There are many great (and many very bad) Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia, but we think we can speak without fear of too, too much debate: Sang Kee is Philly’s Chinese food of record, our New York Times of won ton, our gold standard of General Tso. But as the Philadelphian palate (thankfully!) expands into ever more specific, provincial parcels of Chinese food — the spicy Sichuan of Han Dynasty or Dan Dan, the biang biang noodles of X’ian’s locales — Sang Kee’s self-described traditional "Hong Kong style cuisine” finds itself as the old head in a kind of style war.
Which is why, we can only surmise, the “special menu” at Sang Kee first began to appear a year or two ago. Here, in a graphic design style we will describe as adorably strange, is where you are seeing the competition up close. Oh Sang Kee, we said at first, you don’t need to do Dan Dan noodles. Oh Sang Kee, ramen? Really? But as the last couple of years have worn on, we’ve noticed something: The Sang Kee Special Menu contains amazing treasures. It is not, as first thought, an exercise in desperation that feels beneath Sang Kee. You just have to give it a good long look.
Take, for example, the Szechuan Style Beef: It’s the thing you always wanted Pepper Steak to give you but Pepper Steak never could. This new dish has now survived a few iterations of the Special Menu. It’s now a Special Classic. On the newest menu, there’s a Crab Fried Rice (pictured) that might be the most elegant fried rice dish in town. (Side note: When is fried rice going to become the new thing? It’s fucking fried rice. It’s great.) Meanwhile, the Special Menu also presents a dilemma: How are you going to mess around with the special menu when you’re also honor-bound to get the Sang Kee core curriculum: dumplings, won ton soup, shrimp with black pepper sauce, etc. and so on?
The answer: You just do.