Toki Restaurant
2850 Johnson Drive, Suite E
Ventura
644-8654
$2.50-$8.50

When times get tough, the tough turn to ramen. If you have been or known anyone who has been a college student or laid off from a job, one of the secrets to survival has always been those bland but generally warm and filling packets of Top Ramen. But once you get up and running again, ramen falls off the menu.

However, if you are like me, reminiscing about your college days and wanting a bowl of ramen but unable to settle for quick-boil noodles with the freeze-dried chicken flavoring in the tinfoil packet, then check out Toki Restaurant. In all my years, I have never seen a bowl of ramen quite like this.

Toki is a quaint little restaurant or, to be blunt, a hole in the wall, on the east end with less than a dozen tables and red walls adorned with pictures of suped-up vans — yes, vans, not muscle cars. The staff of three included two in the kitchen and one extremely pleasant waitress — all of Asian descent. The ambience was found in the various Chinese lanterns as well as the staff, who all seemed to speak with some sort of Asian accent.

While I waited for my dinner companions to show up, I ordered a drink — no sort of liquor license yet, and the sodas only come in cans. After the waitress brought my soda, I ordered gyoza (a homemade pan-fried potsticker with what I believe to be pork), egg rolls (a blend of something similar to a thick, juicy chicken stew), edamame (boiled soy beans) and “yakko” (cold tofu with bonito — fish — flakes, green onion and ginger).

My companions finally arrived, which included my 6-year-old son, just in time for all the appetizers. As far as the consensus goes, the gyoza went most quickly — the pan-fried potstickers were really tasty, the semi-crisp skin of the wonton wrappers making the dish. We tried the egg rolls next. Being the moistest and most unique egg rolls I have ever come across, for that alone, I would come back for a take out order. The only downfall for the two appetizers was that there wasn’t really any sort of dipping sauce, besides what tasted like chili oil that came with the order and the minced garlic, pickled ginger, rice vinegar and soy sauce that’s on every table. The edamame was just as good as can be — you really can’t go wrong with soy beans and dipping them in a bowl of soy sauce.

The most interesting appetizer was the yakko. If one does not like fish or tofu, this dish may be appropriately named phonetically. But if you like tofu, as I do, and if you like interesting flavoring — bonito flakes are not any American’s typical dietary staple — then I would highly suggest getting this dish. If you are an Andrew Zimmerman fan, then you can’t pass it up. If you like the familiar, probably best to stay away. Keep in mind, the ginger is raw and powerful.

Next, dinner. Known as the only ramen noodle restaurant in Ventura, we went for ramen all the way. We ordered Negi-ramen, a noodle soup that comes with egg, chashu (Japanese-style sautéed sliced pork), green onion, and seaweed. We also ordered the volcano-ramen, a spicy miso-flavored noodle soup with bean sprouts and ground pork.

We also tried the pork fried rice and the chicken teriyaki bowl.

With the two ramen dishes — let me be clear — you must really like ramen. If you are on a low-carb diet or you are looking for more meat and veggies, I would not suggest ordering these dishes. There are dinner entrees devoted to meat and chicken, so I would opt for that if you are looking for more protein. (FYI — If you are a pho lover, this isn’t necessarily the place to go.) The real winner here is, of course, the noodle lover. My son ate most of my noodles and half my companion’s noodles. My non-noodle-ordering companion said that for $5.90, the chicken (and veggies) teriyaki bowl was good enough. He did say he wished it was a bit heavier on the meat and veggies, but thought it was a good price, nonetheless. The fried rice was up to par, though my son filled up too fast on noodles to eat it.

The wrap up: If you love ramen, check out Toki. If you reminisce about earlier times, check out Toki. If you like suped-up vans, check out Toki. While I am personally on a diet to avoid carbs, I feel I may just yield to temptation with those egg rolls — truly unique.

I would recommend this restaurant for anyone who wants tasty ramen noodle dishes. If you are reminiscing of those days of little cash and looking for a unique ramen dish, make sure to check out Toki. 

michael@vcreporter.com