Words by Kaylee Dugan, Photos by Nicholas Karlin
I’m not a ramen expert. I like ramen a lot, but I don’t know enough about the dish (its history, its traditions, its regional variations) to really dig in and give you a full rundown of everything that’s going on. But I am a confident eater. I have to be… it’s part of my job. I know what I like, I usually know why I like it and I’m confident enough in my taste that I have no problem recommending things to others, or telling people to steer clear. I say all this because people are intense about their ramen opinions, and in a city where the folks at Daikaya (or Bantam King, or Haikan) reign supreme, there’s not a lot of space for competitors.
Which is why I’m glad JINYA has finally come to the District. The California chain opened up a location in the Mosaic District last summer, but this is it’s first official D.C. outpost. The idea behind the chain is not to replicate traditional ramen recipes, but to mix in western flavors and ingredients, which means you get interesting combinations like their Cha Cha Cha ramen, which is made for garlic lovers, or their Sprouting Up ramen which includes Brussels sprouts.
JINYA slots into D.C.’s current ramen scene perfectly. If you’re looking for top tier traditional stuff that will wow locals and tourists alike, you’re still going to go to Daikaya. If you want to get weird with it, JINYA wants to get weird with you. In fact, their menu is large enough that if you want ramen, but your friend / family member / Tinder date wants poke or curry or tacos, JINYA can make that happen. I usually prefer smaller menus. I feel lost and unsure when I’m presented with 50 different options, but Jinya is trying so hard to be good at so many different things, it almost seems endearing.
Starting with the small plates, you’re going to want to at least try the JINYA buns. They feature braised pork chashu, cucumber, mixed greens, JINYA’s own bun sauce and an artful swipe of kewpie mayo all wedged in a steamed bun. I wouldn’t be able to eat many of these because they lean on the rich side, but one is a good way to kick off a meal. We also tried the quinoa salad, and while it was refreshing and served as a great palate cleanser between the buns and the ramen, you’re at a ramen bar. Don’t order salad. I shouldn’t have to explain that.
Speaking of the ramen, we were lucky enough to try three bowls (my body was basically comprised of nothing but broth and noodle after this meal), the JINYA chicken ramen, the Sprouting Up ramen and the creamy vegan. The chicken ramen is good. It’s comforting, it’s filling, the thinner noodles were fantastic, but it’s boring in comparison to JINYA’s more creative offerings. The creamy vegan surprised us. I love tofu in a good broth, but I didn’t think I would like this one as much I did. The broth was amazing. It was fatty and decadent and definitely didn’t taste vegan. It wasn’t as spicy as I would have hoped, but a full spoons of hot sauce and everything came together. The thick, silky noodles solidified this dish for me. The next time I go back to JINYA, this is what I’m getting.
The Sprouting Up is also a good bet. It turns out adding delicious crispy Brussels sprouts to a rich and lovely pork and chicken broth is a good idea. Through in some pork chashu, kikurage, spicy bean sprouts, egg and some more of those A+ thick noodles and you have a damn good dish.
14th Street is definitely over saturated with restaurant choices, but I’m overjoyed at the fact that I’ll be able to get drunk ramen after stumbling out of ChurchKey. Forget the Shake Shack on the corner and get ready to inhale some spicy, salty goodness.
JINYA Ramen Bar, 1336 14th Street NW., is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday – Saturday.