“The best things in life are hidden in plain sight.” I felt the full force of this cliché when I visited Han Noodle Bar, a restaurant that I somehow overlooked during my 20 years living in this city. What’s worse is that one of the eateries that I frequented most throughout my high school years, Dogtown Hots, is located right next to Han — they even share a parking lot. How did I not bother to explore what had been so close to me all this time?
Upon arriving at Han, we took a seat at one of the 10 or so tables and poured over the extensive menu. The first thing I noticed about the menu was the pricing. Very few items were above $8 and most of the appetizers were ridiculously inexpensive, in the $2-4 range.
Another aspect that struck me was the variety. For me, there is nothing more exciting than looking at a menu and seeing an abundance of foods that you have never tried before. The possibilities seemed endless, and the pricing made trying everything on the menu seem like a realistic goal. Plus the number of times the words “pork belly” appear on the menu is enough to give anyone a foodie boner.
I personally am not fond of commenting on service. I feel that, good or bad, the food should be the most important aspect of a restaurant and that various mishaps or pleasantries in restaurant service shouldn’t influence one’s opinion of the food.
That being said, the service at Han is worth singling out. Our server immediately and happily greeted us, and was instrumental in helping us navigate all of Han’s offerings. While some servers stutter and stumble when asked for a recommendation, our waitress proudly pointed us in the right direction. Ultimately, we ended up ordering the cucumber salad with spicy and sour sauce, pork belly stuffed steamed buns and beef tendon with white noodles in a brothy soup.
Our first appetizer arrived at an almost magical speed, and was a delectable mix of crunchy refreshingness from the cucumber, a strong peppery spice and a sweet pickley flavor. Before we could finish the appetizer, I received my order of stuffed steamed buns. Han is famous for this delectable invention and I soon discovered why. The slightly sticky, soft and light bun was the perfect vessel for the incredibly fatty, porky treasure chest that lay inside. Add hoisin sauce for an extra flavorful kick, ground peanuts for richness and texture, scallions for an oniony crunch and a bit of cilantro, and you get one of the best tasting and cheapest snacks around — they were only $4 per order.
The high point of this experience for me involved trying something I’ve never really had before. Beef tendon is often overlooked offal that despite its infrequent use in America, remains a staple of many Asian cuisines. It is incredibly tough at first, but when rendered down over a long period of time, it becomes surprisingly tender.
I had never eaten anything like it before, save trying a little nibble in a bowl of pho once, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. When the giant bowl of steaming broth, thick white noodles, dark brown jiggley tendon and hearty greens arrived at the table, I dug in with an extreme curiosity.
I was shocked at the tenderness of the tendon. The consistency is a bit hard to get used to though — the word gelatinous comes to mind. The taste was a wonderful mix of robust beefiness and a slight hint of that distinctive flavor that most offal possesses. The tendon was tasty by itself, but it also helped bring the broth to another level. I savored the complex and rich flavor with every sip as it warmed me from the inside out.
The noodles were substantial, flavorful and perfectly cooked, and the greens were essential to adding a fresh crunchiness to the soup. I ended up eating almost all of this gigantic and wonderful mixture that I somehow managed to procure for only $6. When it came time to order dessert, I examined Han’s offerings, though none of them seemed to do it for me as I am not keen on desserts in general.
As my companion ordered a mango mousse cake, a horrible and sinful thought came into my mind. Impulsively, I turned to our waitress and, with a guilty look on my face, I asked, “Can I get another order of pork belly buns?” My request was quickly carried out and the waitress came back in a few minutes, put the delectable creations on the table and said, “Here’s your dessert!” Pork for dessert? Yes, Han Noodle Bar is that awesome.
Ford is a member of
the class of 2013.