D.C.’s first ramen shop is insanely popular
Toki Underground's ramen is legendary.
Toki Underground is a fun, bustling, and popular spot in Washington, D.C.’s Atlas District, on H Street. While you can try your luck at just showing up and waiting for a table to open, you can also check out their website and click the link that says “Limited Reservations” right below the map. Yes, Toki Underground accepts reservations, but they’re not exactly easy to score.
Once on that page, you’ll choose a date and time, along with party size, but here’s the catch: You can only make reservations for up to two weeks in advance, and tables fill up fast. But if you head to the site first thing in the morning exactly two weeks before you need a reservation and wait until the page refreshes, you’ll have the pick of the litter.
Once you’re in, we suggest you try the Toki Classic ramen, rich, creamy, and intensely porky; pork or seasonal seafood dumplings; some fried chicken steamed buns; and plenty of sake.
Activist and Educator in a Chef’s Coat
Chef José Andrés is no stranger to culinary fame, with a roster of destination restaurants in DC (Jaleo, minibar), Las Vegas (é by José Andrés) and LA (Bazaar), and enough awards to make any chef jealous (not to mention he used to work for Ferran Adrià at elBulli in his native Spain). You might also see him at the White House, working with Michelle Obama on her anti-obesity campaign, or at DC Central Kitchen combating poverty and hunger issues through job training. We talk with José about modernist cuisine, working with the First Lady and what’s on his plate for 2013.
AndrewZimmern.com: Is there a specific food memory that elicits nostalgia for your native Spain?
José Andrés: It’s hard to say just one because so many of my favorite memories of Spain involve cooking at home and going to the markets, where we would get the most amazing vegetables, beans, cheeses and eggs. Going to these markets is what made me really appreciate the goodness of the earth and what first planted the seed of cooking. As a young boy, I was always amazed by the possibilities of food so these markets were always a big inspiration.
AZ.com: What drew you to molecular gastronomy?
JA: I don’t know that molecular gastronomy is the right word. It’s a very new way to describe science in cooking, but if you look back at the past it’s been around for years and years. For example, we use penicillin to make blue cheese and bread, even a simple puff pastry can be considered molecular gastronomy. Great chefs like Antoine Careme, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, and Georges Auguste Escoffier used gelatins. These men were ahead of their time creating food that was modern and avant-garde. I was really inspired and influenced by these great chefs of the past that were really forward thinking. I was a young boy when I started my career in Catalonia in the 1980s and that’s when Spanish gastronomy was undergoing an evolution. We had great chefs like Josep Mercader, Ferran Adrià, and Juan Mari Arzak who had begun to transform Spanish cuisine. I wanted to learn and be part of this evolution and continue that conversation around food. So that’s what first drew me to avant-garde cooking, but always I’m motivated by wanting to learn new things and to push the envelope of what we thought was possible.
AZ.com: What tricks or techniques can a home cook draw from modernist cuisine?
JA: I think the most important lesson for any cook is to not be afraid of failure and to experiment. Some of my best discoveries have happened by accident. I always say that even though I’ve been cooking for many years, I’m still learning how to be a cook. I’m always learning new techniques and improving beyond my own knowledge because there is always something new to learn. And I think this is true whether you’ve been cooking as long as I have, or you’re just starting.
AZ.com: Your restaurant, minibar, is one of the most coveted reservations in DC. What’s makes minibar so special? What do you want diners to take away from the experience?
JA: Minibar is very close to my heart. I opened minibar by José Andrés in 2003, as my way to learn, to be inspired, and to create a conversation around food—to create things that may challenge the mind and excite your senses. At minibar, I want to take my guests on a culinary adventure to surprise them and to give them a totally new experience. I want guests to be open to see flavors and ingredients in a new way. This is very important to me because minibar is the heart of what we do in my company. From here, we are able to create É by José Andrés in Las Vegas and Saam at the Bazaar in Los Angeles, very unique places that continue this conversation and bring excitement and new ways of looking at food.
AZ.com: You are known for advocacy work, including helping Michelle Obama with her anti-obesity campaign. What are your prescriptions for changing the country’s bad eating habits?
JA: As a nation, there is so much that we could be doing to improve the eating habits of America. The First Lady is doing a great job focusing her campaign on healthier eating habits and I think this is the right approach. It has to start at the school level by providing children with healthier meals and teaching them the right way to eat, especially in poorer areas where children eat their biggest meals at school. This is where we can start making a difference by feeding them and teaching them about healthy fruits and vegetables. But of course there are so many different parts of the problem. Subsidies are a huge issue here in America that I think prevents the food business from being on a level playing field. I am not for or against subsidies, but I am for a fair and level market and with the way that food is subsidized now, we don’t have that. Our subsidies go to the corn industry, so that kind of encourages people to eat a certain way, when really our food industry should be more focused on producing more fruits and vegetables. It’s really important that congress acts fast to sign a farm bill that works for everyone and gives equal opportunity to small farms. So there are many levels, but we really have to make food priority and it has to be on the political agenda to really come up with solutions.
AZ.com: You’ve built a restaurant empire with ThinkFoodGroup, any new projects on the horizon?
