Every Friday through the end of 2018, the Rant will feature a dish that stands out among Lee County’s restaurant scene. We’ll usually focus on lunch, but there aren’t any rules – we just want to let you know (if you don’t already) about the many dining options we have that are owned and operated by people right here in Lee County. Today we’re urging you – pleading with you, even – to try the empress chicken at Hunan Chinese Restaurant.

Hunan isn’t the only Chinese restaurant in Sanford, but it’s easily the best. Beside the fact that it’s truly a restaurant in which you can sit comfortably and enjoy the traditional Chinese restaurant decor, it’s more than just your standard American-Chinese-sweet-and-sour-chicken-with-an-egg-roll fare. Those dishes are a big part of the menu, of course, and we’re focusing on one of them today. But Hunan also offers more adventurous diners options like egg foo young with gravy, seafood and even a variety of delicious duck dishes (there’s no word on whether Hunan offers the fabled “secret menu” so many American Chinese places are rumored to, but we’d love to find out). Anyway, most of those specialty items are available at dinner time. Today we’re looking at one of the House lunch specials, empress chicken.

THE DISH: Empress chicken is one of a few dozen choices from the restaurant’s lunch special menu (some run $6.25, others $6.75, empress chicken being the latter). The specials come with your choice of egg drop or hot and sour soup (both are great), an egg roll or crab rangoons (both are great) and steamed or fried rice (again, take your pick). But the star of the show is the main dish. Think sweet and sour or General Tso’s chicken – breaded and fried cutlets sauteed and served in a mildly spicy sauce – but add to it a heap of so-called “Chinese vegetables” ranging in texture and flavor from crunchy and bright to soft and rich. These compliment the heavier aspects of the dish, making it so much more than just deep fried chicken nuggets doused in sugar sauce, which you rarely eat for lunch because you’re an adult. A few bucks gets you a big portion, so expect to leave full.

WHAT ELSE TO TRY: This piece isn’t meant to knock standard Chinese-American dishes, and if those are your thing, you’ll find what you’re looking for on Hunan’s menu. The list of specials also includes chicken and vegetables, moo goo gai pan, cashew chicken, sweet and sour (choose your protein), lo mein and chow mein, and everything else you’d expect. All are done admirably at Hunan. But hey, if you’re looking for a place to start exploring the rest of the menu try the Land & Sea ($6.75) or the scallops in garlic sauce (also $6.75). If you go at dinner and really want to get adventurous, spend a few extra bucks on the Kurmun or Hunan duck (both $15.95) or the Peking duck (it’s a whole bird for $29.95). The two-person pu pu platter ($9.95) is essentially an appetizer plate that contains some better known American-Chinese items, and it’s obviously a load of fun to say.

Hunan is located at 1216 N. Horner Blvd. in Sanford and can be reached at (919) 775-1211. They’re open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Visit their Facebook page.

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