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As elite athletes from around the world are about to discover, Tokyo gets sweaty in the summer. That doesn’t stop the people who live there from ordering noodles year round. One of the most popular dishes—zaru soba—consists of room temperature skinny buckwheat noodles nestled atop a bamboo mat that you plunge into a dashi-based broth. Eating the slippery noodles once they’re coated in the savory dipping sauce requires Olympic-level chopsticks skills, but it’s worth it. Even if you’re not carb-loading for the most important athletic event of your life, there are plenty of Japanese noodle dishes to try in D.C. that are perfect for summer slurping. These six are among our favorites:
Cold Soba With Yellowtail and Salmon Roe at Akira Ramen & Izakaya DC ($18)
2479 18th St. NW, (202) 588-1510, akiraramendc.com
Japanophiles in the D.C. area would do themselves a favor by paying a little more attention to Akira in Adams Morgan. In addition to various styles of ramen, they have dishes commonly found at Japanese pubs that make great drinking snacks, like gyoza (dumplings) and street food like takoyaki (doughy orbs with octopus bits in the center).
Right now, you should gravitate to Akira’s selection of house-made cold soba noodles served with a dashi-based broth to which you can add wasabi and scallions for more flavor. Choose the one that comes topped with thickly sliced yellowtail sashimi and salmon roe, grated daikon radish, and ginger. Spoon on the poached egg that comes on the side for silkiness and add pickles for some crunch. If you don’t want to dip, employees say you can pour the sauce into the bowl, though the mixture gets a little murky.
Hiyashi Chuka at Haikan ($8 for a small, $13.75 for a regular size portion)
805 V St. NW, (202) 299-1000, haikandc.com
The rainbow of typical toppings for hiyashi chuka remind Chef Katsuya Fukushima of a chef’s salad. They consist of neatly arranged strips of egg crepes, cucumber, ham, and imitation crab or shrimp. When he set out to introduce a version of cold ramen preparation at Haikan in Shaw, he got a little more creative.
Fukushima serves the chilled noodles with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, ground chicken, Szechuan oil, and a dressing made from soy sauce and vinegar. Most of the restaurant’s piping hot bowls of ramen feature pork, hence why Fukushima went with chicken. He struggles to understand why hiyashi chuka isn’t more popular right now.
“Cold noodles is a very hard sell,” Fukushima says. “What you could equate it to is a cold pasta salad and when do you eat that besides picnics? But I love it. It’s refreshing.” He vows to keep trying to convert people. “Maybe the Tokyo Olympics and the hot summer will spark something.”
Truffle Shoyu Ramen at Menya Hosaki ($18)
845 Upshur St. NW, (202) 330-3977, menyahosakidc.com
If you’re going to stomach a steaming bowl of ramen in the sweltering heat, opt for a selection with a clear shio- or shoyu-based broth instead of a heavier, creamier type like tonkotsu. Petworth’s Menya Hosaki dresses up its shoyu ramen with a squirt of truffle oil that integrates seamlessly and isn’t at all overwhelming. The restaurant comes from chef and owner Eric Yoo, who makes the noodles in house. Of all the ramen-accompanying eggs out there, Menya Hosaki wins out. The texture of the yolk is practically pudding-like and it absorbs the smokiness of the soup. Take a seat in the air conditioning and pair the truffle shoyu ramen with a cold Japanese beer.
Tempura Hiyashi Udon at Sushi Taro ($17)
1503 17th St. NW, (202) 462-8999, sushitaro.com
Sushi Taro introduced a new menu item two weeks ago that stars the Dupont Circle restaurant’s house-made udon noodles. Chef Nobu Yamazaki says the white wheat noodles have a great chew to them and are a little longer than the store-bought variety.
“Udon and soba have been on the menu in every Japanese restaurant for so long, but most people only know the hot soup noodle when it comes to udon,” Yamazaki says. “But there are lots of ways to eat udon and soba, depending on the weather. We’d like to introduce a summertime dish.”
Diners are supposed to pour the chilled, soy-based broth over the noodles and “mix it all up,” according to Yamazaki. Sushi Taro serves shrimp tempura on the side. Diners can decide whether to place them atop the cold soup or eat them separately between slurps.
Yamazaki’s brother and business partner, Jin Yamazaki, says diners should look forward to another cold dish that will debut later this summer—cold soba noodles flavored with sudachi, a lime-like Japanese citrus fruit. There’s also a cold somen noodle course included in Sushi Taro’s kaiseki tasting menu that comes with grilled ayu, a small fish that plays well with charcoal.
BLT Yakisoba at Hatoba ($14)
300 Tingey St. SE #170, (202) 488-4800, hatobadc.com
The word yakisoba can be a little confusing because the stir-fried noodles that are ubiquitous at street festivals in Japan don’t use delicate soba noodles that can’t take the heat of a wok. Yakisoba makers instead use a wheat noodle that’s similar to a squiggly ramen noodle. Hatoba simply repurposes its ramen noodles from the Nishiyama noodle factory in Sapporo, Japan.
Chef Katsuya Fukushima thought to add a selection of yakisoba dishes to the Hatoba menu because the restaurant is by Nationals Park. He has fond memories of eating yakisoba at baseball games in Japan out of plastic containers.
One take is inspired by a classic summer sandwich. “I wanted to do something that’s relatable and a BLT is very relatable,” Fukushima explains. The noodles are fried with with Applewood-smoked bacon, charred romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, shio tare (a salt-based flavoring agent for ramen), and irregular stripes of Kewpie mayo—Japan’s greatest contribution to the condiment world.
“Regular yakisoba almost always has cabbage in it, so I thought instead of cabbage let’s do lettuce,” Fukushima says. “I love wokked lettuce.” When he created the dish, tomatoes were coming into season. And bacon seemed like a fun substitute for other types of pork that usually go into yakisoba. “It’s becoming a BLT on a plate. It birthed itself.”
Bukkake Cold Soba at Rakuya ($9)
1900 Q St. NW, (202) 265-7258, rakuyarestaurant.com
If dipping isn’t appealing, another style of cold soba noodles calls for them to arrive at the table already submerged in a chilled dashi-based broth. Rakuya in Dupont Circle adds kinpira gobo (braised burdock root), scallions, kaiware sprouts, egg, bamboo shoots, tempura flakes for texture, and wasabi. While the toppings are vegetarian, dashi is typically made with dried bonito flakes.
This dish isn’t currently on the menu, but partner Marcel The says it will make its return for July and August. Like most of the menu at Rakuya, the bukkake cold soba dish is a great value at $9. A friendly atmosphere and generous portion sizes help pack Rakuya with neighborhood regulars.