathon, Sips & Suppers.

The ESK pop-up opened at 11:30 a.m. today, and if you're familiar with Toki, you'll be comforted by the fact that the organized mayhem of loitering in the narrow stairway, leaving your name and getting a text when your seats are ready remains the same.

Once you're seated, you're handed a fancy embossed postcard of a menu that boasts six dishes ESK regularly serves on the Drag, South Lamar and other Austin streets. Prices range from $6 for a garlicky vegetarian Liberty Rice bowl, to $9 for Thai Chicken Kara-Age, the increasingly ubiquitous rustic fried-chicken dish.

Toki Underground and Baltimore's Artifact Coffee Plan "Tokifact" Ramen Collaboration


Call it the Brangelina and Bey-Z of food collaborations? Toki Underground's Erik Bruner-Yang and Spike Gjerde of Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen, Shoo-Fly Diner, and Artifact Coffee are teaming up for a ramen "takeover" at Artifact that they've dubbedTokifact. ("Pop-ups" are so 2013.)

The chefs have cooked together at various events and have wanted to collaborate a dinner for some time, a rep for Gjerde explains. On Jan. 9-11 and Jan. 16-18 beginning at 6:30 p.m. each night, Bruner-Yang will serve ramen and dumplings at Gjerde's coffee shop and cafeusing spelt noodles made by the chefs at Woodberry Kitchen. About ninety-five percent of the ramen's ingredients will be locally sourced, including eggs, onions, chilies, and canned peaches or apples. The Woodberry Kitchen bar team will also serve sake and cocktails. No reservations are required.

Top 8 Ramen Restaurants in the DC Area

TOKI UNDERGROUND ( — With a menu inspired by Chef Yang’s experience at a Hakata Ramen shop in Taipei, the authentic, aromatic flavors at this widely acclaimed Ramen restaurant are certainly not to be understated. The Toki Classic (Tonkotsu triple stock with chasu pulled pork, seasonal vegetables, soft egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori) seems to be the go-to favorite for those who frequent this fixture of the H Street Corridor, but their Kimchi ramen (Tonkotsu triple stock with chashu pulled pork, seasonal vegetables, soft egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, nori, topped with locally made kimchi) is sure to warm you up on a cold winter day. (1234 H Street NE between N 13th Street & N 12th Street, Washington, D.C. 20002)



Joe Ostrosky on Managing the Epic Lines at Toki

Stories of the epic lines at Toki Underground are at this point legendary. There are ways to avoid them — the restaurant accepts early reservations, and managers are willing to call customers' cell phones when a table is ready.

Balancing these various systems is part of the job of general manager Joe Ostrosky. For this month's Gatekeepers, Ostrosky, who used to play in a band with chef Erik Bruner-Yang before coming to work at Toki, talks about celebrity ramen eaters, how long the waits really get, and how nuts it was on Inauguration Day.

Ok, I show up on Saturday night around 7, 8 p.m. What kind of wait am I in for?

Typically the wait is 3 to 4 hours. On Saturdays we open at 5, and usually a line starts forming at around 4:30 or 4:45. And then from 5 to 5:45 I start taking names.

How big is the line?

Typically about 25 people get in line before 5 on Saturday.

Is the scenario pretty similar on Fridays?

On Fridays, we do close to the same volume. I think on Saturdays since people are off work, they're more willing to get here early. On Fridays, it's usually 6 or 6:15 before it gets super busy.

If people don't want to wait long, when do you recommend they arrive?

Early, between 5-6 p.m., on weekdays. And you can also book on CityEats for early reservations.

What are the rules surrounding the CityEats reservations?

We accept reservations up to two weeks in advance, which we recommend for Fridays and Saturdays. Usually during the week you can still grab an early reservation. It's for 5, 5:15 or 5:30 for a party of 2, or 6 p.m. for 2 to 4 people. But we recommend calling if you can't make a reservation.

Toki Underground Dumplings Are Hidden Treasures On H Street

Since Toki Underground opened in April 2011, the Taiwanese-style ramen haven has been renowned — and rightly so — for its noodle soups. It has even been hailed as D.C.’s own “ramen wonderland.”

But as guests are happily slurping their miso hakata and kimchi ramen, they may be missing out on the other pillar of Toki’s simple but delicious menu: dumplings.

Dumplings, those classic fried pockets stuffed with savory meat or vegetables, can be found in varying degrees of quality around the city, from the sublime to the forgettable or, worse, the regrettably mushy. But those at Toki Underground are worth the wait that a visit to the popular-but-tiny H Street eatery is likely to entail.

At Toki, dumplings cost $5 for a filling half dozen, stuffed with chicken, beef, pork, seasonal vegetables or seasonal seafood. Choose from pan-fried, fried or steamed. (For those wondering, pan-frying uses less oil than regular frying).

Fried dumplings arrive looking like modern art on a plate, carefully splashed with house-made sweet and sour sauce and topped with scallions and sesame seeds. The skins are crispy and not greasy. While owner/head chef Erik Bruner-Yang says pork dumplings are the most popular of the fillings, the vegetable morsels are not to be missed either.