JA: Anyone who knows me knows that I always like to keep moving. My team is always thinking about what’s next, whether it’s opening new restaurants or going into a business that we may not know much about. We are always learning and growing. We just renovated Minibar which really means a lot to my team and me. I am very happy that Minibar now has its own home. It’s a new chapter. Next month we are opening a new restaurant called Mi Casa at Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico with the Ritz-Carlton Reserve. This will be the first reserve in the Americas and the second in the world so it will be unique, special and unlike anything I’ve ever done before, so I am very excited about that.
I am also very interested in education. While I was maybe not such a good student in the traditional sense, I have always had a passion to learn and to teach. Recently, I become Dean of the School of Spanish Studies at the International Culinary Center, it is the first professional culinary program of its kind that is dedicated to the cuisine of Spain. I created the menu with my friend Colman Andrews, who is an expert in Catalan cuisine. The classes start in the Spring and we´re really excited. I also continue to teach our program on Science and Cooking at Harvard, and I hope to soon help create a program that looks at food’s influence in all areas of academics, both for children and university. And in January, I will begin teaching course about how food influences every aspect of our lives at George Washington.
AZ.com: What are three “must” dining experiences travelers should have in Spain?
JA: I love to eat in so many different restaurants wherever I go. I would tell you that the best places to eat are at the small bars. They are so astonishing. It’s impossible for me to say just 3 places that I would recommend because really there are so many amazing places. I love going to a place in Sanlúcar de Barrameda called Casa de Balbino, which has the best tortillitas de camarones or baby shrimp fritters. When I’m on vacation, I love to go to Zahara de los Atunes, in the south of Spain where you will find some of the most amazing restaurants, within less than 30 minutes away from each other, in the most beautiful town you can imagine. There I love Casa Juanito, El Campero, Albedrio and Hotel Antonio.
AZ.com: Favorite off-the-beaten-path restaurants in Washington D.C.?
JA: Right now, I really like Toki Underground on H Street. When my friends Ferran Adrià and Gaston Acurio were in town a few weeks ago, I took them there and we loved it. I love what these kids are doing with something so simple and yet complex as noodles. It’s astonishing.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
JA: My wife and I love to cook at home for our family. More often than not we love to make humble dishes that are good and fresh and healthy. My wife makes an amazing chickpea and spinach stew. I also love eggs. There’s nothing like a perfectly fried egg with some fresh herbs and of course a little bit of jamón on the side.
Check out José’s recipe for Gambas al Ajillo (sautéed shrimp with garlic & guindilla pepper).
Named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2012 and “Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, passionate advocate for food and hunger issues, author, educator, television personality and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. TFG is the team responsible for renowned dining concepts in Washington, DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Puerto Rico including minibar by josé andrés, Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills and South Beach as well as Mi Casa at Dorado Beach a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Recently he was named Dean of the Spanish Studies program at the International Culinary Center. He is chairman emeritus of DC Central Kitchen and the founder of World Central Kitchen. He is also culinary ambassador to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an effort championed by Secretary Hilary Clinton. Andrés also teaches “Science and Cooking” at Harvard and in the spring of 2013 will begin teaching “The world on a Plate: How Food Shapes Civilization” at George Washington University.
Toki Underground Now Accepting Reservations
Not very useful if the only reservations available are for 6pm and earlier.
It makes sense if you have a friend in town and want to be sure.
People who have real jobs are still at work before 6 fool.
It would be much more helpful if they could have reservations available prior to 7 instead of prior to 6. Not sure who eats dinner at 5:00 other than people with small kids and seniors.
Conversely, I wonder if they'd ever consider going the reservation only route. I've passed that place up many times due to wait time. I've been once. It was good, but definitely not worth waiting two hours or more. I suppose that's part of the buzz though.
Ah Washington, where armchair entrepreneurs give business advice both to failing restaurants and ones that are always full!
People who have "real jobs" can take the afternoon off when they have guests in town.
I don't really see the incentive for Toki to offer later times when they are already full at those times. However, allowing someone to lock in an earlier slot is beneficial to both customer and restaurant.
Huh. Will someone please let us know when Toki Underground is no longer trendy? Many of us would love to check it out sometime- but not with a two hour wait.
I'm guessing that those us us who ate a lot of ramen while working our way through college might have a different relationship to noodles that the average Toki Underground patron.
I've never had a problem with the wait. Stop by around 6 or so after getting off the X2, put in name and number, head home, rip off the work clothes, relax, and then head over when they call. Thats the whole point of giving them your number, right? So you don't have to actually stand around and wait. Go home and watch dirty jobs or kiss your wife or something.
"Go home and watch dirty jobs or kiss your wife or something."
Umm. People with real jobs don't take the afternoon off to eat Ramen. I know it's probably hard to understand for someone who doesn't have a real job.
i went with my husband and small child at 6:30 pm on a Thursday night a few weeks ago. it was almost totally empty. we got in and got out before it ever filled up. BELIEVE, people!!
a person with a "real" job could take the afternoon off to eat ramen, if that's what they choose to do with their life.
People with real jobs don't take time off to eat ramen. They just sit around at work and talk on message boards about how they are too important to worry about ramen. I'm glad that I never got a real job, myself.
I don't know what you mean by real job. I assume it's along the lines of wear a suit everyday and report to the office everyday. Those are both thing many of us do, but I don't think it makes us better people. It just means that our dry cleaning bills are higher.
Congratulations on being so very(self)important. If I have a friend in from out of town I might try to take the afternoon off to hangout (and maybe enjoy some ramen to celebrate). I doubt I'm the only one.
