Dirty Dishing: Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang and his Toy Troubles

Tragicomic insider stories about the trials, tribulations, and just plain weird stuff that happens when you run a restaurant.

Before Toki Underground’s chef-owner Erik Bruner-Yang knew that he was going to open a ramen shop, he took a trip back to his homeland of Taiwan. While he was visiting, he stopped in at the flagship store of vinyl toy company C.I. Boys.  “They’re Taiwan’s equivalent of Kidrobot,” he explains.

The shop was having a massive sale on their colorful collectible figurines, so Bruner-Yang promptly bought nearly 2,000 of them. It ended up costing him more than $3,000, not including the giant suitcase he had to purchase to carry them all.

To return to the States, Bruner-Yang and his mother had to fly through Japan. As they were going through security, officials pulled him aside. They wanted to see inside his big bag. When they unzipped it, they were confronted with hundreds of small, unopened boxes.

Politely, but “super seriously,” they asked Bruner-Yang to take a seat, because they were going to have to open every single box. “If I was a toy collector, that would have been my freak out moment,” he says.

Finish reading this installment of Dirty Dishing over on CityEats’ Plate blog now.


Fueled by Ramen: Toki Underground Brings Taste of Taiwan to D.C.


H Street ramen joint Toki Underground is filled with a symphony of sounds: dumplings sizzling on the grill, indie music swelling out of the speakers and the staff cheerfully calling out orders. Chef-owner Erik Bruner-Yang splits his time between cooking and keeping an eye on the cozy, counter-lined dining room. “There’s Dean; there’s Brook; there’s Kristin,” he says as he points out customers slurping up steaming bowls of noodles. “Ramen shops are supposed to be for locals, so I should know everyone who walks in the door.”

Vision: To clarify: This is not the 10-packets-for-$1 Top Ramen you subsisted on in college; this is gourmand-approved, Taiwan-style ramen, which Bruner-Yang learned how to cook during a monthlong trip there in 2009. “I wanted people to feel like they were eating out in the streets of Taipei,” the Asian food mecca where he was born, Bruner-Yang says.

Finish reading this preview on the Express website now.