GET YOUR SLURP ON
Photos courtesy of Andrew Sherman.
Ramen is not just a trend, it’s a movement. The Japenese comfort classic is taking the U.S. by storm with new and interesting takes on the traditional noodle bowl. With the help of photographer Andrew Sherman, I’ll walk you through the BEST ramen restaurants in DC. Not only will I tell you where to go, I’ll tell you what to order! Trust me on this – we spent days trying ramen and I wouldn’t steer you wrong. No matter where you choose to go, slurp with confidence and feel all of your troubles melt away through the power of ramen.
Korean style ramen should be your new favorite adventure. Chef MyungEun Cho puts passion and love into her ramen bowls, while incorporating her Korean heritage into the Japanese comfort food. Chef Cho creates a from-scratch light and flavorful broth with no MSG and has her noodles and mochi shipped in twice a week from New Jersey, to ensure an authentic, fresh, and local(ish) experience. Although Cho is from Korea, she had two influential ramen masters in her life and has perfected the fusion of the two cuisines. Also, she is the sweetest, most passionate chef and you should go visit her here or at her other restaurant, BUL!
WHAT TO ORDER
Get the Shoki Bowl – filled with extra chashu (pork belly), bulgogi (Korean barbecue), seasoned egg, green onion, sprouts, nori, and ninniku dare (garlic paste). Add a side of their homemade kimchi to add some variety to your slurps.
For me, the bulgogi totally made this the superior bowl of ramen at SAKURAMEN – it was sweet, spicy, tender, and just straight up crack. The pork was also cooked to perfection, melting in my mouth and adding a luxurious mouthfeel to the bowl of noodle-y goodness. The noodles were toothsome and fresh, making for the perfect ratio of slurpability and chewiness. Fire.
Haikan is the new ramen hotness! The masterminds behind Daikaya and Bantam King (featured below) have opened Haikan in Shaw, right next to the 9:30 club, making it the perfect spot for a celebrity sighting, and an awesome place to casually slurp noodles at a community table with some of your closest strangers. What is so fascinating to me is that these restauranteurs have THREE ramen shops that are completely different, which makes each one exciting to go to! Haikan specializes in Sapporo Ramen, where they are focused on creating the taste of ramen from the showa period, the golden age of ramen in Japan. There are more than 1000 ramen shops in the city of Sapporo alone, and Haikan shares a completely new line-up of traditional Sapporo style ramen in DC – and holy shit it’s good.
Get the Shoyu Ramen with a side of crispy pig ears.
The shoyu ramen is served Sapporo style, of course, with custom noodles from Sapporo, Japan. The stock, or “chintan,” is characterized by the clear appearance with a delicate and complex flavor.
The bowl comes topped with garlic, onion, bean sprouts, ground pork, roasted pork, chasu, nori and scallions. When the bowl is placed in front of me, the aroma of grilled pork overwhelms my senses and opens the saliva floodgates. The pork is fatty and unctuous – giving depth to the broth and the bites. The broth is just so exquisite, it’s hard to wrap my head around all of the complexities of the chintan and it sends me into a spiral of ramen nirvana. These were also my FAVORITE noodles of the day – fat, chewy, abundant and super slurpable.
The pig ears are tangy, crispy, savory and completely addicting. I was on the verge of a food coma and was able to eat the whole bowl.
Bantam King – the ultimate “fast food” ramen shop. In Japan, ramen is an expensive meal accessible to anyone – whether you’re a millionaire or working class, it’s enjoyed and affordable by all. Bantam King makes me feel like I’m at one of the thousands of ramen shops in Japan with it’s casual atmosphere, and high quality bowls. In Japan, ramen shops are so casual that you order from a vending machine with buttons and tickets, sit at the counter and wait for your bowl. It’s quick, efficient, and some of the best food you’ll ever eat.
