While high-sodium ramen packets are usually a college staple, these D.C. noodle bars have authentic flavors that put the shrink-wrapped noodles on supermarket shelves to shame.
Ramen restaurants add real meats and spices to the mix, ingredients the powdered alternatives can’t provide. Whether you want to dress up your bowl with an egg, extra noodles or a flavor bomb of spice or soy, these joints bring you Japanese cuisine that transcends trends with endless options.
It may be tempting to opt for its 99-cent cousin, but you won’t regret swapping out the minute meal for the real deal at these D.C. ramen restaurants.
Tang Noodle and Kung Fu Tea
1990 M St. NW
The two-in-one business Tang Noodle and Kung Fu Tea made its debut last week in a spot close to campus. Tang Noodle serves ramen in the popular create-your-own style ($9.90), and also offers bubble tea in a variety of flavors ($3.25).
With a vegetable base, the ramen we ordered was topped with an assortment of veggies, like bok choy, bean sprouts, mushrooms and sauteed greens. The dish reminded us of the powdered chicken flavor that comes with store-bought ramen and the broth was extremely salty just like the packet. While the fresh toppings were a strong addition to the dish, it was all served in a deep cardboard bowl that made eating difficult.
The bubble tea at this restaurant shines and comes in flavors like Taro Milk Green Tea ($3.25) or Kung Fu Oolong Tea ($3.25). The drink balanced out its sugars with boba bubbles adding a perfect tapioca texture.
The restaurant threw us a curveball by accepting cash-only for tea, but they accepted credit cards for the ramen. Even though this new joint had hiccups, the ramen at Tang Noodle hit the spot on a frigid afternoon and its proximity to campus is tempting.
Daikaya Ramen Bar
705 Sixth St. NW
Daikaya gives you traditional fare in an exclusive establishment. We had to wait 30 minutes for a table on a Thursday night because the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but it was easy to pass the time strolling the streets of Chinatown, and the ramen was worth the wait.
The atmosphere recalls a modern and industrial tea house. With seating among strangers at low wooden shared tables, the restaurant created a warm and welcoming environment.
The restaurant offers traditional bowls for those with a refined palette. In a traditional noodle style popularly made in the city of Sapporo, Japan, the shoyu ramen ($13.25) consisted of rich miso ramen topped with sweet corn, bean sprouts, butter, garlic and pork. This classic rendition had dark umami flavors that soaked into the pork and boiled egg served on top.
Daikaya’s vegetable ramen ($13.75) did not pale in comparison. The veggies gave a charred flavor to the broth, which was brightened by the green onion garnish and house-made carrot hot sauce.
If you really want to kick this college staple up a notch, Daikaya provides an exciting culinary experience.
JINYA Ramen Bar
1336 14th St. NW
While the spot may be hindered by modern interpretations of its chain menu, the hipster vibe at JINYA Ramen Bar makes for a fun meal.
The Instagram-able location features hardwood and brick flooded with an intoxicating salty aroma. Its curated indie-electronic soundtrack drowned out slurping sounds and had us Shazam-ing every song.
The chain has locations across the United States and Canada, serving up crowd pleasers including spicy chicken ramen ($14.75), old skool ramen ($14) and JINYA tonkotsu black ($14.75). The ramen bar ups the ante with customization and a build-your-own ramen option, with 27 toppings or add-ons ranging from 75 cents to $3.
The only downside is the menu displays the calorie count, but the balance of sweet and tangy flavors and extra noodles for only $3 overshadows any caloric consumption.
1501 Ninth St. NW
Chaplin’s eclectic and quirky aesthetic is confidently vintage and its menu also utilizes unique ingredients.
The restaurant transports you back to the ’20s, projecting black and white films on the walls as waiters in suspenders serve ramen and strong cocktails under seductively dim lighting. Its outdoor patio, with space heaters for the fall, is comfortably brisk between sips of warm broth.
The fried vegetable gyoza ($8) was a perfectly crunchy and tangy teaser for our bowl of Ten Ten Men ramen with butter corn, wasabi root and a nutty broth ($15), which is shareable. The ramen broth tasted earthy and spicy and was hidden under a mountain of noodles.
Chaplin’s cocktails ($10 to $15) are playful and come served in brass monkey mugs and other large glasses. In between $1 sake bombs, sip until you get brain freeze from frozen cocktails like the Tokyo Tea ($12), made with a medley of liquors along with coconut liqueur, matcha and cream soda.