New York Favorite Mu Ramen Seeks a Washington Location

Chef/owner Joshua Smookler tests out the market with a pop-up this weekend.

Mu Ramen, coming to Burke--and possibly a permanent home in Washington. Photograph via Mu Ramen Facebook.

When diners head to the Mu Ramen pop-up this weekend, they won’t just be getting a taste of the noodle soups ranked number one by the New York Times. Chef/owner Joshua Smookler says he and wife Heidy are using her parent’s Virginia restaurant, H Pho, as a testing ground for a future Washington venture.

“If people are willing to come out to Burke, we may just do it,” says Smookler. “She [Heidy] always wanted to do a ramen shop in the Washington DC area, and we thought it would be interesting to see what kind of feedback we get.”

Though there’s a possibility a Mu Ramen branch will open in the suburbs, Smookler says they’re actively looking in Arlington and Georgetown. If a sister restaurant to their Queens original comes to fruition, it will bring a different style of ramen to the city.

Smookler never trained with a ramen master—instead he worked under Thomas Keller at Per Se in Manhattan. His approach to ingredients is telling of a fine dining background. The broth in Mu’s “Tonkotsu 2.0” is made with prized Kurabata pork bones and topped with a lush piece of braised jowl. An uni appetizer, another prize-winner, arrives with the highest-grade tuna and sea urchin sourced from the best locations in either California or Japan. Fried chicken wings are stuffed with Hudson Valley foie gras. The pop-up’s prices reflect the quality, cost, and labor involved with these ingredients, which is important to keep in mind when dishing out $15 to $18 per bowl.

The style of ramen is also distinct. Smookler, a Korean-American who grew up in New York with a Jewish family, was first attracted to the noodle soup because of its fluid background.

“There are many different styles, no one can say this is authentic or not authentic,” says Smookler.

The signature Mu Ramen, on the menu this weekend, is emblematic. Smookler adopted the oxtail and bone marrow broth from a soup he tried in a Korean restaurant, and discovered the perfect topping—house-made corned beef, half-sour pickles, cabbage—when digging into a sandwich at Katz’s Deli.

“I was like ‘oh my god, that’s it.’ It’s the epitome of New York-style or American-style ramen,” says Smookler. “That’s what makes the US so great— we’re a melting pot.”

Though a pho shop in Burke may seem like an odd location to dig into such dishes, that’s part of the idea: crowd control. When a similar Mu pop-up happened in Boston’s Harvard Square, unexpected crowds swarmed and overwhelmed the kitchen. This weekend Mu will serve their menu (see a sample) on Saturday and Sunday from 7 to 10, only 12 seats at a time, until the food is gone.

“Honestly I don’t think anyone’s going to show up,” says Smookler.

We’ll see.

Mu Ramen pop-up. 9546 Old Keene Mill Rd., Burke. Saturday and Sunday, 7 to 10.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.