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San Tung

Go For the "Crack" Chicken, Stick Around For the Dumplings

Does every restaurant have at least one good dish? It seems likely. But the longer and more diverse a menu is, the more difficult it can be to discern the true specialties. San Tung, however, is an easy mark. Here at SF Station, we kept hearing foodie buzz that this casual Chinese restaurant near Golden Gate Park serves chicken wings so addictive that it is often referred to as "that place with the crack chicken".

In a neighborhood filled with places to eat, even at 5:30 pm, San Tung is jam-packed and most people are eating the exact same things: dry-fried chicken wings in "wet" sauce, and boiled dumplings. Clearly this restaurant’s appeal is no secret.

If you didn’t know that San Tung was a province in Northern China, you will certainly know that there is a Korean influence here when presented with a complimentary dish of kim chee -- the Korean pickled cabbage -- bright red with chili and peppery hot with complex sweet/sour notes.

Glancing around, you’ll notice that practically every table is enjoying the boiled dumplings for which San Tung is justifiably famous. The dumplings come in two varieties, Shrimp and Leek ($6) or Pork ($5). In both cases, a dozen bite-sized handmade dumplings are filled with a fresh-tasting, juicy mixture. Enjoy them with a little soy sauce and vinegar. We preferred the pork to the shrimp, but both were good, and if you come with a group (the best way to try more dishes), order both.

The other dish found on virtually every San Tung table is the Original Dry-Fried Chicken, available diced or as wings ($7.50). The diced option is so-so, but the wings are where it's at. While excellent dumplings can be found at other Chinese restaurants around town, we have yet to try any chicken wings that can top these.

And don't even think of ordering them without the "wet" sauce; the "dry" version has a metallic, oily taste that pales in comparison to the succulent, savory "wet" version. The deep-fried wings are cooked a second time with a sweet sticky sauce that includes garlic, red pepper and ginger making them succulent and crispy at the same time. This is a crave-worthy dish you will want to return for again and again.

One of the more expensive dishes on the menu is an appetizer called “Cold Three Delights” ($10.95). Curious what those three delights might be? They are perfectly poached shrimp, scallops and squid with chunks of cucumber in a thin, cold, mustard-infused dressing. This is a light, refreshing dish to enjoy during hot weather and reflects the seafood for which the San Tung region is known.

Another refreshing dish is the cold noodles. A pile of toothsome, hand-pulled thick wheat noodles is topped with slices of five-spiced beef, dry tofu, shrimp, and strips of cucumber. The noodles are swimming in a mild and crunchy wet peanut sauce. One bowl of these noodles could easily serve two people for lunch.

Not all of the other dishes we tried were very memorable; a braised bean curd dish and spinach with glass noodles were tasty, but not remarkable. That’s fine; at San Tung you can easily fill up on what they do best: dumplings, noodles, seafood and those delectable chicken wings. Judging from what others were eating, the dry sautéed string beans are probably also a safe bet. Order right, and for about $10 per person you’ll eat like a regular at San Tung.

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Reservations Essential? No reservations accepted