By Lori Vetrano
It is nearly impossible to make a reservation for dinner time at Han Dynasty in University City later than a full week in advance, but no fear—there’s a far better chance of securing one at the establishment in Old City. A reservation is highly recommended, or else you may find yourself waiting outside for at least 20 minutes, which, surprisingly, many people are actually willing to do.
Hailed by Philadelphia Magazine as 2012’s “Best Chinese Restaurant not in Chinatown,” as well as one of the best places to eat in general by many Philly residents, Han Dynasty is well worth the 17-mile jaunt into the city.
With a reservation set for 7:15, we arrived a few minutes early but were both warmly and promptly ushered inside to a perfect table near the window.
The staff is super welcoming and genuinely friendly, and the ambiance of the restaurant is simple, quaint and cozy. The inside smells absolutely wonderful, not like the usual grease and MSG-filled air of most Chinese cafes and restaurants.
The scent itself promises delicious, quality Asian cuisine—and, indeed, does not fail to deliver.
Han Dynasty’s menu is set up according to levels of spiciness from one to ten, with ten being the spiciest.
The Dan Dan noodles, which are at a level eight, is the dish most highly recommended by avid reviewers and food critics and certainly lives up to the hype. They are the perfect level of spicy, with a unique flavor and delightful sort of chewiness to them. It is probably the best dish that we had throughout the meal.
However, that isn’t to say that the other food disappoints, because everything is absolutely tasty. The spicy crispy cucumber is sweet yet savory, the perfect accompaniment to the noodles as an appetizer.
Another highly recommended dish, the Dry Pot, is rated a 10 for spiciness and has a variety of meat options: beef, chicken, lamb, pork and shrimp. The chicken Dry Pot is fantastically spicy, much more so than the other dishes, but is bearable for anyone who enjoys spicy food. Inside is a plentiful amount of lean chicken, vegetables, chili peppers and sauce. The Kung Pao style dish with shrimp, an assortment of the fish and vegetables, is rated a three and, although it seems spicier than the Dry Pot, is so moist and delicious, the spiciness is barely noticeable.
The easiest and best way to wash down all of these fiery foods is with the provided green tea and large bowl of steaming, sticky jasmine rice.
Despite being so seasoned and tasty, they are not heavy like their usual Chinese counterparts. The food feels lighter, not as salty or greasy, and leaves you feeling satisfied rather than unpleasantly bloated.
The atmosphere at Han Dynasty is enjoyable and relaxing. The staff is so friendly that it is difficult to leave the restaurant not feeling absolutely content.
The next time you venture into the city craving great food, skip the cheesesteaks and head to Han—just make sure to call a week in advance.