Daikaya forecast: It’s raining ramen

February 21, 2013

After an unbearably long day of walking from class to class in damp and depressing weather, I couldn’t wait to head to Chinatown to grab a steaming bowl of soup at Daikaya, D.C.’s latest ramen joint.

It took me quite a while to find the actual place—and no, it’s not because I’m directionally challenged; it’s because Daikaya didn’t have any actual signs (in fact, the entire front of the restaurant was just a plain black wall).The inside of the restaurant, however, was a completely different story. Looking around, I thought I had stepped into one of those old-school ramen shops from Naruto, though trendy, modern detailing worked in harmony with the typical fixtures you’d expect in a traditional noodle spot.

Service-wise, I found the staff to be welcoming and hospitable. I was seated almost instantly, and my waitress was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. She told me that most other ramen restaurants that make Tonkotsu-style ramen (which is pork broth-based), Daikaya’s ramen is made Sapporo-style (which is clear and miso-based), and that Daikaya imports its ramen directly from Nishiyama Noodles in Sapporo, Hokkaido, which is renowned for making noodles with “special Japanese water and flour.” In fact, my waitress recommended that I eat my ramen before any other parts of my meal because the Nishiyama noodles actually dissolve into the broth when left idle for too long.

Daikaya’s menu was pleasantly simple. There were only four main options: the Shio Ramen (made with salt broth), the Shoyu Ramen (made with soy sauce broth), the Mugi-Miso Ramen (made with barley-miso ramen), and the vegetable Shio Ramen (basically a vegan version of the Shio Ramen). According to my waitress, the most popular were the Shio and Mugi-Miso, though the Shio tastes more elegant and subtle compared to the Mugi-Miso, which she described as “bold” and “in-your-face.” In the end, I decided to try the gyoza (a Japanese crescent-shaped dumpling filled with pork and cabbage) and the Mugi-Miso.

My bowl of ramen came out in about five minutes, and I quickly realized within a few seconds of my first bite that my waitress wasn’t lying about its flavor. Although my order was tasty, I felt like I was eating a giant slab of steak or a big juicy hamburger in noodle soup form. The gyoza, which came out a few minutes later, was much more subtle in flavor than the Mugi-Miso; it took me a few bites and several long minutes of chewing to conclude that I liked it.

Ultimately, while Daikaya may not serve the best ramen I’ve ever had, its great service and wonderful ambience still make it a great restaurant to try and visit. My overall experience there was definitely worth the $10-15 I paid for my meal, and the next time I’m craving ramen after a basketball game at the Verizon Center, you’ll know where to find me.

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