Channeling the frenetic, neon-lit Tokyo nightlife, the avant-garde stylings of Kaiju Ramen in Barracks Row bring a fantastical inspiration to its broth, bowls, and brilliant dining area—and finally its eagerly anticipated subterranean bar, TKYO Speaks.
TKYO Speaks, unleashed last Friday, brings the “busy restaurant alleyways of Tokyo” into relief as red neon lights zoom along the walls and ceiling, colorful strobe lights flash in the dark bar area, and a mural depicts street scenes and nods to iconic Osaka landmarks.
The vibrant 30-seat bar pours a hefty assortment of sakes alongside specialty cocktails and beers. Some of the cocktails have familiar Japanese place names, like the Okinawa Southside, a mix of Japanese Roku gin, mango, yuzu, mint, and egg white. The beer menu is full of Japanese beers, including a couple rice lagers. The sake list includes about six sparkling sakes.
Though the bar just opened, Kaiju opened its dining room, where a giant Godzilla mural lords over diners while Japanese characters and artwork gild the walls under cool neon lights, in December.
Edward Wong’s innovative ramen shop showcases a duality of inspiration: Osaka-style ramen and “kaiju,” which is Japanese for monsters or beasts in Japanese. Kaiju is a staple in Japanese pop culture, just as ramen is in Japanese cuisine. Wong grew up on a steady diet of kaiju movies, like the 1933 King Kong, Godzilla, as well as Japanese superhero films.
Just as terrifying monster inspiration looms large, Wong maintains a dead-serious emphasis on the craft of his dishes. Tangles of housemade noodles swim in hand-crafted broth simmered for more than 10 hours. Meanwhile, eye-catching nontraditional ingredients like cheese, lobster, and Wagyu find their way into creative bowls.
Ramen master Junzo Miyajima, who worked at Japanese restaurants in New York after moving to the U.S. from Japan, oversees the kitchen at Kaiju as well as the kitchen at Wong’s Japanese barbecue restaurant in Virginia, Gyu Shige.
“We had fun picking ingredients that match the color and theme of our kaijus,” Wong says.
Wong’s love of gory kaiju weaves its way into starters. The Carnivorous Flower Salad recalls the “giant carnivorous plants from a jungle movie that eats humans,” according to Wong. The salad—which includes no actual flowers—dials into the gore with blood-red hues from the juices of red cabbage and pomegranate; a pop of crunch comes from toasted quinoa. Talon-shaped chicken tenders, flecked in crisp Japanese rice crackers and deep-fried, “are fierce-looking, which is why we call it ‘monster claws.’” he says.
Wong’s ramen riffs mirror the fanciful monster madness. The black miso ramen, looking demonic in dark squid ink dye, comes blanketed in a shower of cheese. A seafood ramen dish evokes a crustacean kaiju emerging from the water. The broth’s richness and sweetness come from lobster and corn stock. Its name, Ebirah, is a kaiju “known as horror from the deep with giant claws,” hence the giant piece of lobster in it, says Wong. “Godzilla battled this lobster or crab-like monster on an island that saves the village. I hope by consuming this dish customers will be fueled up enough to battle a kaiju themselves.”
Beyond other more traditional chicken and vegetable ramen, rounding out the menu is one particularly indulgent bowl of clear ramen topped with gold-flaked Wagyu strip (at $64.95, it’s by far the biggest ticket item).
“The menu was a lot of fun to develop, because we want our customers to enjoy the dishes not only through a multi-sensory experience of the sight, taste, smell—and also learn about these interesting kaiju,” he says.
Kaiju Ramen is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays.
Stephanie Carter contributed to this report.