Sitting inside the boxy wooden interior of Han Dynasty, Chinese music can be heard in the background. And as it softly lulls your ears, spicy Sichuan food sparks fire on your tongue.
Han Dynasty began six years ago in Exton, Penn. where Han Chiang, the owner of the restaurant, lived at the time. Since then, the restaurant chain has made a name for itself in the Phila- delphia area, becoming a local favorite. Its first location in New York City, lo- cated at 90 Third Ave., opened on the first week of September 2013. It is the restaurant’s seventh location.
“We are currently in a soft opening phase,” June Kwan, Chiang’s aunt said. “Everything is not ready yet, we are waiting for our liquor license and there is no delivery service as of now.”
One of their most popular dishes is the dan dan noodles ($7.95). The noodles are served with sesame paste, house-made chili oil, and soy sauce and topped with minced pork and preserved vegetables.
Steinhardt junior Helen Li enjoyed the noodles and a spicy cucumber appetizer.
“When you first eat it, you don’t rea- lly taste the chili oil, and it kicks in after you swallow, and the heat level builds as you eat more,” Li said. “There’s a slight [spicy] numbing [in these noodles but] I can still taste the sesame [flavor].”
The spicy cucumber dish ($6.95) is made fresh to order with peeled cucum- bers, sugar, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce and chili oil.
“The cucumbers are really cooling de- spite the spiciness,” Li said. “This tastes a little more spicy than the noodles.”
Other spicy favorites include wontons in chili oil ($6.95) and mapo tofu ($11.95).
In addition to the usual Sichuan fare, Han Dynasty also offers a few Taiwan- ese and Cantonese dishes with less heat on its menu, such as fried Taiwanese sausages ($7.95). The sweet, smooth and soft sausages are served with fresh garlic slices that give the appetizer a fragrant, garlicky bite.
The menu’s eclectic nature is partially due to the owner’s personal background. Chiang is originally from Taiwan, but his father was from Sichuan. Chiang’s child- hood cherished both the sweet and salty flavors of Taiwanese cuisine and the fi- ery spices of Sichuan cuisine. At Han Dynasty he aspires to celebrate both cui- sines with equal respect.
“Life is all about balancing,” he said. “If you don’t like spicy, you would hate it. Not everyone has a Sichuan palate. I serve authentic flavors with my own twists to [use] local ingredients and [match] the local palate.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday Sept. 17 print edition. Lily Chin is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]