I am convinced that the quoted wait times are total bullshit and THEY KNOW THIS, MAN!
Inked--If you can take a half day for guests, that's great. Some folks with "real jobs" can't. Just sayin'.
Tom A--this is the second (third?) time you've complained about "overhyped hipster ramen" at Toki. So the long wait has prevented you from even sampling it? How about reserving your pique until you actually try the food? It's not your law school instant Cup O Noodle. Perhaps before venting your next spleen you'll deem it worthy of your time like Toki's many regular patrons do. Alternatively, feel free to continue griping about something you haven't cultivated sufficient patience to sample.
Ha ha, real job is someone who has to dress appropriately for work like an accountant or lawyer. Cgenerally something that requires a college degree. Real job is not rolling into work at noon at some joint on H street, NE.
The wait is fine. Put your name in, have a beer or two in the Pug (or elsewhere) while waiting, then enjoy delicious food. Or do ya'll not like hanging on H Street?
PS My real job at the present requires me to work 8-4. In the past I've worked 5:15am to 1:45pm. Everyone's schedule is different.
There is no hype. Toki is pretty good ramen. Go on Sunday through Thursday and waits are minimal, real job or not. We all know that you're going to have long waits to eat on Hst come Friday/Saturday night.
I don't see the use in the current reservation system, I know I don't eat dinner before 6pm.
Don't know if FT has already covered this, but I just noticed that a new burrito and taco place (Chinito's Burritos) is opening at 635 Florida NE. Looks like they could be ready to open in the coming weeks.
This has long been an empty store front, so this is an exciting development. A menu on cards posted outside list $2 tacos and $3 burritos. Website is www.chinitosburritos.com.
Anybody have info on this place?
omg tacos and burritos. now i dont have to go to columbia heights
Wait, I assumed that there wasn't anything available before 6pm because people had already snapped those slots up. Is it really the case that the system only allows making reservations before 6pm?
I have a real job but I left work at 5:30 yesterday (Monday) to get me some ramen with a friend (who also has a real job). We got there just before 6, only to be informed that they were having a private party and that we couldn't eat til 7. Since we had already anticipated a wait, we just gave our names, sucked it up, and went down to the Queen Vic for some beer to bide the time. Toki called promptly at 7, said to come on down, and our seats at the bar were ready. See how easy things work if you just go with the flow?
ROTFL. as one who regularly drops hundreds in restaurants, I can say w/o a doubt, this is the lamest idea I've come across in all my years of indulgence. They should just not do this, it looks like they are being asses. 5-6, really? Why not simply have a happy hour special. Another example of H Street myopia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'm not saying it's a regular thing, but if a friend I haven't seen in two years comes into town I might take a few hours off to hang out.
Sure and if I have lunch with Betty White then you're right I may decided to skip the 3+ star places and go to dinner at 5PM at Toki, but in the real world I'll frankly make reservations at dinner time, and Betty and I will enjoy our night together in style.
robby - as a restaurant that regularly has hundreds dropping in, if they opened the reservation system completely, it would be impossible to have walk-ins dine there. and then all of yelp and frozen tropics would be bitching about having to make reservations 2 months in advance for a 25-seat neighborhood ramen joint.
to me, it seems like a happy compromise. if you want the surety of knowing you will eat at a certain time, toki is extending the ability to make a reservation, albeit in limited timeslots. if that doesn't work, put your name on the list, go grab a drink and go back when they call you. like thousands of others have done.
100s at restaurants. What a baller
Good try by Toki but they should just keep things how they originally were, no reservation. The place is two small to offer reservation, keep it as a walk-in spot. I usually call before going to find out the estimated wait.
That would be true if it weren't for the fact that several places around town take reservations and still have walks ins, several much higher rated places. This reservation scheme is a bit insulting.
And while I've tried to go there now multiple times and didn't feel like subjecting myself to dehumanizing conditions (waiting around like cattle) to eat at a place or placing my name of a list and waiting in hopes that they call (like a co-dependant person),I figure I'll go where I am respected as a potential customer.
That's just me. Clearly others feel differently, and I'm too insignificant of a factor in this. I wish them well, I wish those who eat their well. I am at a point where I don't need to beg for food, and I won’t start hanging around the door now.
We have our boundaries, and these are mine and no one else’s. Even though I am insignificant to any business with this set up, I matter to myself. Despite what any of you think, human beings have value and should not be treated like cattle, or taunted with hallow reservations. I understand this at times this blog is an H Street love fest, and there’s much to celebrate on H Street, I’m not so sure reservations only from 5-6 are something to celebrate. It seems odd, that this is even news. But then again, I am only one person and I am nothing to H street.
"I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!"
lol robby. i'm thinking the staff at toki underground would be grateful you came to that conclusion. enjoy your 3+ star restaurants.
I'm thinking they really don't care. And I think it really wont matter. I may write them a letter, to express this. I magine like you they will laugh and dispose of it. I'm sure it's a nice place for those in the know, on the A lists, or willing to put up with in humane treatment.
I just have too much self respect to stand for it. If that means I am to be made fun of a la SNL so be it.
My money is neither needed nor welcomed. In a way neither am I, or anyone who doesn't simply fall in line.
So laugh, belittle, insult, shame, and ridicule. Some may even consider violence, and, no, I would not be surprised.
There is no value in dissent, or at least its expression.
