It's always amazed me just how many carbs Chinese people can pack away, and still manage to stay trim. It's not surprising to see little kids bury their heads in a big bowl of noodles, or eat a pound of rice with their lunch. I grew up in such a carb-friendly, non-Atkins land where noodles, rice, buns, pancakes and dumplings were present at every meal, and I happily partook in all the abundance. Grains and rice are referred to as "staple foods" in Chinese, and are typically eaten at the end of the meal, to sort of seal the deal (as if all the courses that came before weren't enough).
And so I was happily reunited with the foods of my childhood at A&J, a small and casual Chinese eatery that specializes in Northern Chinese dishes, and who do a hearty and satisfying dimsum service on the weekends. You won't find any carts being pushed around here with shrimp dumplings (that's Cantonese style); you order off the menu, or you could always point to what your neighbors are having at the next table (most likely a big bowl of spicy peanut noodles.) The menu is heavily accented with noodle dishes (wheat being a more common staple in the North) and dumpling-like things. Smoked meats are prevalent, as well as small vegetable side dishes, congee, and the ever popular hot soymilk (you can get it salty, sweet, or with no flavor) and long Chinese crullers. The prices are so affordable that you can try many things without exhausting the coffers. Here are some dishes I recommend (and Mr.S can second).
Guō Tiē - crispy and golden potstickers. These are made in a small pan, with the wrappers left open at the ends, so that juices from the filling can help to steam and add flavor to the dumplings as they cook.
That's the smoked chicken in the very back there, wonderfully deep notes of tea, and well-salted. Chinese crullers in front of that, for dipping into your bowl of soymilk. In the very front is a hard-boiled egg braised in aromatic stock and seasonings.
[left] Edamame, bamboo shoots and mustard greens tossed in sesame oil. [right] Spicy and garlicky cucumber salad.
Hóng Yóu Chāo Shǒu - Pork wontons tossed in a delicious sweet and spicy chili oil, with scallions. (Get a second order of these; they won't last long.)
If you go on the weekend, be ready to wait in line anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. And remember, this isn't anywhere near high-end Chinese cuisine; the food is rustic, homey, somewhat greasy, but altogether filling and 100% delicious.
1319-C Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852