Queen’s English, 3410 11th Street NW, Washington DC (Columbia Heights); Rick’s Rating 9.2; $$$ (Expensive)
“The Queen’s English” — the grammatically correct and coherent expression of the English language — traditionally becomes “The King’s English” when the sovereign is a king. Let’s hope nothing like that happens at Queen’s English in Columbia Heights. For one, I prefer to minimize any focus on Charles, particularly before eating. I watched this season of The Crown and even Jimmy McNulty couldn’t make Charles likable.
More broadly, I want as little at Queen’s English to change as possible — except occasionally some of the menu offerings (and even then, let’s not get too hasty). Eight of us recently ate there and ordered just about everything on the menu. It was the best meal I’d eaten there and it reminded my why it’s one of my favorite spots in town:
A team to root for. Queen’s English is run by husband and wife Henji Cheung and Sarah Thompson. Henji does the cooking and runs the kitchen. Sarah seems to do everything else: general manager, natural wine purveyor, decorator, and genial hostess. And they attract a devoted and enthusiastic staff through policies like a 4% Wellness Fee to provide healthcare and competitive wages.
Personal and delicious Hong Kong-style dishes. Henji’s cooking is based on his childhood in New Territories, Hong Kong, where he grew up eating Cantonese and Hakkanese dishes. Those traditional ingredients and flavors get filtered through his time working at restaurants in New York to create something both exceedingly personal and yet firmly rooted. This is the place to try ingredients that may be less familiar or that some may be squeamish about. My sister-in-law said everything on the menu sounded good except the pig ears and the beef cheeks. She let me order them anyway and they were her favorite dishes of the night.
Great neighborhood vibe and outdoor dining space. This little stretch of 11th Street is a culinary mecca, with Makan next door and several other good restaurants within shouting distance (no longer Bad Saint, sad emoji, which recently closed). Inside, Queen’s English feels comfy but not cramped. Outside, Thompson has created one of the better outdoor dining areas in town, with a string-lighted straw partition providing a traffic barrier and plenty of heaters and fur pelts for warmth.
They keep getting better. I’ve been to Queen’s English maybe a half dozen times and each time has been better than the last. That’s pretty remarkable. Most restaurants, like TV shows, peak in their first or second seasons. To keep improving in its fourth year of operation puts it in Schitt’s Creek territory.
Street parking. I normally wouldn’t mention this, but the week before we went to an event the Wharf and I got a fraud alert because my credit card company refused to believe it could cost that much to park in a garage. Then we had dinner in Adams-Morgan and I circled for so long I’m now on the neighborhood watch list. So when I dropped my passengers off at Queen’s English, turned the corner and immediately found a spot, I nearly wept.
I know the 9.2 rating is high, but I stand by it. Small neighborhood restaurant + personal Asian cooking with a twist + young couple pouring their heart and soul into the place = Rick in the tank.
As for specific food recommendations, our party of eight did try everything on the menu. I’d rank them as follows:
- Duck Drunken Noodles
- Mushroom Mushroom
- Pig Ear Salad (bacon-y deliciousness)
- Crispy Whole Snapper (deboned for easy eating; shout out to knife skills of the prep cook)
- Tuna Tartare
- Foie Gras + Chicken Shumai
- Beef Cheeks
- Scallop Crudo
- Caviar and Scallion Pancake
- Chinese Broccoli
- Daikon Fritters (they’ve been on the menu from the beginning and maybe I’ve just had them too many times)
- Miso Caramel Cake (a bit dry and unexciting; bring back the big rice dumpling with warm caramel sauce!)
Tuna Tartare with tamari marinated beet, castelvetrano olive, labneh, nori
Scallop Crudo with tiger’s milk and celtuce
Crispy Pig Ear with watercress, pomelo, goji vinaigrette
Mushroom Mushroom – Royal Trumpet, pickled shimeji, tofu ranch, dill
Foie gras + Chicken Shumai with sour cherry, water chestnut, black vinegar
Royal Kaluga Caviar with scallion pancake, tofu espuma, dashi
Duck Drunken Noodles with hot chili, sour cabbage, corn, tofu, scallion
Daikon Fritters with baby shrimp, shiitake, pork sung
Chinese Broccoli with parmesan, trout roe, soubise
Dry-Aged Beef Cheeks with pickled onion, endive
Crispy Whole Red Snapper with napa cabbage, hk chili sauce, crab butter
Miso Caramel Cake with chocolate Szechuan mousse, pistachio