Thursday, October 6, 2011

People's Noodle Bar

My love for noodles has been exhaustively documented on TwoDC so it should come as no surprise that when I heard there was a semi-secret ramen pop-up restaurant in DC, I let out a squeal.

This informative article from Thrillist tipped me off to the fact that the guy behind People's Bao, who sells his "hot asian buns" (his term, not mine) at farmer's markets in the area, launched a Saturday night only ramen fiesta inside Senor Chicken in Columbia Heights. When B said he needed to go to Target in Columbia Heights, I squealed again. "Oooooooh it's Saturday! We can have nooooodles!" If you're getting the sense that I squeal a lot, you're right. Living with me is a non-stop party.

So after getting our Target and BBB on, and not spying Michelle Obama in the process, we walked around the corner to Senor Chicken. While we could find no evidence of it on our blog, we have eaten Senor Chicken in the past. Neither of us could remember much about it, and we hoped that the ramen would provide a more memorable experience.

We could tell immediately that we were in the right place at the right time (only between 6:30 and 9:30 pm on Saturdays) because the clientele of Senor Chicken skewed heavily to the hipster variety. Our second clue was that there were no chickens being roasted in the giant rotisserie machines. The third clue was that there were people eating ramen out of giant bowls. I'm a regular Sherlock Holmes!

We wait in a very short line and walked up to the man taking the orders. I ask if there is a ramen menu and he laughed and said that there are so many varieties of toppings that he can't name them (I later noticed that the Thrillist article has a link to a menu). He then says that tonight they have pork-style ramen and veggie-style. I order one of each, and let him know we want it spicy, but not mouth-obliterating. We pay and take a seat.

About 5 minutes later, our number is called and I go up to get the two steaming bowls of ramen. The Senor Chicken employee charged with handing out the food doesn't know which bowl is veggie and which bowl is pork. Not a big deal for us since we're not vegetarians, but could be an issue if you have sensitive dietary restrictions. We poked around the bowls until we found pork evidence (there's that detective work again!) and figured out which one is which.

My very first reaction to my veggie ramen was that it could us a little more spice to jazz it up. Every ingredient was delicious (including great chewy/soft ramen), but the flavor was a little more muted than I hoped. B's pork ramen did not suffer the same issue, which goes to show you that pork parts makes everything better.

My first DC ramen crush was on Toki Underground. I still think Toki serves better ramen, but there was something very fun about going into Senor Chicken, eating ramen, and watching passerbys stare, confused, through the window. While I've read about long lines and sell outs, we didn't have to wait long for our ramen, which makes it infinitely easier to deal with than Toki. I suggest going early and making a night out of it. You can roam the aisles of Target after dinner, arm in arm, bellies full of noodles. Who could ask for a better date night?

Second Thoughts from B

It is impossible not to compare People's Bao's ramen to Toki's, and according to their twitter feeds, the battle has begun. They are certainly the gold standard in our book.

Remember the college drinking game "marry, f***, kill"? No? Let me take a moment to explain. Within a coed group of usually inebriated people, each individual must identify the one person in the room that they'd most want to marry, have sex with, and kill. No repeats. You can imagine the thoughtful discussions that follow...

So let's apply this concept to ramen:

Prior to the revelation that was Toki Underground, J and I found plenty of nominees for the "kill" category. When restaurants do not compare favorably to the stuff we ate in our dorm rooms, that is not a good sign.

Toki Underground is sexy, exotic, hip, and fun. I love our visits there, but it might be a little too much for my mother. You see where I'm going with this... a perfect candidate for the f*** category.

Finally, I'd definitely want to marry the bowl of ramen from People's Bao. It had the simple warmth and familiarity to it that is required in any good comfort food. While I'd miss my romps with Toki, I could settle down with this bowl of noodle soup for many happy years.


Kara B. said...

I have the urge to superimpose B's face over a clip of PeeWee Herman marrying a bowl of fruit salad. Do you all remember that? Good times. Good post!

Chows said...

Thanks for the info about this place. We will check it out!

reiko said...

Finally made it to People's Ramen last Saturday evening, but was extremely disappointed. The trek out on an evening near our twin babies' bedtime meant we were serious about trying out ramen. We arrived around 7:30pm and waited for half an hour! And still there were many orders before us. After feeding the kids' dinner and having a couple of restless babies in our hands, we had to leave. Maybe we had high expectations but ramen is supposed to be ready quickly. I was really looking forward to getting my fix of ramen, but very very disappointed.

J said...

Sorry to hear you didn't get to try the ramen. From other reviews I have read you need to show up right when they open to avoid a huge wait. We arrived just after 6:30. The wait at Toki is generally very long too. Ren's Ramen in Wheaton might be a better spot for bringing kids and avoiding a crazy wait.