We seem to be required to drink the kool-aid. And dispose of anyone who wont.
It's sorta sad and in no way funny, but laugh.
@Robby, seriously man, get over it. Having a beer or 2 at a close-by pub while waiting to get into a deservedly popular restaurant is not "inhumane" treatment. Everyone I've ever come into contact with in my 10+ visits to Toki has been nothing but friendly and professional.
I think the limited reservation time is a smart move. doesn't take away from prime time spots for neighborhood peeps, and allows tourists and others coming in from far flung reaches of the universe like "The Northwest" to plan ahead.
Again, say what you will. Believe how you do. Insult how you must, but to be frank. It's simply not for me. If I have to go to the Queen Vic for a beer to go to Toki, I'll eat at the Queen Vic. Respect your patrons is alls I'm saying. Or don't others will come. Others will be there, and people like me wont. Others matter.
It's how it is, enjoy the reservations and congrats to them on the 2.5 start rating. Despite my understanding, I've been told that's very good. Well told, or badgered, not sure which, it is H street after all. Disent is worthy of an a$ whipping not respect.
Have you considered sending a copy of this letter to the UN Commission on Human Rights, as well?
(To be fair, you did tell us to laugh.)
I'm not sure I get the UN thing, maybe you think I'm foreign and are making fun of that. I'm not entirely sure. It wouldn't surprise me. Very few things here do. I am not part of the set around here. Outsiders like me, who think patronage should be valued really are few and far between. I've walked out of restaurants due to bad service. On H, it's always a litany of excuses. "Their new, give them a chance to work out the kinks. " If you complain you are maligned, castrated, insulted and damn near lynched.
It's almost akin to a religion. But it's part of the fabric of the community. We are neither a melting pot nor a mosaic where difference blends or is appreciated for its difference.
Restaurant Mysteries Explained!
“It’s an age-old fight for the restaurateur,” says Jeff Black, who allows reservations at Black Market Bistro and BlackSalt but not at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. “You get caught between trying to look out for the customer and trying to look out for the business.” Here’s the rationale: At places that take reservations, hardly anyone jockeys to snag a 5 p.m. slot via OpenTable. Stop taking reservations and you can end up creating demand for a crowd who’d rather come at 5 than wait for hours during prime time. Restaurateurs also claim that a walk-in-only policy eliminates the risk of no-shows, a constant burden on the bottom line.
Amazingly, some chefs are trying to argue that doing away with reservations actually enhances the experience when you finally score a seat. “We’re not forced to kick people out due to the ‘next reservation’ needing the table,” Rose’s Luxury chef/owner Aaron Silverman says. “Once you sit down, you get as much time as you want.”
That may be one way of looking at it, but we’d much rather save ourselves the three hours it takes to get one of his tables.
Why is my entrée so cheap?
Because your starter probably cost nearly as much. Entrée prices are the yardstick most people use to measure a place’s priciness before going. You might look at a menu and think, “Main courses for $20—not too bad.” As a result, some restaurateurs have ratcheted down prices on those dishes. What they don’t want you to notice is that they’re hiking up appetizer prices almost in direct pro-portion. So at a place like Birch & Barley, your $19 risotto might follow $18 sweetbreads. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that some restaurants’ entrées don’t come with sides—another $10 each—or the pesky “snacks for the table” section so common on menus today. Our advice on entrées? See our 8 Hacks to Eating Out.
Why is my drink so sweet?
When you want to dispatch the disappointments of the day, you turn to a Manhattan, a Sazerac, a Negroni—a drink that has endured through the ages, a drink that stings. This isn’t the stuff of the craft-cocktail movement. Many bartenders say they aim for a light and agreeable libation: sweet, or sweet-and-smooth, drinks in which the hard uppercut of the bourbon, gin, and rye is leavened by syrups (house-made, of course), vermouths, bitters (which are actually not bitter but sweet), and, yes, even sugar itself. Not the first thing you’d reach for at home, but a smart move for restaurateurs. Sweet appeals to people just beginning to broaden their palates—namely, the young and restless who tank down cocktails with abandon—and a sweet, smooth drink goes down fast. So fast that before your meal has really gotten started, you’ve already dropped 30 bucks. Cha-ching!
Why are restaurants so loud these days?
You know it—the highly rated yet raucous joint where the arm of the dude depositing your delicate beet salad is as baroquely inked as a Victorian scroll, the pace of the meal is as frenetic as a jam session, and you have to become a screaming frontman to make yourself heard. What’s the deal? The rise of hyper-masculine bro culture, for one thing—perpetuated by expletive-spewing, Wu Tang-loving chefs like Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang and Seasonal Pantry’s Dan O’Brien. For another, the current taste for edgy, raw design. Numerous restaurateurs have ditched sound-absorbing carpeting and linens for exposed-brick walls and hanging pipes—basically, hard surfaces that amp up the noise. Roaring volume equals high energy equals big crowds, goes the thought process. “At Graffiato, that was the whole concept,” says owner Mike Isabella. “Super-loud, super-packed—it’s my style.”
This is an expensive meal. Why is my server wearing jeans?
