It isn’t often that the City of New York is accepting imports from the City of Brotherly Love. No, with our neighbors to the South we tend to maintain our trade embargo at every turn imaginable (musicians a hearty exception! - What up Quest!). I mean - what do they have that we don’t? What can we learn from the self proclaimed 6th borough? We are the big brother - and little brother should just know their roll. Yet, with the arrival of Philadelphia’s famed Han Dynasty, New Yorkers rife with culinary hubris realized right quick, that we can still learn a thing or two….
Having a slew of acquaintances and loved ones from the Philadelphia area I have been familiar with Han Dynasty for some time. Much like New Yorkers, Philadelphians are not afraid to spread the word when the possess something of great quality. Residents of both our fine cities have never been described as shy, or humble, or even quiet. So, word spread rapidly - and then fortunately so did the Han Dynasty franchise. Up until recently Philadelphia has housed five outlets of the popular Sichuan restaurant, and there is also one in South Jersey (Cherry Hill). And now New Yorkers have one to call all their own (90 3rd Ave). There is a practical reason for this sort of expansion and positive word of mouth, and the reason being - Han Dynasty is the real deal.
The proprietor of this fine restaurant chain (originally, I intended to avoid the word chain and its negative connotations - but, spades being spades….), Han Chiang, grew up near Philadelphia, although his mother is Taiwanese and his father is from Sichuan. It took no time at all for Han Dynasty to become a beloved hometown franchise, amassing an ardent cult following. And, much of this buzz resonated around one very simple, yet incredibly delicious dish - the often-hyped Dan Dan noodles. These slippery noodles are tossed in house-made chili oil (more on that later!), sesame paste, minced pork, and pickled Sichuan vegetables. They are all that and then some, and it it would be a crime to dine at a Han Dynasty without indulging.
Two other appetizers that should hit leadoff in your dining experience are the Wontons in chili-oil, and the Cold Pork Belly in garlic sauce. The Wontons provide an opportune moment to intimately acquaint yourself with Han Dynasty’s incomparable chili oil (again - more on that later!) as they are doused generously, and pillowy soft ta boot. And as for the cold pork belly, these paper-thin slices of succulent joy are soaked in chili-oil, revealing layers of smoke, sweetness, and zest. Serving them cold is a stroke of genius, as they act as a blissful moment of cooling sweet relief during an otherwise fiery meal.
It is not unfair to say that the entrees at Han Dynasty are somewhat regulated to the back seat, as the appetizers and noodle dishes reign supreme up front. This is more a testament to the grandeur of the starters, not a denunciation of what is to follow. If feeling brave when ordering the main course, and you possess a palette that favors the piquant, have your meat of choice served “Dry Pot Style,” meaning served in a sizzling mini wok and cooked in a spicy hot-pot sauce with black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns. It’s fiery and delicious. Entrees served “Cumin Style” or “Double Cooked Style” are also profoundly flavored and well worth your time.
It’s clear what steers the ship at Han Dynasty, as the homemade chili-oil is the reason for the splendor of Han Dynasty’s finer dishes. They make it from scratch at each restaurant, by first blanching the chile peppers to release their wondrous flavor before adding the oil to complement the tangy heat. It is generously applied to all the Han Dynasty favorites, an impressive display of versatility and flavor. It’s what separates Han Dynasty. It’s the difference-maker.
Han Dynasty serves flat-out authentic Sichuan cooking, and is certainly worthy addition to the New York dining scene. It is incredibly refreshing to experience a meal that lives up to the generous hype bestowed upon it. The type of meal I couldn’t get out of my head the next day. The next week even. I just wanted to dig right back in. And I assure you…I will.