The traditional Me family Christmas dinner has never involved Chinese food — until this weekend. Family-free this year, off Mrs. Me and I went to Paul Kee (11305 Georgia), a longstanding Wheaton Cantonese spot I had somehow never visited until now. Not surprisingly, the place was packed (we noticed some other Wheaton restaurants open on the 25th but did not seem at all busy, among them Nava, El Boqueron, and Cabanita). PK has no website, often a good sign for Chinese; I did study up on Yelp, which generally I don’t trust, but it paid off this time.
I’m not one of those who on general principles frown upon Americanized Chinese (e.g. General Tso’s Chicken) — there are good and bad versions of those dishes, just like any other kind. A minority of Chinese restaurants, like Palo Alto’s Hunan Garden, are reliably good for both authentic and Americanized dishes. Others, like Wheaton’s New Kam Fong and Rockville’s Joe’s Noodle House, are great for authentic dishes but put no effort into the Americanized stuff. And many, of course, are just bad across the board — will not name names, we’ve all been there.
Based on a single visit, I put Paul Kee squarely in the middle category. The hot and sour soup (fairly Americanized) was fine, but not very spicy and too glutinous. Wonton soup, on the other hand, boasted deceptively simple-looking, incredibly rich broth afloat with three juicy shrimp dumplings.
Yelp led us to the deep fried spicy pork chop — pieces of pork, not entire chops — not greasy, perfectly fried, juicy, with a scallion-and-jalapeno kick. Awesome. We started to order one duck dish but our server steered us to another, I’m not sure exactly which one, I think just the basic roast duck: crispy skin, superjuicy meat, falling off the bone (lots of bones), pretty greasy but delicious. We also got fried good dale (wide noodles, shrimp, pork) to compare with other Chinese restaurants, particularly New Kam Fong, and the PK and NKF versions of FDG are essentially identical (i.e.: greasy and tasty).
The ambience isn’t as bad as some Yelpers make it out to be. Yes, the decor probably has not changed since the 1970s; Paul Kee is your grandmother’s Cantonese restaurant (if your grandmother appreciated excellent authentic Cantonese food). Servers are not chatty (maybe that changes if you speak their language) but are efficient and friendly enough. It is possible, but difficult, to empty a water glass completely before they swoop in to refill it.
In sum: yet another Wheaton dive with great food at low prices (mostly in the $10-12 range). Be careful about leftovers: our rice didn’t make it into the box, and the duck skin must be eaten at the restaurant while it is crisp. Leftover fried good dale is the bomb. I’m not prepared to say Paul Kee is better than New Kam Fong, but certain PK dishes at least are unbeatable. Can’t believe we hadn’t eaten there before.