Increasingly, the most exciting spots are slouchy propositions, where a T-shirt and flip-flops seem not merely acceptable but appropriate. (Great if you’re young and trendy, less so if you’re not.) This has coincided with what we like to think of as the invisible-white-tablecloth restaurant: a place that pretends to be casual, like a trust-funder who affects an air of slovenliness. The servers wear jeans and joke with you, but they still fold your napkin when you go to the bathroom. Boomers initiated the turn toward more casual dining, but it’s the influx of foodie-conscious millennials in the area over the past decade that has accelerated the transformation of our scene from buttoned up to buttoned down.
Why are my small plates appearing at random?
“The plates will come out when the kitchen sends them.” That line—heard at any tapas, mezze, or small-plates restaurant—sounded like fun during the early, heady days of the movement. But now it feels like a warning: Going out for small plates means submitting to a night of barely controlled chaos. You don’t get one or two plates at a time—you get several. And it only gets worse come round two, as everyone at the table is obliged to play server, moving stemware and cutlery and pawning off empty plates on the person who’s getting paid to do so. Chefs could pace these meals, but they choose not to—it’s easier for them not to have to keep track of so many dishes, they say. (We say: laziness.) Their other rationale: Because each dish is small and inexpensive, we can surely put up with a little inconvenience. This would make sense if we were eating only one or two dishes. But chances are we’re eating at least four or five—and paying about the same tab that we would at any pedigreed, non-small-plates restaurant.
Why can’t I Instagram my meal?
Your beloved iPhone cam is verboten at places like Komi—fine, we get that the chef wants customers paying $135 for a tasting menu to enjoy it without irritating distractions and nonstop selfies at the next table. But oddly, the no-photography rule is creeping into more laid-back and accessible restaurants like Cork on 14th Street. The main reason: Most quick-snap food pics are grainy, poorly lit, and downright unappetizing. (Even Martha Stewart famously sucked at Instagramming.) What chef would want his or her lovingly braised lamb shank memorialized as a sloppy brown mess? Still, when we’re unwinding at a neighborhood bistro, the last thing we want to worry about is following a rule.
This article appears in our November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
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Joe Ostrosky on Managing the Epic Lines at Toki
Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: R. Lopez]
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 has the system where you'll call a person's cell phone when the table is ready. Has that been well-received?
I think that's a lot of the reason people decide to put themselves on the list when there's a 4 hour wait. They can go to the bar downstairs, sit down, grab an appetizer and wait.
How long do you hold the table once it's available?
We'll hold your table for 10 minutes. But if you're having a hard time closing your bar tab, or something like that, and let us know, we work with you. Sometimes people call back and say, "We're having a good time, can you bump us to later?", and that's fine, too.
So given the set-up, do you end up with a lot of people who end up showing up hours later pretty wasted?
[Laughs] Yes, usually at around 9 or 10 p.m. on a Saturday, you'll see a lot of that.
Do you find a lot of people who deal with the long wait are those who live in the neighborhood?
Yeah, we definitely have people wil wil pop in, put their name down, go back home and wait for the table.
Toki's been open for close to two years. Has it always been slammed?
We've always been pretty busy. We're now getting to the point where, in order to increase our sales, we have to train the staff to be more efficient, and increase the turn times — without customers feeling like they're being rushed out.
You guys only have room for about 20 people. Do you end up with a lot of big crowds who want to be seated all at once?
Yeah. One Saturday, someone ended up coming by with 22 people. Luckily they got here early enough that within an hour, we could get them in. We had to split them up into about 10 different parties.
Do people offer you bribes for a seat?
Lately it happens on almost a daiy basis.
Does it work?
It does not. I mean, if you tell me you have theater tickets, and you need a certain time or something like that, I'll do my best to work with you. But money isn't necessary.
What was the biggest bribe you've gotten?
[Awhile back] a five-top offered me $100. There's also a lot of, "I know the chef" comments, but so many people know the chef, so that doesn't really work.
Do you get a lot of unusual requests from diners?
We send out cookies if it's someone's birthday. But people don't really ask for a lot of special things. We've had customers come in with food allergies. We always do our best. It's best to call ahead. But if you have a gluten allergy, there's soy sauce in all of our ramens. We've had some people bring in rice noodles, and we'll glady cook them for them.
You've had some big names come in, like José Andrés with Ferran Adria. How did that go down?
When we got the call it was about 3:30. They said the'yd be here around 5, 5:30 and wanted a tasting menu. At first we were like "Oh, it's so crazy this is happening." Then it really sunk in that we had to get ready for this. About two weeks ago, Alice Waters came in. She was super, super nice. And of course a couple months ago, Neil Patrick Harris came in. He was super gracious and very friendly.
Do any particular restaurants get the most overflow business when people are waiting? Obviously the Pug.
The Pug gets a lot of business. Since we share a liquor license, that means you can bring your drink up to Toki from there, so that's an incentive. Atlas Room is another.
How has using CityEats worked out for you?
It's an amazing tool for us. With the size of the restaurant, it's very hard to manage everything with just pen and paper. It's definitely been a step up for us.
What are the most popular dishes at Toki?
The classic ramen is the most popular. Kimchee is close behind. People really like the curry chicken, the pork belly when we have it.
Where do you eat when you're not at the restaurant?
Right now, my favorite celebratory restaurant is BLT Steak. It's just completely on another level. The service is incredible. I love going to Boundary Road they have great food there.
What was the craziest night for you, working at Toki?
Inauguration was pretty crazy. People just kept coming in and putting their name down. Typically, on a Saturday night we'll have 80 names on the list. That night, there were 140. People willing to wait up to five, six hours.
