A & J Restaurant–Rockville

Not your everyday Northern Chinese dim sum.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

When was the last time you had a sandwich at a Chinese restaurant? For an experience that challenges your notions of what Chinese cuisine is, head to these northern-Chinese dim sum parlors. Both locations attract a youngish crowd. Rockville, with trapeze lighting and spice-colored walls, is a bit trendier. Annandale has a more traditional look: faux stone and a mural of China.

Unlike the dumplings and noodles that characterize Hong Kong-style dim sum, the northern-Chinese version revolves around bread. The reason? The cold, dry climate of the north is suitable for growing wheat and millet rather than rice, a staple in the south. Breadstuffs include thousand-layer pancake (it actually has about 20) and what can only be described as a sandwich–two flaky, sesame-studded rectangles of dough with bits of pork or beef between them. To take a bite is to experience happiness.

Delicious dumplings the size of a Cuban cigar are stuffed with pork–they may look odd, but the taste is familiar. Steamed spareribs with spiced rice powder are worthwhile morsels, as are razor-thin shavings of pork. More substantial are two show-stopper soups. One has the bite of mustard greens; the other, a fiery beef stew, woos with chilies.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.