Words by Kaylee Dugan, Photos by Nicholas Karlin
I have never been to Daikaya. I have tried to go many times. Every single time, without fail, there is at least a two hour wait. The time or date doesn’t matter. I’ve tried Saturday nights, middle of the day on a Thursday, it doesn’t matter. I’m screwed no matter what.
Haikan is going to be the same way. I’m almost sure of it. The location can’t be denied. Situated right next to the 9:30 Club, Atlantic Plumbing Theater, and a (incredibly brief) walk away from U Street, it’s going to be a goddamn mad house.
It doesn’t hurt that the ramen is absolutely insanely delicious. Actually, everything I tried was delicious. From the small plates to the cocktails to dessert, it would be incredibly hard to make a bad choice here. It also doesn’t hurt that the space is beautiful. The good people at Streetsense and Haikan came together to make the bright and airy space feel interesting with lots of geometric cut outs, concrete backsplashes, and warm vintage colors. The style is inspired by D.C.’s very own (underrated) Brutalist buildings and the metabolism style of architecture that was popular in 60’s Japan. In a sea of dark, rustic, copper accented bars and restaurants, it works.
If you’re drinking (and you should be), it’s in your best interest that you start off with the Wasabi Peas. It’s made with Edinburgh Gin, yuzu, snowpeas, and wasabi, it’s bright, nuclear waste green. You’re hit with a nice soft sweetness at the top, and then a bright flash of that wasabi at the end. It’s a good way to jumpstart your palate.
Since you’re drinking, you’re going to need some snacks. Everything I tried off the small plate menu is great, so you’ll be fine regardless, but the true standout was the mapo tofu poutine with mapo tofu, mozarella curds, and ground szechuan peppercorn. It was salty and cheesy and felt like the platonic drunk food. They need to open a to-go window just for the poutine.
Before you settle in with some ramen, order their variation of an Old Fashioned, the Mukashifu. A combination of Iwai whiskey, Mirin, and bitters, it’s a beautiful sweet, boozy, balanced cocktail that pairs wonderfully with ramen.
I was lucky enough to taste the shio, shoyu, and miso ramens (because I bullied other people into ordering things I wanted to try) and I can tell you with 100% certainty that they are all lovely. You really cannot go wrong. Prices range from $12.25 to $13.75, with extra toppings costing between $.35 and $2.50. The shio is a lighter, more delicate ramen that really shows off the complexity of what Haikan is doing. The shoyu is perfect for those of us who always want a little more soy sauce in our lives. It’s heady and salty and even a hot summer day couldn’t stop me from enjoying it. While the miso, like the shio is a little lighter and cleaner. Like I said, you cannot go wrong.
For dessert, we had the Kakigori, a Japanese shaved ice. It’s a damn good summer treat. You cannot go wrong at Haikan, you just have to get here soon. Before everyone else does.