Share All sharing options for: A ‘Supra Tuesday’ Party Previews Park View’s New Khachapuri Spot
Supra’s new sister restaurant Tabla will offer cheesy khachapuri. Andrew Propp/Supra
Pop-ups seem to be everywhere in D.C. Here, Eater will highlight some of the best pop-up options coming to town over the next month or so, and periodically update this guide when old ones disappear and new ones emerge. This curated guide includes everything from longer-term pop-ups to one-time events. It de-emphasizes residencies lasting more than a couple of months, or events labeled pop-ups that don’t quite fit the format.
The Eater DC pop-up roundup is traditionally updated every other week or so: send any upcoming pop-up information to [email protected] for potential inclusion.
“Supra Tuesday” at Dio Wine Bar
The Deal: H Street’s Dio Wine Bar hosts a pop-up preview dinner of Tabla, Park View’s soon-to-open Georgian restaurant from Supra co-owners Jonathan & Laura Nelms. Curious diners wanting to celebrate “Supra Tuesday” over Super Tuesday primary voting day are invited to sip Georgian wines and partake in a family-style assortment of khinkali (soup dumplings) and gooey boat-shaped cheese breads (khachapuri), along with small plates from chef Lonnie Zoeller.
Where: Dio Wine Bar (904 H Street NE) starting at 5:30 p.m.
Dates: Tuesday, March 3
Cost: The $50 “Supra Tuesday” ticket includes two glasses of wine and food
New Kitchens on the Block at Mess Hall
What: The wildly popular restaurant preview pop-up returns with teased bites and drinks from nine coming attractions. The bi-annual food festival’s seventh installment features a sea of cuisine options, including barbecue (Arlington’s Smokecraft Modern Barbecue), Jamaican (Jerk at Nite on H Street), Italian (Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen in Alexandria), and more.
Where: Mess Hall, 703 Edgewood Street NE
Dates: Sunday, April 5, with two separate sessions: one from noon to 2 p.m. and another from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: A limited number of early bird tickets are available for $75. General admission is $85 a limited number of VIP tickets, which include swag bags, are $135.
Toki Underground at The Jasper
The Deal: D.C.’s long-running ramen bar Toki Underground will sling noodles all night at Richmond’s cult cocktail bar The Jasper. Toki Underground’s Olivier Caillabet will take over the kitchen to send out bowls of chicken shoyu ramen and small plates like pork belly steamed buns, charred Brussels sprouts, and vegan gyoza starting at $7. The cocktail menu will be filled out by hits from both Toki and Jasper.
Where: The Jasper (3113 W Cary Street, Richmond, Virginia), 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Dates: Sunday, March 1
Cost: Each $16 ticket includes a seat and a bowl of ramen additional food and drinks can be purchased day-of at The Jasper.
Après Ski at Wundergarten
What: The annual winter pop-up is back at NoMa’s resident beer garden, complete with fire pits, free whiskey and bourbon tastings, airy empanadas, and swanky alpine vibes every weekend in February. Along with seasonal brews and cocktails, there’s s’mores for two ($6), anytime mimosas ($8) and shots Tullamore whiskey ($7) with a purchased beer.
A hip, neon-lit ski lodge section is decked out in furry stools, comfy couches, antler wreaths, and pine cones dangling from the ceiling. Wundergarten/official photo
An Argentinian empanada stand called La Buena comes from a D.C. couple, one of whom is from Buenos Aires, that started the biz out of their Kalorama kitchen. Air-baked empanadas come in beef, ham and cheese, and spinach and feta varieties slathered in a house chimichurri.
Where: Wunder Garten (1101 First Street NE)
Dates: Saturdays and Sundays through February 29 empanadas are available Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays also call for live bands, specialty cocktails, and whiskey tastings from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pours are also free on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. DJ Lehi keeps the lodge party going until late on Saturday nights.
Rosé-Colored Sunglasses at Union Market
What: Union Market shoppers can peruse for sunglasses while catching a buzz at the new KREWE pop-up. The New Orleans-based eyewear brand’s roving mini showroom on wheels, dubbed Tiny House, comes with a liquid perk: rosé and La Croix is poured freely inside.
Where: Union Market, 1309 5th Street NE
Dates: Now through March, from Monday and Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bourbon on Ice
The Deal: Bourbon Steak’s chic patio is filled with themed “Champagne bubble” domes with room for six to eight people. Pours of Dom Perignon, Ruinart, or Krug are offered in each. The Dom Perignon dome includes Dom Perignon Blanc 2006 and caviar accompanied by special sauces. The Ruinart bubble, adorned with a collaboration centerpiece from Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, is a seated dinner experience that includes pours of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc and Rosé and a lobster pot pie. Guests receive a Ruinart 1764 Spice Blend from spice master Lior Lev Sercarz and a seasonal recipe from Bourbon Steak chef Drew Adams. The patio is also outfitted with fire pits, faux-fur blankets, and glow-in-the-dark lawn games, along with a continuing cascading shower of bubbles that resemble snowflakes.
Where: Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Dates: Throughout the winter season
Cost: Rental fees run from $150 to $250, with a food and beverage minimums starting at $75 per person. Reservations are recommended: (202) 342-0444.
Heated Tent at Pub & the People
The Deal: The Bloomingdale watering hole’s heated, dog-friendly tent keeps the holiday season alive with festive decor, mistletoe, hot holiday cocktails served in snazzy wintry mugs, and blankets.
