About two years ago, my friend Wade and I made plans to eat at Han Noodle Bar.
And every single time we saw each other for the following two years, we would lament the fact that we had yet to go on our noodle date. Well, my friends, after much waiting, Wade and I finally got our spicy noods.
We had to wait two years and drive through a blizzard to get there but, oh my goodness y’all, it was worth it.
I was happy to discover that Wade operates like me in that he enjoys getting tons of different dishes and going family-style at meals. So, naturally, we combined our talents and made this a multi-course extravaganza.
To start off, we split the braised pork belly steamed buns. We were shocked by how quickly the food came out. They kept bringing us one piping hot dish after another as things were ready. Zero wait, high reward.
The bread was fabulously fluffy with just a bit of chewiness and a lovely sweetness. And the pork inside was divine. Sweet, salty, and meaty, it was so tender and melty. The chives on top added the perfect tiny bit of crisp to help complete this wonderfully-balanced bite.
Our next pick, the crispy tofu, brought even more holiday joy to the table. Though the tofu cubes were a touch too firm and dry on the inside, they had a perfectly crispy coating that was thick without being too heavy. The surrounding sauce was excellent. It reminded me of a Thai curry: a little coconutty, creamy and rich, with a nice medium-high spice level. I found myself going back to pick at this dish all throughout our meal.
Our final small plate was the kimchee chicken fried dumplings. I could never turn down dumplings, but they did have some slight issues. Although they were seared nicely, they were too oily for me on the outside. The chicken was moist, but the interior flavor left me wanting more. I did not get any kimchee flavor at all. I think I detected general cabbage-y notes, but none of that unmistakable kimchee kick.
Onto our gigantic entrees, I’ll start with the Szechuan hot pot fish fillet. The menu detailed that this szechuan peppercorn sauce is meant to be “fiery” and “numbing.” In actuality, it wasn’t very spicy at all. It was a little spicy, a little sweet, and smokey. Delicious — let’s get that straight — but not numbing in the slightest.
Wade also pointed out how the peppers were charred beautifully before being added to the sauce, which was a nice touch.
The fish fillet was beautiful as well. It was moist, soft, unbelievably buttery, and it soaked up the sauce delectably. I can’t remember the last time that I had fish that was this flavorful and cooked this masterfully.
Of course we had to get a noodle dish. The Beef Hofen (specifically, the one labeled “B10” on the menu) was a blessed choice. The rice noodles were bouncy, jiggly, a little chewy, and silky: the perfect textural composition. The gravy was simple: a little sweet, creamy, and could have used a bit more flavor, but it was comforting as it was. The beef, much like the fish, was tender and buttery and didn’t even need to be chewed at all. The bok choy was cooked to a slightly softened texture, but was still crunchy enough to bring the perfect crunch to round out this otherwise buttery dish.
I’ll also mention that, since this trip with Wade, I did return to Han a second time, and my entree then, the Seafood Broth Noodles, was a soup I may never forget. The flavor of the broth alone was exquisite, and there was so much beautiful seafood packed inside.
To sum it up, Han Noodle Bar’s food is delicious, served in gigantic portions, comes out quickly, and — most enticingly for the vast majority of us students — is cheap.
I’d return again this week.