Food & Drink

A Guide to DC's Best Ramen Restaurants

Published On 07/21/2016 Published On 07/21/2016
Rey Lopez

Daikaya

Chinatown

The crowds can get large 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.

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, including the cloudy paitan and clear chintan, both available in limited quantities each day, as well as vegetarian ramen. Each broth is flavored with salt (shio), soy (shoyu), or miso tare. Bowls start at just under $12, although you may want 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 is great for soaking up Bantam King's very solid Japanese drink list, including sake, beer, and several varieties of shochu (although the ramen does that job pretty solidly, too).

Courtesy of Momofuku

Momofuku CCDC

CityCenter

Chef David Chang’s uber-popular New York ramen joint arrived in DC in late 2015 at the posh CityCenter development, and his classic Momofuku ramen ($17) incorporates such delicious elements as pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg. The menu also features several other varieties, including the nontraditional-but-still-delicious Baltimore-influenced chilled crab ramen ($22), flavored with Old Bay, yuzu, and chive.

OKI Bowl DC

Dupont Circle

Oki Bowl occupies a small, quirky space along busy M Street, just south of Dupont Circle. From the moment you walk in, it’s clear 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 jumbo prawns, mushrooms, and lemongrass. 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).

Sakuramen

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 ($11) is the most traditional and affordable choice, with chasu pork, scallions, nori, and sprouts. The shoki bowl ($15) is worth going for if you're feeling especially carnivorous, however: it's loaded with meat, like bulgogi beef, a heap of chasu pork, and comes with a seasoned egg. Sakuramen serves choices of vegetarian and spicy recipes too.

Kintaro

Georgetown

Georgetown is sorely lacking in restaurants that are both affordable and tourist-free. Enter Kintaro, which has a large sushi and small plates selection, but also serves a simple menu of shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu ramen for $10 each. You can avoid the fanny packs and keep your wallet intact all at once -- win-win.

Toki Underground

Toki Underground

H Street

Despite opening just five years ago, Toki Underground was in many ways DC’s original ramen hot spot, attracting rave reviews and long lines and laying the groundwork for other businesses to follow suit. Wait times regularly balloon to two or three hours (sometimes even more) for a bowl of Chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s Taiwanese ramen, so 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 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. The standard-issue bowl ($14) 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

Jinya Ramen

Fairfax

Jinya may be a chain restaurant, but it takes 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, chasu, 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, while the Cha Cha Cha is designed for garlic lovers.

Yona

Ballston

Exposed wood interior and tables provide Jonah Kim’s Arlington spot with a sleek, modern Japanese feel. The menu is tasty and concise, and it’s hard to do better than his Miso Porky creation ($15), a rich pork miso broth -- what else? -- topped with pork, mushroom, kimchi, nori, bamboo shoot, and a soft egg. For a splurge, try the king crab ramen ($26) served with uni butter. If you still have room, order a few selections from hot and cold appetizers, especially the dry-fried wings or the tuna poke.

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1. Daikaya 705 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Chinatown)

Don’t let the wait for this Chinatown ramen shop deter you: it’s more than worth it for the chewy noodles imported from Japan and the chicken, pork, and beef Chintan stock that’s cooked over 16 hours for extra richness. An unsuspecting standout among the Sapporo-style ramen on offer is the vegan version topped with Brussels sprouts, snow peas, carrots, and braised shiitake mushrooms. As if the ramen didn’t already, Daikaya’s wooden accents, dangling lightbulbs, and blue- and yellow-striped walls will have you feeling warm and cozy.

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2. Bantam King 501 G St NW, Washington, 20001

No, the fast-food booths and cafeteria trays on the walls aren't a mistake: Bantam King operates within a renovated Burger King. Ramen with Sapporo-made noodles and a clear chicken-based broth is the speciality here, but don't overlook the fried chicken. The family-style platter is served with an array of sides, including coleslaw, mac & cheese, and Japanese potato salad. It's the perfect complement to all that salty broth.

