By ALEX BARRON
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.