The name Dumpling Queen only sounds like an homage to Abba; it’s actually a winking little reference by the Chantilly restaurant to its Rockville parent, China Bistro.
The Chinese characters above the door of that strip-mall storefront off Hungerford Drive don’t actually spell out China Bistro, the name in English—they spell out Mama’s Dumplings, which is how the place is known in the Chinese community, where it has attained an almost exalted status for cranking out pliantly chewy bundles stuffed with the likes of shrimp and chive or pork and dill.
The Chantilly spinoff has a ways to go to match the original when it comes to the titular items. The dumplings on my most recent visit sported juicy fillings but lacked the soft suppleness of the skins at Mama’s Dumplings. A note tacked to the door on my last visit suggested that management isn’t unaware of the discrepancy: It was soliciting a dumpling maker.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of skilled cooking to keep you distracted until the dumplings reach the hoped-for level of excellence. The best strategy is to visit Dumpling Queen with a group and to load up on lots of small plates: lightly pickled bands of cucumber ($4.95), zesty with minced garlic; spicy wontons ($6.95) in a mouth-warming sauce the color of maraschino cherries; stir-fried rice cakes ($9.95) tossed with thin strips of velveted chicken, pickled cabbage, and green onion.
You’d be wise not to burden the young staff by asking for recommendations, assuming you can even get that kind of time. In my experience, the quality of service has suffered from the short staffing.
As at China Bistro, a good many old-school Chinese-American dishes (fried rice, orange chicken) have been tossed into the mix to try to broaden Dumpling Queen’s appeal. Many of these are better than they need to be, but if you want to taste what’s authentically exciting, you need to cast your glance elsewhere—toward, say, a big bowl of cold sesame noodles ($7.95) slicked with a smoky, pungent chili sauce and white sesame seeds. Nor do you want to miss the noodle bowls, among them a tureen of well-extracted beef broth ($8.95) packed with thick noodles, slices of tender beef, and hunks of tomato. If you have a large-enough group, or you don’t have to return to work, consider a plate of battered fried ribs ($14.95)—yes, a rich, fatty thing made richer and fattier—dusted with garlic and chilies.
And by all means, spring for a plate or two of dumplings ($9 to $12). Unless you have a Mama of your own around, or can zip out quickly to China Bistro, they’re almost certain to satisfy a craving. And with any luck, sometime down the road they may well rise to the glorious level of the handiwork in Rockville.
This article appears in our October 2015 issue of Washingtonian.