- Toki Underground is actually located above the Pug on H Street.
- The entrance from the top of the stairs.
- Skateboarding, music, graffiti and other counter-cultural elements inspired the restaurant's design.
- The dining room. All of the 25 seats here are counter-style as in ramen shops overseas.
- The bar at Toki Underground is stocked with Japanese beers, liquor and 17 different kinds of sake.
- A few seats give diners a prime kitchen view.
Toki Underground has been earning some serious buzz throughout its long soft opening — even drawing a comparison to David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar — and is finally open today on H Street. The 25-seat shop, serving up ramen noodles and dumplings, makes the most out of its cramped space above the Pug with a Taiwanese counter-culture design inspiration, thoughtfully chosen sake list and a menu that fills what chef Erik Bruner-Yang calls "that missing void in the city."
Toki Underground's design was very much inspired by Bruner-Yang's own time spent overseas in Taipei and Japan. He and architect Michael Francis translated elements of counter-culture — skateboarding, music, graffiti, bright colors — into the noisy and playful dining room. Tagged skateboards in electric shades of yellow, green, blue and magenta line the staircase, while walls take on the same graffiti effect. Those who've gambled in Japan may want to take a seat at the bar that has been inlaid with Pachinko boards. All of Toki Underground's seating is counter-style, modeled after ramen shops overseas.
Bruner-Yang says he was originally just going to do dumplings at Toki Underground, but after learning to make ramen (his other favorite food) he knew he had to add it to the menu. The restaurant offers five different kinds of ramen for $10 a bowl, from the classic tonkotsu to curry-infused, vegetarian and one topped with kimchi. There are also, of course, add-ons like pork cheek, pork loin and extra noodles. Meanwhile, dumplings are $5 for a half-dozen and include beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian. Tofu, kimchi and more are available as sides for only a couple bucks, making Toki Underground also exceedingly affordable.
General Manager Scott Carder is responsible for the extensive sake list at Toki Underground, which ranges from a $5 house hot sake to a bottle that goes for an eye-popping $475 — once given as a gift to President Obama. Carder says his philosophy in curating the list was to create a spectrum of not only each kind of sake but also the full price range of quality stuff. As for the beer list, Toki Underground was looking for beers that were a little, well, underground. You don't find a lot of Coedo Shiro, Echigo Stout and O.B. in DC, and those are among the eight beers on the menu here (along with Flying Dog). Cocktails are available too, for $10 apiece, and include gems like the Toki Monster: a combination of Bulliet, pepper honey liquer, mist of Peat Monster Scotch, topped with a skewer of kushiyaki pork belly.
Toki Underground may be the Atlas District's newest restaurant, but Bruner-Yang is no stranger to the scene. Not only did he have a managerial stint at neighboring Sticky Rice, but he and Carder met working at Little Miss Whiskeys. And, Bruner-Yang says, the support from the community has been outstanding so far: "I wouldn't be able to open this restaurant if it wasn't for H Street." And they'll be open starting tonight at 5 p.m.