8 New Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic
They're worth a visit, and our dining critic has a few suggestions about what to order.
The fried-chicken sandwich craze was already well underway when the pandemic sent it into overdrive. Customers wanted takeout-friendly comfort food and chefs like Rock Harper were happy to oblige. Queen Mother’s Fried Chicken shares a kitchen and casual dining space with The Café by La Cocina VA, just off Columbia Pike.
Harper, who grew up mostly in Alexandria, named his enterprise after his mom, Carole. “My mother is a queen,” he says. “[Queen Mother’s] is a tribute to her, and to all Black women.” It’s also a tribute to a food that finds its origins in African American culture.
Upon ordering the Classic sandwich, dressed with “mother sauce” (Japanese Kewpie mayo, ketchup, lemon juice) and dill pickles, I find that the brioche bun can’t contain its enormous, 8-ounce chicken breast any more than my pre-pandemic T-shirt covers my new belly. Every delectable bite reflects Harper’s culinary bona fides. The Hell’s Kitchen reality show winner (Season 3) previously served as executive chef at B. Smith’s restaurant in D.C. and has long-standing ties to DC Central Kitchen.
Queen Mother’s cage-free, antibiotic-free chicken is brined, butterflied, dredged and deep-fried in duck fat and canola oil to craggy, crunchy perfection. In addition to the Classic, the menu offers three other iterations: Nashville hot; Virginia honey butter; and spicy mambo. Sides include coleslaw and waffle fries.
Harper started Queen Mother’s in D.C. in August as part of another restaurateur’s ghost kitchen concept, then moved the operation to Arlington in December. “I wanted to do it my way and fully control it, to serve fried chicken and smiles, build community, reach back to Black culture and lean into the stories—the fun ones and the tough ones,” he says. Smile received. Smile returned. //Queen Mother’s (at The Café by La Cocina VA), 918 S. Lincoln St., Arlington