When most college students crave ramen noodles, they think of Styrofoam cups, sodium-packed yellow broth and peas and carrots that taste like cardboard.
These cups are fine for a late night study snack, but you can find a more authentic version at Toki Underground, a Taiwanese noodle spot in Northeast.
Toki Underground is hip. The restaurant is tiny, with seating for no more than 20 people. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style. Tables line the walls, and patrons sit bar-style and rest their feet on old skateboards. Other surfaces are decorated with Asian street art or jars of Asian spices, and hip-hop music easily fills the small space. The atmosphere is geared toward a young, adventurous crowd and complements the trendy yet traditional Asian cuisine.
Though best known for its noodles, Toki is also highly praised for its dumplings. The menu offers five different types of dumplings, which come fried, pan-fried or steamed. My friend and I each got an order, hers steamed pork and mine pan-fried seafood. Maybe it was the hype, but neither of us was too impressed. Despite having a decent texture and coming with a delicious Japanese barbeque dipping sauce, both varieties lacked overall flavor. At $5 for 6 dumplings, the upside was the reasonable pricing.
We also ordered a side of kimchi, a Korean pickled cabbage dish for $2. I thought it was tasty— sweet and not too spicy — but my friend was not a fan.
The noodles themselves were a different story. I ordered the Thursday special, Taiwanese-style beef noodles for $12. The bowls are enormous for such a decent price, as one could easily feed two people. The best part of my dish was the beef, braised and wonderfully tender. The broth and additional toppings were delicious, with baby bok choy, scallions and surprisingly appealing pickled mustard greens. The overall effect was seamlessly tangy and salty, with a great texture and depth of flavor.
My friend’s $10 Toki Hakata Classic had a slightly salty broth, but it was rich and satisfying when eaten with pork loin chashu and noodles. The noodles in both dishes were thin and perfectly cooked, serving as a great base for the unique and often contrasting flavors.
For dessert, we got the special – coconut sorbetto with smoked sea salt and shortbread cookies, for $3. Though small in size, the sorbetto was creamy and fresh, and the cookies were a crunchy bonus.
We also tried the Warm Cookies for $7, which turned out to be Chinese almond cookies served with a glass of cold milk. They were, as promised, fresh-from-the-oven warm. The flaky, chewy and buttery cookies proved a delightfully sweet end to a savory and flavorful meal. By the time we left at around 7 p.m., the line to get a seat was out the door.
Overall, the restaurant was solid. The appetizers were mediocre at best, but the noodles and the desserts were well worth the 50-minute bus ride to the other side of the city. So next time you reach for your Ramen, shut the microwave door, grab a friend and venture over to Toki Underground for great noodles that come in a bowl bigger than your head – not a Styrofoam cup.