Han Dynasty, or, a spice lover finally makes it to “handynasty”

Considering my deep and abiding love for spice, it’s amazing that it took me so long to make it to Han Dynasty, colloquially known as “handynasty.” I think it’s Old City location (versus Chinatown) threw me off, but when I went out of my way to make it in the door, bottle of crisp white wine in hand, I was not disappointed.

Many people are scared of the hot hot heat that is Schezuan, but don’t be afraid – Han has coded each menu item with a spice number. I have a pretty solid spice tolerance, but really, the “10” here didn’t kill me at all – just made me want more. This sultry dish was a “dry pot,” a metal bowl of vegetables and meat (sadly, the cooks refuse to substitute tofu) in hot chili oil with plenty of fresh chilis over a flame. In theory, the flame “dries out” the dish before it reaches your table. We didn’t find that to be the case, but it didn’t affect the deliciousness of the dish.

I had the pickled tofu which, coming in at a 5, made me concerned that it would be too tame. I asked our waiter to kick-up the spice quotient, and it came just perfect. On a side note, if you avoid pools delicious oil in your food, this is not the dish, or even the place for you. The oil helps to bring out the heat and flavor of the dried chilies, and is entirely necessary. That doesn’t mean that you need to drink the leftover pool at the bottom of your bowl.

After hearing so much praise about the Dan Dan noodles, I gave them a go and they were good – a spicy sort of cold sesame noodle, and definitely enough to share between two. The angels did not sing, but these noodles are certainly a step-up from a sesame noodles appetizer. With the addition of my companion’s chicken dumpling soup (which he deemed fantastic) we ended up taking piles of food home. It’s only fair to mention, at this point, that the prices are more than reasonable, and BYOB sweetens the deal.

I must, in good faith, warn you that the service was totally bizarre service. Different people were constantly arriving at the table to take our order (which one was our server? I don’t know) deliver or take things away, and check on our meal. Like, every 5 minutes. I was seated by an employee and then told by a different employees that my previous conversation didn’t count because employee #1 “doesn’t speak any English.” The food came out blazing fast – they’re just trying to get people in and out of the door. So YOU have to carefully pace your meal. Order one appetizer, then another, then wait away, then order your dinner. And try to ignore the distracted waitstaff and chefs fighting (and throwing dishes) in the kitchen.

Han Dynasty on Urbanspoon


King Soup, Vientiane

I can sing the praises of Vientiane’s affordable, delicious, vegetarian-friendly Laotian cuisine all the day long. I have never had a dish at this neighborhood BYOB that I didn’t like, and often I love whatever I ordered so much that I get in a rut, and can only order that exact same thing for months (sometimes years). So it’s a big deal when I break the mold and order something different. But this King Soup caught me eye – it was exactly what I wanted on a cool and rainy night. A coconut milk curry base with noodles, fried tofu, plenty of chilis and all the toppings of a traditional Pho. Perfect. Of course, I’ve had it twice again since I took this photo!

Spaghetti Squash – the vegetable noodle

This time of year I am absolutely crazy about spaghetti squash. These large, yellow oval squashes should be popping up in your CSAs and on your supermarket shelves. They are delicious, healthy, and provide easy-to-cook vegetable noodles that you can substitute in all of your favorite pasta recipes. In the above photo I topped my “noodles” with a sauce made from the last fresh tomatoes of the season, pesto, capers, and of course, a healthy dose of parmesan cheese. Not all squash will come with their own instruction sheets, so if you’re not sure how to cook spaghetti squash, never fear.

Preparing Spaghetti Squash
1. Cut the squash into manageable chunks. This may just be halves for a small squash, or quarters for a larger squash.
2. Carefully scoop out the seeds, leaving the flesh. You can wash the seeds and place them on a greased cookie sheet and roast them in the oven, if you like!
3. Place the squash, cut side down, in a large casserole dish/es, cut side down. Add water to dish until it covers the bottom half inch to inch of the squash.
4. Microwave on HI until the squash is soft. For two smallish squash halves, this will take about 8 minutes. OR you can roast the squash in the oven, much like you would acorn or butternut squash. This method works fine, but will take much longer.
5. Remove the squash sections from the casserole and allow them to cool slightly.
6. Using a fork, “rake” the squash flesh away from its outer shell. It will pull off in strings, like spaghetti noodles.
7. Serve dressed or with sauce on the side, like any other “noodle.”

Indonesian Soup at Pagoda Noodle Cafe

Indonesian Tofu Soup
Indonesian Tofu Soup

I love to go to movies at the Ritz Theaters, but there are not a lot of places that I love to grab a quick bite to eat when in Old City. Coming out of a movie at the Ritz 5 the other week, and straight into a cold, rainy night, I had a craving for soup. Senor Lanky and I finally decided to try the oddly located Pagoda Noodle Cafe, right next to the Ritz East Theater.

The hour was late and the place mostly empty, but I got my bowl of Indonesian Tofu soup (extra spicy please!) quickly and it was just what I wanted, hot, with a lot of egg, tofu and noodle and chili. Yum. Service is not the best (we had to ask to receive water and there don’t seem to be a lot of wait staff), but the Pagoda menu is expansive, has a lot of vegetarian options, and is nicely priced.

Pagoda Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Nan Zhou Handdrawn Noodle House

I’ll go to Chinatown any time, but a Dr. Dog concert located just up the street at the Starlight Ballroom gave me a convenient excuse to convince friends to visit Nan Zhou Handdrawn Noodle House. Nan Zhou has been on my “to visit” list for months now, and did not disappoint. It’s small and has brusque service that requires a lot of pointing and ordering by number, but the noodle soup, either handdrawn in the small open kitchen or fresh-shaved, is delicious, ridiculously cheap, and arrives at the table in 5 minutes. I was so eager to start slurping my vegetable and fried egg soup with handdrawn noodles, I forgot to take a photo until half the soup was safe in my tummy, but I think you’ll still get the idea.

handdrawn vegetable and egg noddle soup
handdrawn vegetable and egg noddle soup

The vegetarian soup costs less than $4, though I added an extra, entirely unneeded deep-fried egg, for an additional 50 cents. You can see the tangle of fresh noodles, which got even more delicious as they absorbed more of the soup broth, the deep-fried egg, and what remained of the generous heap of fresh cilantro. The broth is quite delicate, and I added two Tbs. of hot chili oil and soy sauce. Handdrawn noodles can be difficult to find, and I’d suggest ordering these instead of the thicker, very doughy shaved noodles. The menu can be a bit difficult to decipher, mostly because of poor English translations, but I think they do offer one side dish that isn’t meat-based (my dining companions split the spicy beef tendons), Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. Not being a fan of oyster sauce, or anything fishy, I skipped them, but wished for a vegetarian -friendly side dish. Overall, though, I was very pleased with the flavor of my soup, and its great value. The soup was so perfect on a blustery fall day, I somehow managed to finish the entire, huge, bowl!

Nan Zhou Hand-Drawn Noodle House on Urbanspoon