For those looking for a taste of the Caribbean, the culinary delights of Haiti are available just past the Burlington city limit sign in Whitsett.
“We are living the American Dream,” said Djosen Vilnor, who owns King Queen Caribbean Bar & Grill along with her brother, the chef, Hilder Vilnor.
After immigrating from a war-torn and hostile political environment in Haiti, the Vilnors came to North Carolina in 1993, Hilder Vilnor said.
“Where we came from was tough, but we are grateful for our lives here in the US,” he said.
His sister added: “A bag of rice at a store here may cost around $20, but back in Haiti, it will cost around a thousand dollars — and people can’t afford it because there is no work. There is also no threat of roving gangs here. We are lucky to be in America.”
Their family had to learn a new language and learn about a new country, but Djosen Vilnor said, “We wouldn’t be here without God and the community around us here. We are grateful for all of the help that we have gotten.”
Family is an important theme running through King Queen.
“Most days, my sister and I are the only ones here working,” Hilder Vilnor said. “I’m cooking, and coming out to talk to customers, and my sister is taking orders and running food. I even clean the tables.”
They opened the restaurant in 2020 after 10 years of running a food truck, Djosen Vilnor said.
“Unfortunately, it was just a week before North Carolina closed in-person dining. That was tough, but here we are. We are blessed,” she said.
Haitian cuisine may be foreign to some diners, but Djosen Vilnor urges people to give it a try.
“All Haitian food isn’t spicy, but we use spice. It’s called Epis, and it’s just seasoning, but every family’s is different and special,” she said. “I truly love educating diners and getting to know them and learn about them. It is really exciting to me.”
Epis blends fresh herbs, onions, garlic and peppers and is similar to the traditional Caribbean green seasoning as well as Dominican sofrito, according to Simply Recipes.
The restaurant is known for its oxtails, jerk chicken, pineapple bowls and red snapper dishes, she said.
“We spend a lot of time with our food — stewing and roasting. That’s where the love comes in,” she said. “You can really get a taste of our homeland in our cooking.”
King Queen Bar & Grill is at 90 Cape Fear Dr., Suite D, Whitsett. It is open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner.