Peking duck, but make it jackfruit. Planta Queen, a member of a meat-free restaurant empire out of Toronto, brings elegant nigiri, bao, noodles, and herb-filled cocktails to a bustling Northwest D.C. corner on Wednesday, April 26 (1200 New Hampshire Avenue NW).
After opening several omnivorous restaurants across Canada and the U.S., owner Steven Salm went vegan and founded Planta to “change the perception of how people view plant-based food” in how it “tastes, looks, feels, and acts.”
Planta Queen’s opening menu includes a wealth of Asian-influenced dishes: salads, small plates, dumplings, noodles, “and the most epic sushi you’ve ever had,” claims Salm. Small plates include fried mushroom bao and the Bang Bang Broccoli, a top-selling order at Planta Queen’s other locations in Chicago, New York, and Toronto.
Executive chef David Lee, who also oversees the kitchen at the other area Planta in Bethesda, brings his fine-dining background to the table at its refined D.C. sibling. Every Planta has its own identity, with a different menu served at each. The year-old Bethesda location— the company’s first in the Mid-Atlantic — embraces an all-day cafe vibe, while Planta Cocina in Toronto leans Latin. There are now more than 10 distinct brands under the Planta umbrella.
For Planta’s D.C. debut, a mood-lit, richly decorated space with handsome dark wood offers a clubby backdrop for its East Asian-influenced menu. Shimmering neon dragons twist their way across dark wallpaper above black-leather and “dusty rose” upholstery and tile. The massive glass storefront lets in plenty of light throughout the edgy eatery.
Entrees bring bold flavors, including dan dan noodles and a “pretty epic” truffle fried rice.
The sushi menu rolls in with innovative uses of vegetables. Eggplant stands in for unagi, broccoli and spinach make up the dragon roll, Hawaiian hearts of palm get stuffed for the baked crab, and dehydrated watermelon represents toro tuna. That spicy mayo? Squeezed from aquafaba.
“It’s a systemic reinterpretation of vegan food,” says Salm. But he is also quick to note that he doesn’t use meat substitutes. Everything is plant-based in recreating umami flavors. The creaminess of a bacon lardon, for example, comes from a dehydrated smoked mushroom.
Over on the cocktail side, Salm designs drinks to complement the food. Each cocktail, garnished with brilliant bunches of greenery, showcases a spirit infused with herbs, spices, chilies, and botanicals. Look for a rotating roster of six to eight cocktails at a time. Planta also takes extra steps behind the bar to make its spirit-free drinks stand out over others. There’s no simple seltzers here. Instead, there are culinary inclusions like red miso, snow peas, and verjus. “We try to add texture and dimension to the idea of a traditional nonalcoholic cocktail,” he explains.
The kitchen will craft cold-pressed juices (available on their own as well) to give liquors some lift. A list of food-friendly red, white, and rose wines goes heavy on skin-contact and natural options, plus local beers.
Salm has longtime ties to D.C., having attended college here. Years later, he spots a “newfound demand for creative and experiential dining,” he says.
The same Northwest block will soon welcome a 180-degree option for carnivores with the arrival of EatBrgz in the old Grillfish space.
Planta Queen is not the first sit-down vegan restaurant in the area. DC Vegan popped open in 2021 as a deli and evolved into a full-service restaurant and cocktail lair earlier this year. Over on H Street NE, Fancy Radish serves upscale vegan fare.
The restaurant will soon debut lunch, brunch, and happy hour (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.).
“It’s a fully-stacked program,” he says.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report