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3. Momofuku CCDC 1090 I St NW, Washington, 20001

You have Chef David Chang to thank for bringing this New York favorite to DC. His popular ramen joint lives at the chic CityCenter development, where you can grab a seat at the bar, noodle bar, in the main dining room, or in the private dining space. The team is dishing out classic Momofuku ramen, which includes ingredients like pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg, plus nontraditional bowls like the Baltimore-influenced chilled crab ramen flavored with Old Bay, yuzu, and chive. Not in the mood for ramen? The seasonal menu also features tasty pork buns, noodles, and fried chicken.

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4. OKI Bowl DC & Sake 1817 M St, Washington, DC 20036 (Dupont Circle)

This ramen-and-rice bowl restaurant is a lovable oddball in Dupont Circle. On its walls are quirky features like birdhouses, woven baskets, and computer parts, and on its menu are favorites like miso, kimchi, and curry, alongside tasty apps like chicken potstickers. At OKI Bowl, you're in for a perfect combo of big portions at small prices. A bonus? If you're prone to late-night cravings (so, if you're human), it's open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.

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5. Sakuramen 2441 18th Street NW, , Washington, DC , DC 20009 (Adams Morgan)

This subterranean noodle hideout (seriously, hide from the Adams Morgan crowds here) sports bamboo columns, a huge oak communal table, and an artistic rendering of Shoki, the Japanese guardian and "demon queller." Their selection of buns is well worth your time -- from spicy sweet pork to mushroom. Consider pairing them with their traditional shoyu gojiramen (chasu pork, scallions, nori, and sprouts) or the meat-lover's shoki bowl, filled with extra chashu and bulgogi.

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6. Kintaro 1039 33rd St NW, Washington, 20007

Consider Kintaro you escape from the throngs of tourists that fill Georgetown. Another plus: the prices here are some of the most affordable in town. Cheap eats on this tiny restaurant's simple menu span several tiers of the Japanese food pyramid: sushi, ramen, and donburi. A crowd-pleaser is the Chirashi sushi, a beautifully plated treasure trove of sashimi on a bed of rice, served with a soup and salad.

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7. Toki Underground 1234 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002 (H Street Ne)

One of the first authentic ramen joints in DC, Toki Underground serves comforting noodle dishes inspired by Chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s culinary memories -- whether it’s the Taipei ramen shop he worked at or the family-made dumplings he ate growing up. Made with that much TLC, the dishes here are well worth the occasionally long lunchtime wait. You’ll want to dig into the Toki Classic, a steaming bowl of ramen topped with pulled pork and a soft-boiled egg, and sip -- or bomb -- one of the specialty sakes.

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8. Chaplin's Restaurant & Bar 1501 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

This Charlie Chaplin-themed bar, featuring a movie poster-style mural of the man himself, serves inventive drinks from the Wilder Cocktail Brothers alongside a large selection of ramen and dumplings. Two solid choices the Chaplin A.S.S. bowl, which brings together Asian spicy sour chicken, scallions, lemongrass, coconut milk, red chili paste, and pork butt, and, on the dumplings side, the chicken & shrimp shumai with water chestnut, garlic, onion, and oyster sauce.

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9. Jinya Ramen Bar 2911 District Ave, Fairfax, VA 22031 (Fairfax)

When Jinya founder Tomonori Takahashi arrived in the US in 2010, he couldn't find high-quality traditional ramen anywhere -- so he took matters into his own hands. His franchise now serves noodles that are handmade daily and go through a meticulous aging process before they reach your bowl. Served in a thick broth rich with flavor, Jinya’s ramen is as authentic as it gets -- a rare feat for a chain -- whether you keep it classic with the tonkotsu black (pork broth, chasu, nori, green onions, egg, and garnishes) or kick it up a notch with the spicy chicken ramen.

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10. Yona 4000 Wilson Blvd Ste C, Arlington, VA 22203 (Arlington)

This minimalist-chic restaurant features a Japanese- and Korean-inspired menu that focuses on comforting bowls of ramen, including the customer-favorite Miso Porky, a flavorful pork miso broth filled with mushroom, kimchi, nori, bamboo shoot, pork, and a soft-boiled egg. The hot and cold small plates are noteworthy, too, like crispy wings with chili glaze and tuna poke. From the dishes' elegant presentation to the gorgeous wooden beams lining the space, Yona is a true thing of beauty in Arlington.

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