Where: The Pub & The People, 1648 N. Capitol Street NW
Dates: Through mid-March
Southeastern Roastery Does Dio
The Deal: Female-owned local coffee business Southeastern Roastery will take over the daytime menu a at H Street’s natural wine bar a few days a week. Along with plenty of strong coffee, the short lineup will be filled out by some teas and freshly fried doughnuts. “We’ve been carrying [Candy Schibli’s] coffee at Dio since day one,” says Dio owner Stacey Khoury-Diaz. “We feel really lucky and excited that she’s giving the space some day-time life.”
Where: Dio Wine Bar, 904 H Street NE
Dates: Starting Friday, January 31. The “permanent pop-up” will run Fridays, Saturdays, and the third Wednesday of every month from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Two Guys Gravy and Fries Pop-Up
The Deal: Piping hot poutine comes to Capitol Hill every Friday inside veteran-owned Valor Brewpub. The Canadian comfort food pop-up, called Two Guys Gravy and Fries, comes from Calvin-Peter Hamilton and Max Reisser, a pair of 20-something roommates who met on the rowing team at George Washington University. They saw a void of late-night eats beyond Jumbo Slice that were filling enough to satisfy people who burn a lot of calories. Hamilton, who’s from Canada, is using an old family recipe to make warming wintertime boxes that can be enjoyed on-site alongside live music or ordered to-go. The duo says the key to a perfect poutine is using hand-cut fries, Wisconsin white cheddar cheese curds that “squeak,” and gravy that makes its way to the bottom. Topping options include pickled jalapenos, bacon bits, and fried onions.
Where: Valor Brewpub (723 8th Street SE)
Dates: Picking back up again on Fridays in February starting at 10 p.m., until the poutine runs out
Cost: Poutine is $8 (menu below). New $14 fall cocktails at Valor that pair well with the rich dish include the Roll Call (vodka, mint, cucumber, lime, saison) and Hot Apple Pie, made with chacho, cider, lemon, honey, and ginger. Valor’s full menu will also be available, including new comfort foods like pork belly mac and cheese and pretzel bites dressed with truffles, ricotta, and parmesan.
The Deal: Shaw’s doughnut destination just shaved its hours, closing from Monday to Thursday. It’s now going the pop-up route, selling breakfast pastries and coffee drinks on weekends as the space prepares to transform into something different. A representative tells Eater that will be a “fun new restaurant concept that we think will be a perfect fit for Shaw.” The new hours better reflect demand from Shaw customers, “who tend to buy doughnuts mostly on Fridays and weekends.” Its basement cocktail bar, Nocturne, will keep operating as usual.
Where: 1932 9th Street NW
Dates: Now operating Friday to Sunday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights
XIAO LONG BAO DINNER SERIES
The Deal: Maketto’s dinner series highlights limited-time menu items at Erik Bruner-Yang’s Cambodian-Taiwanese eatery, like unlimited soup dumplings, a few times a week.
Cheap Eats 2015: Toki Underground
It’s true, dinner here might take 45 minutes, max—and chances are you waited about two hours to get a barstool. But this teeny ramen perch overlooking H Street is well worth the hassle. (Plus, for those who don’t feel like chancing the line, Toki now takes a small number of reservations each night.) The five varieties of ramen are terrific across the board, with robust, pork-fortified broths long, springy noodles and accoutrements like bright pickled ginger and a runny sous-vide egg. The one-pot meal’s bookends are just as enticing: Start with bracingly refreshing cocktails and finish with a plate of chocolate-chip cookies, salty red-miso buttercream, and ice-cold milk.
Where you can get it: 1234 H St., NE 202-388-3086
Also good: Pan-fried pork dumplings fried-chicken steamed buns dan-dan noodles with fried chicken pork-fat noodles classic, kimchee, and red-miso ramen.
Run by New York natives Stephan Brezinsky and his family, this Kickstarter funded restaurant has a menu that includes fried rice with duck sausage, cured fresh sardines and many more. Warm hospitality and an emphasis on local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients? You know it. // East Village. Book now at Soothsayer.
The bike-friendly, butcher’s restaurant where you can snack on some cacio e pepe chips or indulge in an entire pig or lamb (for larger parties). The menu is fun and the beer list includes an extensive amount of European and domestic options available to go or to stay. Meat, check. Good times, you know it. // NoMad. Book Now at The Cannibal.
As seen on The Resy Hit List: NYC, April Bloomfield (of the Spotted Pig, Breslin, and more) has got a burger that photographs well and tastes glorious. No, they aren’t taking reservations but they’re still a part of the crew. // Midtown East. Walk ins only.
Also seen on The Resy Hit List: NYC, this Modern Israeli-Mediterranean restaurant serves dishes that are all insta-ready. Pro tip: do NOT miss the bread, it’s homemade and it’s heavenly. // St. Marks. Book now at Timna.
Photo courtesy of Toki Underground.
Does Toki Underground Accept Reservations? - Recipes
On a holiday weekend you think a restaurant with only 27 seats would take reservations. nope. It was a 3 hour wait when we stopped by and nobody has time to wait 3 hours just to eat some ramen! So disappointed. And there isn't even a sign or anything! Just a blue logo on the door! How do they expect anybody to find them?! We ended up going to sticky rice right next door we waited maybe 2 mins for a table and much better service!
