108 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
This place has been all the hype for a while now, but I just never got over to Old City (for obvious reasons) to check it out. My mistake.
I popped in for lunch, knowing full well that the only way to go about eating there is to put yourself in Han's hands. Done. I was also pre-warned by a friend that he may come off as arrogant, but to trust him. Also done. Although I can see how some people might be annoyed by his no-nonsense attitude (and the initially snide arrogance) - but you know what they say, the proof is in the pudding, and I could not put down the pudding spoon. I was even scrapping the serving trays for a tiny bit more of the sauces or a crispy bit of pork belly that might have been lost in the mix. It was utterly pathetic how good the food was, and I am not too proud to say it.
When we ordered, we were told what we had originally intended to order for a starter (dumplings) were not that good, and instead we should get the Dan Dan noodles. The noodles, for want of a better description, were incredible. The best way to describe them, is to liken them to a mix of my two favorite dishes from Nan Zhou (the hand-drawn noodle house) which are their 'noodles in pork soy sauce' and their 'noodles in peanut sauce'. This was a mash-up of the two, with the addition of some spicy, hot pepper oil, and was insanely addictive. I am craving them so hard right now just thinking about it. The Dan Dan noodles are presented in a large bowl and hand mixed table-side. I could eat this all of the time. Seriously. So addictive. There is a nutty sesame flavor, coupled with crispy pork bits, salty soy and a spicy kick. Heaven in a bowl.
We had also been planning on ordering a couple of entrees (lunch special is apparently approximately half off of the dinner price, give or take), but we were told otherwise - that we should instead go with the dry pepper style chicken (an 8 on the heat index) and the dry fry style pork belly (a 6). The recommendations I had received from said friend in advance of my visit were turned down by Han and instead he made these new recommendations.
They don't pull any punches with the heat, or the authenticity. It was unlike most Chinese places, so don't go and try to order Kung Pao chicken, or I truly feel Han would (rightfully) kick you out. He had one other server working, but he took every order himself and brought them all out. The other server sat us, and Han told us we were in the wrong seat. When he brought out the food he said, "are you ready for the best meal of your lives?" In another context, all of this would be off-putting, but at Han Dynasty, it adds to the charm. He loves his food, and stands by it one hundred percent. I fully support this approach to restaurants, and wish it were more prevalent. The dry pepper style chicken was hot. The layers of flavor were so deep and complex that the building heat didn't just sting, but it came in waves, and actually developed the flavor profiles more completely. I was hooked. Chicken, peppers, sesame, dry peppers and peppercorns were all that it needed to become my favorite chicken dish I have eaten in quite some time. There was one problem though. The pork belly.
I love pork belly. I love to eat it and to make it, to talk about it and to think about it. This might have been the best I have ever had. Beautiful, impossibly thin ribbons of belly, crispy on most of the surface area. One problem with pork belly is when it is sliced too thickly it can be poorly undercooked; another is when it is not crispy enough it tends to be overwhelmingly chewy. Neither were anywhere close to being the case at Han. The light sauce was smoky, salty, slightly sweet and of course, spicy. The scallions and bell peppers, celery and peppercorns were so amazingly porky and delicious, I didn't stand a chance against this dish, even though I had remarked how I was full after the Dan Dan appetizer. That is, until I licked every presented vessel clean immediately after that statement.
I really can't say enough about the food at Han Dynasty. I want to, and probably will be back this week. It's the best Chinese I have ever had, and I don't know that I will ever be able to go back to anything else.