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Hong-Kong Diner in Rockville

Wednesday, February 2, 2005; Page F05

Maria's Bakery, a Hong Kong chain with branches in Annandale, Springfield, Falls Church and Rockville, is best known for producing more than 20 kinds of fragrant, Chinese-style stuffed buns as well as iced spongecakes.

Last January the Lam family, owners of the Washington area stores, opened Maria's Bakery Cafe, an unfussy sort of Asian diner in Rockville with an extensive breakfast-to-dinner menu and low prices.

On a recent Sunday morning, all 55 seats are taken by a young Chinese crowd ordering dishes such as breaded pork cutlet over spaghetti ($7.95) and beef curry with rice ($6.25). "Our food is typical of Hong Kong," says Peggy Lam. The portions look filling.

One after another, bakery customers stream in for a bag of barbecue pork buns ($1 each) or flaky, wax gourd cookies ($1.50 for two).

We try both of the special set breakfasts ($5.50 each). Results are mixed.

Breakfast "A" consists of a plate with two fried eggs, a standard-issue hot dog and two slices of pale, flavorless tomato. Alongside is a good-size bowl of overcooked macaroni floating in a wan broth with bits of ham and some peas.

Breakfast "B" is far more enjoyable. A bowl of steaming congee with slices of salty pork and minced, preserved duck egg hit the spot on a cold day. The hot rice is served with a satisfying plate of sesame lo mein, the noodles stir-fried with a few bean sprouts and bits of green onion.

No matter what you order, the breakfast drink of choice is a cup of strong coffee and black tea mixed together ($1.75). A tiny pitcher of condensed milk is served with the brew. The flavor? It's as you might expect.

Maria's Bakery Cafe,Congressional Village, 1701-B3 Rockville Pike, Rockville; call 301-984-2228. Open daily 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

-- Walter Nicholls

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