That First Slurp of Ramen at Yona, DC's Japanese Hotspot

By Kacy Kish, Washington DC ambassador

When I first moved from Oklahoma to the DC area, I lived in Arlington’s questionably named neighborhood of Ballston. The area was convenient to my job in Tyson’s Corner, and was filled with people my age overpaying on rent and going out to the copious sports bars in the area (one of those people turned out to be my darling husband).

But that was really all there was to do – drink cheap beer and eat wings at the half-dozen sports bars lining the streets. Not that I don’t enjoy doing those things, I very much do (and it was all I could afford at the time), but sometimes a person needs a little variety.

Eventually, Tom and I decided to move into the district, and in a silly twist of fate, the week after we signed our lease I landed a new job in, wouldn’t ya know, Ballston. For the past three plus years we’ve lived in DC and commuted back into Virginia. Now, Tom and I both work in Ballston and this little neighborhood where we met and fell in love has grown up right along with us.

In the past year, dozens of new and exciting restaurants have opened in the area – several of them owned by DC celebrity chef, Mike Isabella. The first was Kapnos Taverna, an offshoot of the successful DC Greek restaurant of the same name, followed by Pepita, a Mexican concept specializing in cocktails.

This week, a third Isabella concept hit the scene, with Chef Jonah Kim formerly of Pabu in Baltimore at the helm. Suddenly, Ballston is hip!

Yona opened on Monday, November 30th 2015, after much anticipation, serving up hot ramen and other Japanese dishes.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

I went all paparazzi with this photo. On the right is George Pagonis, Kapnos executive chef and Top Chef Season 12 competitor. On the right is Jonah Kim himself.

We visited on opening day, being that I was actually in the office (I work from home three or more days a week) and it was raining and gross and a bowl of ramen sounded incredible. As you can see, the dining room is rather small making for a cozy dining experience. Most seating is communal. Tom and I were seated next to each other, instead of across from each other.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

I like the idea of the open seating, but would have preferred if we’d sat across from each other so we didn’t feel like we were constantly eavesdropping on the guys sitting across from us. Tom arrived before me and ordered a Japanese white cream soda while he pondered the small but somewhat mystifying menu. 

They offer a variety of these sodas (melon, grape and the white cream I believe) along with American sodas and several teas. I opted for water, since salty foods like ramen can sometimes give me a migraine if I don’t stay properly hydrated.

A caveat of going to a restaurant on the day it opens is that you know there will be at least a few kinks in the service. While our servers were all very polite and attentive, we received very little information about the menu items. This was a bit of a problem since I recognized only about 20% of the ingredients on the menu.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

I asked what the difference was between the first ramen choice, Miso Porky, and the second, Tonkotsu ramen, and was told that the first one had pork while the second one did not. Perhaps not the most helpful, but I’ll give it a pass on opening day.

Tom went with the porky version, which definitely had a strong essence of miso that I found very enjoyable. It also had the slightest bit of spice from the kimchi topping. I went with the non-pork version, which oddly enough still had one piece of pork in it. I assume this was a mistake, but maybe bonus pork is a thing? 

The tonkotsu broth was very smoky, with ginger being the predominant flavor. It was good, but a touch too salty. We both thought the eggs and noodles were cooked to perfection, but wished there had been some heat to the dishes (spice-wise, the temperature was on point). We noticed after ordering that you can add a spice bomb at an extra cost, but we had already started eating and didn’t want to wait to order it and for it to come out. Next time, I’ll definitely add spice to kick things up a notch.

Source: Badsentences.com

Source: Badsentences.com

And will there be a next time? Absolutely. I won’t lie, this is not the best ramen that I’ve had in the DC area (Daikayastill has my heart) but I love that it’s right down the street from my office on days when I need a warm bowl of noodles.

The communal seating offered us a peek at some of the small plates, which I definitely want to sample in the future – the uni wafflesdry-fried wings and crispy Brussels sprouts in particular.

Yona is open for lunch through this week and will begin dinner service on Friday December 4th. Reservations can be made here. After all those celebrity chef name drops, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the new season of Top Chef premieres tonight with THREE DC chefs competing for the title. I’m a sucker for this show, especially when there are local chefs to root for. Tell me I’m not the only one still watching?

About the Author

This post originally appeared on Kacy’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled First Slirp at Yona in Ballston. Kacy runs the DC blog, Bad Sentences, and is also a cultural ambassador contributor for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.