Unlike SAKURAMEN and Haikan, Bantam King specializes in chicken ramen! The noodles are thinner because the stock is more delicate, and they too are imported from Sapporo, Japan. The noodles almost resemble angel hair pasta, but with more starch. The whole place makes you feel like you’re with family – with community style seating, laminate tables, and no-fuss decor. The family-friendly atmosphere and completely indulgent ramen really makes you feel comforted and satisfied.
WHAT TO ORDER
Spicy Miso Chicken Ramen with the quarter chicken add-on.
First of all, Bantam gives you a WHOLE egg – 5 extra points for that. The corn was also a fun addition to my ramen filled day, which is traditional with chicken ramen. The noodles were thinner, but the ramen was basically the best chicken noodle soup you’ll ever have in your life and I am 100% ok with that. The broth was spicy, but not in a blow your whole palate out kind of way. It’s simple, delicious and I made new friends – so yeah, go here.
Why is there a Charlie Chaplin themed ramen restaurant in DC? I have no idea, but it is fucking amazing. The whole allure of this dark, velvet-draped bar, that was hard to get into, seemed fancy, and served ramen was a must-see kitschy destination that I was willing to wait an hour to experience. Here’s what you should know about Chaplin’s.
By the way, it was freezing cold, raining, and we decided to sit outside…
WHAT TO GET
The Chaplin A.S.S. with an order of the Pay Day Dumplings.
The ramen is an Asian spicy sour broth with chicken, scallion, lemongrass, coconut milk, red chili and cilantro and the spice level is NO JOKE. After sitting in the freezing cold and already eating three bowls of ramen, the spice factor caught me off guard as I took a huge slurp and, needless to say, it instantly warmed me up while I tried to escape choking to death. This is not a negative though, I welcomed the spice – it kick started by appetite and kept me going back for more slurps. Also, not only did I get a whole egg, the egg was still WHOLE! Six-minute egg for the win at Chaplin’s.
I loved the sour component of this broth and the assertive spice – so much so that I ordered one to go for hangry bf 😉
The real kicker here, though? Cocktail INJECTED dumplings! WHAT!? Yes, we got beef gyoza injected with Iwai Japanese Whiskey, soy sauce, sriracha, and fresh lime. Imagine a fried soup dumpling, but instead it’s filled with whiskey – yeah, it’s real and it’s phenomenal. You must get these if you want to experience the best of Chaplin’s.
Yes, we’ve all heard of Toki Underground. You can check out my full review here, but it’s good. I have mixed feelings now because of how founder, Erik Bruner-Yang was treated, but it really is great. Especially those fried chicken buns and vegetarian dumplings. That’s all I’ll say about Toki. You can still get Erik’s signature ramen at his Paper Horse locations throughout DC Whole Foods’ stores.
Oh my sweet, sweet Daikaya. One of my favorite places in DC – not just for ramen, but also for Japanese Izakaya-style cuisine. I love that Daikaya isn’t afraid to take your tastebuds on a flavor trip of a lifetime and get real aggressive with the toppings. And each topping by itself is expertly crafted – from the grilled corn, to the umami menma, fatty chashu, silky butter, and spice bomb ball – you better be ready for flavor.
WHAT TO ORDER
Daikaya is very similar to Haikan, and you really can’t go wrong with what you order here. But the vegetable ramen is REAL GOOD with a side of gyoza (duh!).
Don’t be afraid of the menma – it’s fermented bamboo shoots and adds some real depth to the ramen. You’re welcome.
Here’s a map so you can hit up all of these top ramen spots in the most convenient way!
**REMEMBER, SLURPING IS A COMPLIMENT!**
HUGE, GIGANTIC, THANK YOU to photographer extraordinaire Andrew Sherman for joining me on this ramen adventure and capturing all of my best angles (eating, of course!) and the ramen’s best angles, too. He is truly amazing, and I highly recommend reaching out to him for any of your photography needs! Thank you, Andrew! You’re incredible!