WASHINGTON -- Since Toki Underground opened in April 2011, the Taiwanese-style ramen haven has been renowned -- and rightly so -- for its noodle soups. It has even been hailed as D.C.'s own "ramen wonderland."
But as guests are happily slurping their miso hakata and kimchi ramen, they may be missing out on the other pillar of Toki's simple but delicious menu: dumplings.
Dumplings, those classic fried pockets stuffed with savory meat or vegetables, can be found in varying degrees of quality around the city, from the sublime to the forgettable or, worse, the regrettably mushy. But those at Toki Underground are worth the wait that a visit to the popular-but-tiny H Street eatery is likely to entail.
At Toki, dumplings cost $5 for a filling half dozen, stuffed with chicken, beef, pork, seasonal vegetables or seasonal seafood. Choose from pan-fried, fried or steamed. (For those wondering, pan-frying uses less oil than regular frying).
Fried dumplings arrive looking like modern art on a plate, carefully splashed with house-made sweet and sour sauce and topped with scallions and sesame seeds. The skins are crispy and not greasy. While owner/head chef Erik Bruner-Yang says pork dumplings are the most popular of the fillings, the vegetable morsels are not to be missed either.
On a recent evening, "seasonal vegetables" in the meatless dumplings meant garlicky, juicy greens, which were moderately spicy and substantial enough to satisfy both vegetarians and carnivores. The steamed option feels less indulgent, but no less tasty for that, thankfully avoiding the doughy, depressingly sticky quality that afflicts many incarnations of this healthier cooking method.
Bruner-Yang said he's especially proud of the fact that everything at Toki is made to order, and that even the dumpling wrappers are prepared in-house. After conferring with a server, you'll hear your order shouted in the small, open kitchen and see the ineffably cool, tattooed cooks begin assembling it.
The kitchen is overseen by the scruffy and serene Bruner-Yang, who has a lot on his mind these days. According to recent reports, he's in the process of preparing a new culinary endeavor, a "next generation Eastern Market" down the street from Toki.