Chinatown is the land of a thousand ducks, lacquered to a sweet mahogany shine and hanging in rows behind windows for the ulimate hunger-inducing tease. These roasted, bone-in birds (rather than boneless, crispy-skinned Peking duck) are the primary ingredients for many of the neighborhood's best dishes. But who makes the best? We gathered a flock of contenders and nibbled them side-by-side for a Chinatown "duck-off." My overall favorites are listed in order, but for the ultimate duck feast, I vote for a combo plate of Siu Kee's bird with Sang Kee's gravy.
- Craig LaBan
1. Siu Kee Duck House
111 N. 10th St., 215-922-3075; www.siukeeduckhouse.com
The skin was a more honeyed hue than mahogany brown, and had the best balance of delicate snap and creamy fat. The velvety meat was by far the most tender, with vivid flavor. The gravy was herbaceously intense, but borderline salty, keeping it from perfection.
2. Sang Kee Peking Duck House
238 N. Ninth St., 215-925-7532; sangkeechinatown.com
Admirably juicy, with leaner skin, though not as tender or richly flavored as Siu Kee's. Sang Kee's gravy, though, was the tasting's best, dark, sweet, and swirling with star anise and well-rounded spice.
3. Ting Wong
138 N. 10th St., 215-928-1883 or 215-928-1880
These relatively tender ducks had the crispiest skin, but almost to a fault, with a crackery brown shell dominating the rest of the flavor. The omission of a natural gravy (as opposed to the mixed sauce packed with ours) was a big turn-off.
4. M Kee
1002 Race St., 215-238-8883
An adequate bird, but not as juicy or as carefully chopped as the others, with a salty jus.
5. Wong Wong
941 Race St., 215-928-8822
Scrawny and dry, Wong Wong's birds were among the cheapest of the group, and tasted that way. The distinct Sichuan peppercorn taste to gravy was a little harsh.