I have finally had my first bowl of real ramen! It’s embarrassing that it’s taken this long, but better late than never. My childhood favorite was ramen noodles prepared with butter and parmesan, but I hadn’t had the Japanese soup version until now.
I chose to have my first bowl of ramen at Daikaya. A few months ago I posted a review of Daikaya Izakaya, which sits on top of Daikaya’s ramen bar and is a more formal dining experience. Whenever I’ve tried to go to Daikaya’s ramen bar in the past, the wait has always been incredibly long, so I knew it had to be good.
I showed up around 6 on a Sunday, just before the dinner rush. Although the tables were full, I didn’t have problems getting a seat at the counter because I was eating alone. My seat put me right in front of the cooks, which was an entertaining experience.
There were three people working in the kitchen in front of my spot at the counter. One cook seemed to be in charge of preparing the broth and adding any special spices to the soups. The second chef cooked the noodles, which are those beautiful, golden lumps in the picture above. The third cook stir fried the meat and veggies on a wok. Every once in a while, they would all high five. There was definitely a pattern to the high fives, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Daikaya’s menu is simple. There are 5 ramen options, several add-ins and drinks. As a neophyte of real ramen, I went with the most basic dish – the Shio Ramen ($11.75). This ramen, like the rest on the menu, came with ground pork, roasted pork belly, bean sprouts, onions, garlic, scallions and a piece of nori (a.k.a. seaweed).
Going into this experience, I had low expectations. How can you turn the orange packets I’ve been eating for years into something extraordinary? Well, real ramen doesn’t come in a plastic bag with a packet of chicken flavoring. The Shio Ramen was amazing! It was greasy and delicious. I interpreted the dish as less of a soup and more of a noodle stir fry served in broth. It’s too good to be just a soup! The dish altogether had a smoky flavor and was very hearty. The noodles were more al dente and chewier than the ones I’ve been making, but they were also much fresher. The crunchy bean sprouts and chewy noodles created a nice contrast of textures. The meat in the dish added a delicious greasiness to the soup. The ground pork was sprinkled throughout the meal. There was only one thin, fatty piece of roast pork in the soup, but it seemed to be enough.
The dish was as fun to eat as it was delicious. I was armed with a soup spoon and a pair of chopsticks and had to alternate between the two to get both the broth and the substance. I came at the noodles with my chopsticks and then sipped the broth between bites. The nori, however, confused me. Was I just supposed to pick it up with my hands and eat it, or was I supposed to put it in the soup and roll up the noodles in it like ramen sushi?
I was too stuffed for dessert, but Daikaya offers soft serve ice cream with kooky toppings like wasabi!
Why have I waited this long to have ramen? Daikaya, I will definitely be back. I will also be looking out for more ramen bars in DC. Readers, if you have any recommendations, please let me know. In the meantime, I will be consulting this list.
The Bottom Line:
The ramen at Daikaya was delicious. I have no complaints. The restaurant was small and became increasingly crowded during my visit. I was seated next to other patrons at the bar. If you have a problem sitting next to strangers or with personal space, just pretend you’re in Tokyo, where everything is compact. Sitting in front of the kitchen was entertaining. The service was solid, but I felt a little bit rushed. I understand that they have a lot of customers trying to get in, but Daikaya should focus on pleasing the customers who are already seated.
705 6th Street NW (Chinatown/Penn Quarter)
Washington, DC 20001