Han Dynasty

Han Dynasty brings its Philly cult following to the heart of the East Village. My friends who went to UPenn are obsessed, peaking my serious interest.  Seriously though, have you ever heard people rant and rave this much over a seemingly hole in the wall Chinese food spot?  Hoards of people, including countless food critics, flocked to the soft opening of this spicy Sichuan food joint.

The outside is marked by the traditional, tacky glowing sign which marks nearly all Chinese food restaurants.  It’s completely unassuming, blending in with the mix of NYU bars and casual grub joints.

Han Dynasty in the East Village Serves Serious Sichuan Cuisine

c/o Serious Eats

The inside of the restaurant seems haphazardly put together.  The bright yellow walls are covered by simple pieces of art which seem completely unrelated to the vibe inside the restaurant.  Tables are extremely close together with waiters maneuvering past and the smell of chili oil filling the air.

Han Dynasty in the East Village Serves Serious Sichuan Cuisine

c/o Serious Eats

You quickly realize that service is not a high point at Han Dynasty.  All of the waiters seem like they have a million different things to do with at least four different guys taking our order throughout the course of the meal.  Once again though, you need to remember this place is all about the food, not necessarily the service experience.

You quickly realize that service is not a high point at Han Dynasty.  All of the waiters seem like they have a million different things to do with at least four different guys taking our order throughout the course of the meal.  Once again though, you need to remember this place is all about the food, not necessarily the service experience.

Left Hand Brewery Co.’s Milk Stout Nitro Beer

Left Hand Brewery Co.’s Milk Stout Nitro Beer

My Dad’s taste in beer is impeccable and this one has quickly become a favorite of mine, as well.  It has a chocolate, coffee undertone making the beer extremely smooth and slightly sweet, without compromising the flavor and integrity of the drink.  The woman at the table next to us overheard our excitement over the beer, causing my dad to send one over to the table, exposing yet another person to the delicious and hard-to-find liquor. (Be sure to check out Shindig to find out where you can get a taste of this awesome beer).

Spiciness is the name of the game at Han Dynasty.  Each item on the menu has a bright red number next to it, marking the spice level, with (10) being the highest.  Luckily the waiter explained that certain dishes, especially the famous Spicy Hot Pot can be modified to the spice level of your choice.

First things first, we needed to order the Cold Sesame Noodles, my Dad’s go-to dish, which will set the tone for the rest of the meal.  If the noodles fall short, the rest of the meal is sure to follow.

Cold Sesame Noodles

Cold Sesame Noodles

While totally unconventional, the cold sesame noodles actually satisfied all of my Dad’s needs.  Instead usual thick peanut sauce topped off with sesame seeds and scallions, this version contained a subtle element of spice and sweetness.  Here, the sesame based sauce was the star, with faint notes of peanuts and chili lingering on your palate.  While different, not a single noodle was left behind.

Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles were easily the winner of the two dishes, leading my dad to even make the bold statement that he would order these over his beloved cold sesame noodles.  The noodles are incredibly spicy tossed in a source of chili and sesame paste then mixed with pickled vegetables.  Out of all the dishes at Han Dynasty, this dish is probably the most hyped about, and after trying them, I totally understand why.

Next, it was time to check out the much-hyped Spicy Cucumber.  Cucumbers seem to be making a big splash in the Asian culinary world (ie. Ippudo) and I’m a huge fan of this trend.

Spicy Cucumber from Han Dynasty in NYC

Spicy Cucumber

Taking a cool refreshing vegetable and dousing it in chili oil creates an incredible play of flavor, texture and temperature.  The spice gives you a serious kick in the face, while the cucumber mellows out the spice level.  It’s a simple, incredible dish, which acts as the perfect transition between the noodles and main, meat dishes.

The last appetizer was recommended to us by the waiter, the pork dumplings in chili oil.

Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil

Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil

The moon-shaped large and seemingly flat dumplings swim in a bowl of bright red chili oil.  They thin and smooth wrappers are filled throughout with a mixture of minced pork and turned up a notch by the spicy oil and garlic.  It’s a different consistency then normal dumplings, which are floppy and flavorful.

Spicy Hot Pot is one of the most popular and talked about dishes, sporting a record breaking (10) on the spice scale.  Fortunately, the kitchen allows for you to modify the spice level for those like my Mom and I who can’t handle serious heat.  In addition, you’re able to select your protein of choice.  We ultimately decided on a (7) spice level and pork.

Spicy Pork Hot Pot (7)

Spicy Pork Hot Pot (7), Black Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots, Bell Peppers, Sichuan Peppercorns

Served in a sizzling pot above a flame, the thinly sliced pieces of pork are surrounded by a variety of Chinese vegetables, including lotus root, black mushrooms, onions etc.  Each piece was coated with a spice mix, instead of the chili oil.  It’s a subtle heat that continues to build with each bite.  Once again, one of the most popular dishes, with good reason.

We needed a bit more protein, opting to ordering the Pickled Chili Style Shrimp (6).

Shrimp

Pickled Chili Style Shrimp

I could not handle the heat on this dish.  The shrimp were delightful, well cooked and sweet when the extremely potent chili sauce was scrapped off the top.  But for the most part, I had to give up on this dish.

Finally, the least spicy dish of the evening arrived, a simple pea shoots and garlic side.

Pea Shoots with Garlic

Pea Shoots with Garlic

Pea shoots are the Chinese equivalent to broccoli rabe.  It’s slightly bitter and crunchy with the garlic bringing out a mild sweetness.  It’s a welcome sigh of relief to finally have a mild, fresh dish without any sign of chili oil.  It’s a great simple fresh green.

Han Dynasty fulfills all of my needs for an authentic Chinese dinner experience without having to venture all the way downtown.  The Sichuan cooking avoids falling into any nasty Americanized cliché dishes, only serving the best and spiciest.  The service, while a little less attentive then any typical East Village establishments, when compared to Chinatown joints, it flies a bit above the rest.  For anyone that loves spicy Chinese food, this place will immediately become your go-to.

XO,

G

Han Dynasty – 90 Third Avenue – New York, NY

Han Dynasty
Price: $$
Location: East Village, NY
Type: Chinese
Perfect For: Adventurous Eating, Authentic Dining, Cheap Eats
Open: Everyday
Reservations: Not Available
Favorite Dishes: Dan Dan Noodles, Spicy Cucumber, Pork Hot Pot
Official Website

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