Faculty Favorites: Mr. Welch sends me to Daikaya

Photo+courtesy+of+Margot+Durfee

Photo courtesy of Margot Durfee

Margot Durfee

Finding a tasty and affordable restaurant in DC can be hard. I want to help.

This month I asked students and staff at Wilson about their favorite restaurants and chose one to review: Daikaya, a small ramen-noodle bar near Chinatown.

Daikaya is the choice of 10th-grade English teacher Joseph Welch. A former restaurant manager, Welch shared one of his secrets to distinguishing a great restaurant from a mediocre one: the “three steps in” principle. Three steps through the door, he scans the dining area for cleanliness and organization.

“If the restaurant is not paying attention to details that the guests can see, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in what they are doing in the kitchen,” he explained. “Daikaya is clean and cool, but organized, and they have an open kitchen so you can see what the chefs are doing and you can tell that they care about what they are doing.”

I decided to visit Daikaya and see for myself.

The restaurant itself is quite small, with only about seven tables and “bar” seating in front of the open kitchen. This, in combination with there being no reservations, results in a long wait to get a table during busy hours.

I got a seat at the bar, facing the kitchen. Crates of ramen were piled on one counter, while chefs busily added ingredients to steaming pots almost bigger than the stool I was sitting on. Two paper signs hung above the kitchen with Japanese characters painted in black ink along with the phrase, “Be happy and slurp.” Dozens of bowls of ramen were being pushed out next to me. Welch was right: despite the sheer number of orders coming in, the chefs were organized, calm, and smiling. One chef even had a hat with the words, “Just bring out the ramen”.

Excluding additional toppings like eggs, extra noodles, and a “spice bomb,” ramen ranges from $13.25 to $14.25. While the price is on the higher end of affordable eats, you certainly get your money’s worth. Not only is the ramen delicious, but the bowl is filled to the brim with long-simmered stock and noodles made and imported from Hokkaido, one of the Japanese hubs for ramen. While ramen is the main course offered, gyoza (Japanese fried dumplings) and steamed rice are offered as side dishes. But if you aren’t going to eat ramen, I would advise you to find another restaurant.

On Welch’s recommendation, I ordered the spicy miso ramen, which was $14.25. Within five minutes, a steaming bowl of ramen sat before me. The noodles were chewy but delicate, soaking in the flavor from the rich spicy miso broth. The broth itself was full of complex flavors, ranging from a tang of spice, the saltiness of the miso, and a sweet, creamy aftertaste. Crispy bean sprouts, scallions, grilled onion, ground pork, and a tender slab of chashu (roast pork) added a further dimension to the ramen.

My dining companions (my dad and sister) ordered the Shio Ramen (chicken-based stock), and the Shoyu Ramen (soy-sauce-based), which both looked equally as good. We shared an order of the gyoza, pan-fried dumplings with rich and juicy pork and cabbage filling. I recommend ordering a nitamago egg (soft-boiled egg) with your ramen because it brings the flavor to another level. They also sell glass bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola, a version of Coke that is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, which is great for cutting the flavor of the ramen—cleansing your palate when it gets too overwhelming.

I would give Daikaya 4.5 out of five stars. Not only does it taste delicious and authentic, but the atmosphere makes the experience even more exciting. If you are a ramen lover or want to try something new, I recommend trying it out. Just make sure to plan for a line, though the wait is worth it.

Despite him introducing me to the restaurant, Welch shouldn’t get all the credit for this discovery. His fiance was the one that first told him about it. “She’s usually up on the restaurants before I am,” he said with a grin. Now, every time they watch a movie in Chinatown, they stop off at Daikaya to grab a bite. •