144 - 148 of 234 reviews
This place has almost become an urban legend. Many people raved about it but many times the hype just doesn't live up to reality. Yes it can take forever to get in but the wait can be worth it. Put your name on the waiting list and then walk around the neighborhood for a little adventure.
First, if you don't go with somebody who knows exactly where it is located it can be a challenge to find. Look for the door to the left of the Pug bar.
The menu is mostly ramen soup. I tried the miso, curry chicken and the kimchi. All very good. Their broth particularly for the kimchi is thicker than most other ramen places, but it is nice and spicey. Better than kimchi soup I had in Korea. Would be perfect on a cold, clammy February night in DC. The chicken bao was also good. For beer they serve Koshihikari Echigo a nice alternative to the standard Japanese beers served in most places.
The place has lots of "ambiance" including the seating around the sides and the eclectic music on the sound system. Might be a bit loud for some though. Our waiter Hiro was friendly and informative.
All in all an experience that lived up to the hype.
Somehow snagged reservations online and only had to wait a few minutes to sit down. We were seated at a bar and ordered the fried chicken steamed buns which were surprisingly delicious and ramen. My boyfriend got the kimchi ramen (his/my first experience with kimchi) and wow! It was the best ramen I've ever had, and we lived in Asia for 7 months. I honestly can't even remember what kind of ramen I got (it was good!) but the kimchi was amazing.
Best Ramen I have ever had! Delicious with awesome flavours. The noodles were soft and easy to eat. Did have to wait a little bit for a table but it was definitely worth the wait!
Washington DC Bucket List
I’ve been living the single life for about a week now and not only has the countdown to Clay’s return started, the other countdown has started too. The countdown to our PCS move. We’ll be leaving the DC-area this winter, and even though I’ve lived here for nearly six years, there are still a lot of things I haven’t done, food I haven’t eaten, and places I haven’t visited. So, in addition to all of the lists I’m making of prep things I need to get done – lots of purging… getting rid of so much extra junk, clothes, shoes, etc. – I’m making a bucket list of sorts. What things do I have to do, see, and eat before I leave?
- African American History Museum – The newest Smithsonian opened about two years ago and it’s been a hot ticket ever since. Everything I’ve heard about this museum makes it a must-see, especially in our current social climate. It should probably be required viewing for every American. Maybe then people would calm their tits about NFL players kneeling or Black Lives Matter and better understand why there are protests and why people of color are speaking out. Basically, if people took the time to actually educate themselves about an issue, instead of letting someone else tell them what to think, I think we’d be a lot better off. Anyways, I would really love to have a chance to experience the museum myself – since it’s so popular, tickets are timed entry and typically sell out very quickly. It will take some coordination, but I’m optimistic we’ll be able to make it happen.
- Milk Bar – Christina Tosi’s dessert palace. I need it in my life. There are two(?) locations in DC now and ever since seeing her episode of Chef’s Table, I’ve been dreaming about Crack Pie and Birthday Cake and Cereal Milk. I told Clay I wanted to go here before he left, and we didn’t make it, so I’m just moving that date to after he gets home. Ahem. Bring me all of the dessert.
- The Wharf – One of the newest spots for a good hang is on the Southwest Waterfront. Admittedly, this area is complete gentrification of the neighborhood, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to check it out. There are a ton of exciting restaurants, music venues, and great views of the Potomac River. We’ve talked about making a date day of a trip to The Wharf by taking the water taxi over from Old Town Alexandria and we just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I hope we can make time before we have to leave.
- Toki Underground – More food. I’ve never had ramen before – real ramen that is. Toki is regarded at THE place to go in DC for ramen and it’s such a hot spot that you can’t make reservations. It’s show up, and hope your wait isn’t too long. Because you will be waiting. It’s worth it though, or that’s what everyone tells me. I’m in it to win it on the “don’t miss out on DC food” game, so this is a definite “WE HAVE TO GO HERE.”
- Kennedy Center – Now, to be fair, we’ve been here a number of times, but in the year or two we haven’t found the time. Clay would really like to catch one more performance here and so would I. It’s such a special venue, with incredible history and has seen some of the world’s most talented grace its stages. Hamilton is currently there… and while I’d love to luck into those tickets, I’m not delusional. Lol. We’ll probably catch another NSO performance before we go and that will be special enough.
It’s a short list right now, but as our time gets shorter, I have a feeling that list will grow. I’ll remember more stuff I want to do and places I want to go. It’s been an interesting six years in DC to be sure… and I want to make the most of the time I have left. Cheers to the next few months!
Art and Soul
The product of celebrity chef/owner Art Smith and executive chef Wes Morton, Art and Soul serves up Southern comfort dishes with style. Nosh on buttermilk lemon pancakes or a three egg omelet off the breakfast menu. Lunch favorites include free range friend chicken and the 12 hour smoked pork sandwich. Dinner offerings will have you wishing for a bigger stomach with selections such as beef, cheese and sweet potato fritters, shrimp and grits, pork belly confit and sausage and braised lamb shank. The restaurant partners with regional farmers to bring fresh ingredients straight to the table. METRO: Judiciary Square
Recommended for Homestyle because: Aiming for Southern warmth and hospitality, this venue succeeds with a winning menu.
Gina's expert tip: When the weather is warm, grab a table on the front patio for an al fresco dining option with a fire pit and grill.