Where to Find DC’s Best Ramen This Winter
From bowls of rich tonkotsu broth to vegetarian options.
The District’s introduction to proper ramen (not the cheap, boil-at-home packets) started about a decade ago, when Toki Underground began offering Taiwanese-style ramen and drawing hour-long lines to its small H St. NE loft. The years that followed have seen a surge in like-minded restaurants offering savory, steaming bowls of ramen topped with pork, vegetables, and even fried chicken. Many restaurants make noodles in-house and simmer the broths for hours, coaxing out complex and nuanced flavors. Whether the forecast calls for dark and cold or patio-perfect temperatures, a bowl of ramen is the complete package for a quick and satisfying meal. Here’s where to find the comforting noodle dish around D.C.
The newest of the new, Kaiju ramen is ready to serve the Barracks Row neighborhood with noodles made in house, broths simmered for 10 hours, and lots of Godzilla-inspired imagery (a “monster claw” chicken tender is among the appetizers). Along with standard items like tonkotsu and spicy chicken ramen soups, Kaiju is enticing customers to ball out with a wagyu option, stocked with beef, chicken, pork, egg, and gold flakes—priced at $65.95.
Chicken ramen is the star of the menu at Bantam King, which is housed in a renovated Burger King that still has plenty of nods to the original design, like fast-food booths and cafeteria trays on the walls. There are several possible combinations of broths and flavors centered around the cloudy paitan stock. It’s hard to pass up the kick of the spicy miso ramen or the delicate flavors of the shoyu Chintan broth. Bowls come with the option to add on items like a seasoned egg, corn, or extra meat. Also, it's basically impossible to ignore the restaurant’s extremely shareable fried chicken platter, which marries fiery Nashville hot chicken with Chinese flavors. It’s great for soaking up Bantam King's very solid Japanese drink list, including sake, beer, and Japanese whiskey (although the ramen does that job pretty solidly on its own).
Chaplin’s may be best known for cocktails and dumplings, but they also have a complete ramen selection waiting to soak up a night of drinking in the always buzzing Shaw neighborhood. The standard-issue bowl is made with pork belly and tonkotsu, but vegetarians and vegans have choices as well, like miso and shio broths. We're in favor of the Chaplin A.S.S. bowl, which combines Asian spicy sour chicken, scallions, lemongrass, coconut milk, red chili paste, and pork butt. There’s also the option to add extra ingredients like pork butt and even gyoza... and who has the power to say no to dumplings on top of ramen?
Before the pandemic, crowds would swell at this Chinatown ramen joint, forcing hungry guests to wait patiently for a seat in the small downstairs dining room. This spot offers six kinds of Sapporo-style ramen, and they take authenticity seriously: Their noodles are imported from Japan, made from a recipe developed specially by Daikaya, and the nuanced Chintan stock takes more than 16 hours to make. Fans of something with a little heat can opt for either the spicy miso or super spicy shoyu bowls, both packed with chilies.
Haikan’s Sapporo-style ramen is a cornerstone of Shaw’s hip Atlantic Plumbing building, and for good reason. It shares DNA with Daikaya and Bantam King, both among the top ramen spots in the city. Noodles are specially made in Japan and married in-house with the delicate Chintan stock. Grab a table in the narrow dining room, along the high-energy kitchen bar, or at a communal patio table and get slurping. Bowls of shio, shoyu, miso, or spicy shoyu soup can be customized with a whole range of additional toppings from butter to bamboo to a seasoned “nitamago” egg. Cold noodles make an appearance during summer months. As an added bonus, most of the ramen varieties are available in both large and small portion sizes, leaving flexibility to stop in for a snack or pair a bowl with another appetizer, like crab rangoon or smashed cucumbers.
JINYA Ramen Bar
Jinya may be a national chain, but it takes its ramen seriously. The shop offers tons of combinations, though the restaurant’s “flagship” is the Jinya tonkotsu black, a classic ramen mix of pork broth, chashu, nori, green onions, egg, and garnishes. If that seems old hat, consider adding spicy ground chicken or pork. There are plenty of other directions, too: Heat seekers will likely dig the spicy chicken ramen, and vegetarians have a few options to pick from. The restaurant also offers a big list of rice and curry bowls and small plates for non-ramen outings.
This small, busy Upshur Street spot puts new flair on classic ramen preparations. Purists can enjoy tonkotsu or shoyu broths loaded with noodles, pork, chicken, and soft-boiled egg. For something unique, don’t hesitate to order the tantan variation, a spicy and nutty soup inspired by dan dan noodles, a popular Chinese dish. A starter of Japanese fried chicken can stave off appetites that may built up waiting for a table—it’s a busy spot, so be sure to head out early and join the virtual waitlist well in advance to secure a table.
Oki Bowl at Georgetown
From the moment you enter Oki Bowl, it’s clear that this restaurant is a little different from the typical ramen joint. The dining room is softly lit and decked out with all kinds of decor, from flowers to old lamps. The same goes for the funky outdoor space. The menu breaks from the standard mold a bit as well—alongside miso and kimchi ramen bowls, there’s also a spicy Tom Yum option with fried shrimp, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. Pork belly, fried chicken, eggs, and vegetables are all available as add-ons (and when there is an option to add pork belly to anything, you should probably take it). The curry ramen is tough to stop slurping.
Ramen by Uzu
Once operating out of the now-shuttered Ghostline in Glover Park, this ramen shop lives on at a Union Market stall serving bowls of hot and cold Japanese-style ramen. Hot broths include classic shoyu, shio, and miso along with a vegan option. If it’s not soup season, tsukemen is a chicken-based dipping ramen served cold with pork loin, a poached egg, and vegetables. The menu also includes a selection of appetizers, like barbecued pork steam buns
Chef Darren Norris knows his way around Japanese food, and earned notoriety in DC for his skills at Kushi in the mid-2000s. He’s back in the game at Shibuya Eatery, which specializes in small plates and grilled skewers along with plenty of noodle options. The hot options swim in a bowl of dashi broth with combinations like roasted vegetables, sugar-cured kurobota pork belly, or wagyu beef. Shibuya offers buckwheat soba and udon noodles.
Toki Underground was in many ways DC’s original ramen hotspot, attracting rave reviews and long lines and laying the groundwork for other businesses to follow suit. Original chef Erik Bruner-Yang has long since stepped down to pursue other ventures, but this Taiwanese ramen spot is still worth a visit. The Toki classic, which comes with pulled pork and soft egg, is a popular option, and the spicy and savory red miso and kimchi choices (it’s especially funky) are other good bets. The bar’s cocktail program is no slouch, either.