Food & Drink

A Guide to DC's Best Ramen Restaurants

There was a time when DC’s relationship with ramen was little more than college students, interns, and other budget-conscious diners boiling store-bought noodles. That all changed dramatically in 2011, when Toki Underground began offering Taiwanese-style ramen and drawing hour-long lines to its small Northeast loft. The years that followed saw a surge in like-minded restaurants offering savory, steaming bowls of ramen topped with pork, vegetables, and even fried chicken. Many make their noodles in house, and a few even source them straight from Japan. Here are the most essential spots in the District for when you want to slurp down some A-plus ramen.

Hatoba

Navy Yard
Hatoba, meaning “dock” in Japanese, is DC’s third (and newest) Sapporo-style ramen shop from the Daikaya Group. Dishes like red miso with clam or spicy red miso with pork and seafood nod to its Navy Yard location and ship-inspired decor, which includes private booths and artificial food displays that invite guests or order with their eyes. A more delicate garlic shoyu and a vegan tomato curry soup don’t skimp on the comforting vibes, either. As always, you can load up on extra pork, vegetables, spices and a soft egg to complete the bowls. Sake, beer, wine and cocktails are all available, which will come in handy during baseball season pregaming.

Akira

Rockville
This suburban Maryland izakaya makes two kinds of noodles -- skinny and curly -- for its seven types of ramen. The signature Akira Ramen bowl is loaded with pork and vegetables and flavored with tonkotsu salt broth and a hit of black garlic oil. Sweat it out with the chili kick of the volcano ramen, or double down on the comfort food vibes with deep fried “karaage” chicken or shrimp tempura. Akira’s small plates and appetizers deserve attention, too -- especially the succulent grilled yellowtail collar.

Daikaya

Chinatown
The crowds can swell at this Chinatown ramen joint, forcing hungry guests to wait patiently for a seat in the small downstairs dining room. This spot offers five 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.

Oki Bowl DC

Georgetown and Dupont Circle
It’s clear from the moment you enter Oki Bowl’s Dupont location that this restaurant is a little different from the typical ramen joint: The dining room is doused in ambient blue light and decked out with all kinds of decor, from birdhouses to old computer parts. 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 ($12) with fried jumbo prawns, 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). Oki Bowl’s goods are available in the Georgetown neighborhood, too, at Wisconsin and Q Street NW.

Bantam King

Chinatown
Chicken ramen is the star of the menu at Bantam King, which is housed in a renovated Burger King (there are 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 (soy) Chintan broth. Bowls come with the option to add on items like a seasoned egg, corn, or extra meat. Also, guys, 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).

Sakuramen

Adams Morgan
Sakuramen is an affordable spot to take refuge from the Adams Morgan madness. To start, don’t miss out on the large selection of steamed buns, which come in everything from bulgogi beef to mushroom. For the ramen, the shoyu gojiramen is the most traditional choice, with chashu pork, scallions, nori, and sprouts. The shoki bowl is worth going for if you're feeling especially carnivorous: It's loaded with meat, like bulgogi beef, a heap of chashu pork, and comes with a seasoned egg. Sakuramen serves choices of vegetarian and spicy recipes, too.

Toki Underground

H St. NE
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 stepped down to pursue other ventures, but wait times can still balloon for a shot at this Taiwanese ramen. Going for a late-night or off-peak bite can be a good strategy. Once you make it upstairs to the small dining room (sorry, the restaurant isn’t actually underground), grab a cocktail -- the beverage program here rocks -- and an appetizer, like fried chicken steam buns. For ramen, 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.

Chaplin’s

Shaw
Chaplin’s may be best known for cocktails and dumplings, but they also have a completely decent 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?

JINYA Ramen Bar

Logan Circle
Jinya may be a national chain, but it takes its ramen seriously. They offer tons of combinations, though the restaurant’s “flagship” is the Jinya No. 1 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. Jinya has area locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Haikan

Shaw
Haikan’s Sapporo-style ramen is a cornerstone of Shaw’s hip Atlantic Plumbing building, and for good reason. It shares DNA with Daikaya, Bantam King and Hatoba, both among the top ramen spots in Washington. 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 (soy), 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 other appetizer like crab rangoon or a mapo tofu-inspired poutine.

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Travis Mitchell is a freelance writer who has been enjoying DC's ramen scene for years. Follow @travisjmitchell on Twitter and Instagram.