At Queen House, it's not about the ambiance. The decor doesn't look as if it's been changed since the restaurant opened 13 years ago, and the atmosphere feels well-worn and maybe a bit shabby.
The menu is ambitious, to say the least. The main menu includes more than 200 selections, from standard dishes like chicken chow mein, curry shrimp over rice and Mongolian beef, to more esoteric offerings such as shredded jelly fish salad, pork intestine and pork blood soup, and preserved egg.
About 40 of these dishes are available as a combo special: three dishes plus either rice or scallion cake for $22.99 (you can add more items for an additional $7.59 per plate). There are also about 30 selections available as a lunch special ($6.59-$7.99 with house soup); they include items such as braised tofu, twice-cooked pork and sweet and sour shrimp.
As we quickly found out, servings are more than generous and the combo deal can easily satisfy three or four diners. That's the good news. The bad news is that not one of our selections was satisfactory. The salt and pepper chicken consisted of bone-dry, breaded nuggets of white meat. The black pepper beef was tasteless and gloppy despite the overabundance of onions. The eggplant clay pot had decent flavor but was cooked to the point of mush.
While the prices were very reasonable, we were not sure why there were such consistent crowds waiting to get seated. With all the places to choose from on Castro Street, why end up at Queen House? On our following visits, the mystery was solved: It's the noodles.
Queen House offers about 30 types of soups and chow meins, loaded with long, thick, chewy and delicious noodles, all made fresh in-house. Most diners choose one of the massive bowls of the restaurant's signature soups and each is large enough for at least two meals for most appetites. The Szechwan beef noodle soup ($6.59) arrived steaming hot, with lots of spice. A special of tomato beef stew noodle soup ($7.59) was loaded with flavor from fatty but fall-off-the-bone meat, fresh tomato chunks and tons of noodles. Tan Tan noodles ($6.59) were tasty but a bit too heavy-handed on the thick, peanut-y sauce.
The place fills up quickly at both lunch and early dinner, and there is often a wait to be seated. Service is generally serviceable — not exactly friendly, not exactly terse, although one lunchtime server very helpfully pointed out that we were over-ordering and made some suggestions about our selections. Tables are wiped clean between seatings, but walls are splattered and the place is not squeaky clean by any stretch.
Queen House also runs Tea Era, a boba tea shop, next door as sister establishment, so there is a huge variety of milk teas and other beverages (the bathroom is located next door as well). Beverages arrive in sealed plastic cups along with a fat straw to poke through the cellophane. Fresh watermelon juice ($2) was simple and refreshing, and red bean milk tea ($2) was a sweet counterpoint to the spicy sauces, with huge chewy black pearls. The selection is impressive: barley milk, green apple, cantaloupe, taro, jasmine, kiwi, coconut, and so on.
Despite its huge selection, Queen House works best when you focus on its noodle dishes. For a quick, inexpensive meal without the frills, the soups and chow meins truly satisfy.
273 Castro St., Mountain View.
Hours: Sun., Mon., Wed., Thu. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Price Range: $6.59-$14.99
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Street and nearby lots
Wheelchair access: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes
Noise level: Average
Bathroom cleanliness: Excellent