Only a modest blue logo marks the door of Toki Underground, which despite the name sits above a bar, up a narrow, steep flight of stairs. Long waits and a full house are, reportedly, not uncommon at this tiny ramen-ya, and seating is snug. I was squeezed in at the slender counter along one side wall, and only on withdrawing, after my meal, did I see that the footrests underneath are a series of skateboard decks. Between the passing bodies of incoming diners I saw that other decks, brightly colored and split lengthwise, form the balustrade where the stairs rise to the second floor.
Which is to say that there's little opportunity to check out the decor, or the crowd, or — unless you land one of the prized seats surrounding the open kitchen — even to see who's ordering what. I caught a look only at the dishes to my immediate left and right. Just as well: My own bowl arrived in very short order. The Toki classic ($11), which employs a tonkotsu, or "pork bone," broth, is dressed with red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, and nori. More-substantive ingredients include straight, thin noodles, chasu pulled pork, a soft egg, and seasonal vegetables — this day, dark green bitter rolls of Chinese mustard greens.
Tonkotsu ramen is especially associated with the Hakata ward of Fukuoka, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, and under the name "Hakata ramen" is regarded as a major regional variation. Toki's chef was born in Taiwan, and his dishes were "inspired" (says the menu) by his "experience at a Hakata ramen shop in Taipei," so his dishes have elsewhere been described as a fusion of Japanese and Taiwanese influences. This particular ramen has been dubbed "Hakata style," but I'm not enough of a ramen aficionado to point out the distinctions. I am enough of an aficionado to drain my bowl.
1234 H St. N.E. (12th-13th Sts.), Washington, D.C.
(From an Easter 2013 visit)