New York Times Review of Han Dynasty: Pete Wells Not a Fan (And Neither Am I)


I’ve been to most of the Han Dynasty locations, including the one in New York, but I’ve never waited in line. This isn’t because owner Han Chiang and I are chummy. Believe me, we are not.

It’s partially because there’s pretty much nothing that I will wait in line for. Lines are for suckers and chumps. I even bitched and moaned when I had to stand in line at the Wells Fargo Center box office last year to pick up tickets to see the Rolling Stones. Free tickets, and some of the best seats in the house. So, you know, I’m just not a line guy.

That’s not to say that if I show up at a restaurant and they tell me there’s a ten-minute wait that I won’t give it a go, especially if there is a group of us and also especially if there is a bar where I can neturalize my line anxiety with things made from gin.

But if that ten-minute wait suddenly turns into a twenty-minute wait, well, I’m not going to be happy. And if it becomes a thirty-minute wait (how many times have you heard, “I’m sorry, sir, we’re just waiting for the party to finish their dessert”), there’s not enough gin in the world to solve that problem. Some may see it as, “Well, it’s only twenty extra minutes.” I see it as a 200% increase in my inconvenience.

But even if I didn’t have this intense line aversion, I still wouldn’t wait in line to eat at Han Dynasty, because it’s just not that good.

Oh, I know this flies in the face of most of my friends’ and colleagues’ opinions, and there have been plenty of glowing reviews of Han Dynasty. Recently, New York magazine’s Adam Platt declared that location one of the ten best new restaurants in New York City. But I think what I think.

Well, finally, someone has spoken the truth about Han Dynasty, and it’s none other than New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, whose review caught my attention because of its title, “Factoring In the Mystique of Long Lines.” (Otherwise, I would have just assumed that it was another rave review and not bothered reading it.)

In the New York Times review of Han Dynasty, Wells starts off noting that most of the time “when you see crowds of New Yorkers standing outside a bakery or putting their names on the list at the door of a restaurant, more often than not the food they’re hanging around for is worth eating.”

He finds three exceptions to this rule:

1) “…lines formed by tourists who trade their vacation days for a handful of cake crumbs under a waxy helmet of frosting on Bleecker Street.”

2) Brunch lines. “Be wary of the opinions of people who will endure hunger and hangovers for a free mimosa.” Amen, Pete. Amen.

3) And Han Dynasty, where, Wells notes, dinner line-waiting times have been at 45 minutes or more since it opened at the end of summer.

Wells writes that he is “mystified” by the lines at Han Dynasty, because there “are far better Sichuan restaurants” in New York. I’d agree, having had better-than-Han meals at Sichuan places like Szechuan Gourmet and La Vie En Szechuan, among others.

He finds Han Dynasty’s use of sugar and MSG excessive (the latter is “often used in great, slashing doses”), and the cumin lamb “anemic” and containing “floppy bands of meat.” In fact, the only thing that Wells seems to really like are the dry pepper chicken wings. “Still,” he says, “if I want Han Dynasty’s wings again, I’ll get delivery. A 45-minute wait for the doorbell to ring would be well within reason.”

Owner Chiang has said that he wants to open 100 new Han Dynasty locations in the next several years, and that’s great for him. I wish him all the success. And based on Jason Sheehan’s big feature on Chiang in the January issue of Philadelphia magazine, he does seem like a cool guy to hang out with. (Anthony Bourdain apparently thought so.)

But the idea that Han Dynasty is somehow revoluntionizing this city or any other city’s dining scene or that the food is the best there is, well, that’s just laughable. Most of the time, Han Dynasty is just mediocre, or, as Wells (nicely) grades it in his review, “satisfactory.”

That’s not to say that Chiang won’t become a very rich man serving mediocre plates of Sichuan food. After all, Outback does pretty well.

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  • Seth

    Expressing how badly you hate lines…. You’re not fucking special. Everyone hates lines you dipshit

    • Dan

      I agree and disagree.

      There is a certain set or sets that feel more special if they have to wait in lines. Basically every hip bar/restaurant in Manhattan and LA throws a red rope out and a bouncer at like 10:00pm. Most of these bars are no better (actually generally worse) than hundreds of bars/restaurants without lines. Yet hordes wait. The author also cited the same sorts of lines at brunch places which really are no better than many other brunch places (sabrinas, I’m looking at you). Amazingly, I saw a red rope and a huge line outside of Fado the other day. That place is just horrible. I think the line begets the crowd in a terrible joint like that.

      Just a quibble, but I was bored.

      • liner

        people are definitely attracted to lines on a psychological level. its science fact

  • mike

    omg, victor hates something? no.

    • vfiorillo

      You know my work!

  • mike

    be my hero and use that snark energy towards killing the PA liqueur laws.

    • vfiorillo

      Which laws do you specifically object to?

      • mike

        just the state controlling it all.

  • Alex Tewfik

    But what if the restaurant ACTUALLY is waiting for that party to finish their dessert? What if the table can’t be flipped because the people there want to take their sweet, sweet time eating dessert and have no understanding of how restaurants work?

  • Kory Aversa

    I am glad someone said what no one else would publicly say.. I once suggested that eating there was “okay, good but not addictive” and I thought I was going to be exiled. (The dirty looks were fast and furious.) This was AFTER a particular meal where I observed biggest cheerleaders quietly mumbling under their breath in displeasure over temps, textures and not finishing their meal (and yes lines/wait times). The fanatical cult following seems to have overshadowed reality. With that said, it wasn’t terrible by no means. In fact, I thought the Dan Dan Noodles totally lived up to the hype and the thought of them has my mouth watering. If I’m in the mood for spice, I would totally head back for second try and I would recommend that dish. But the other dishes were simply okay and in fact the meats we ordered were in fact rubbery, odd textures or flopped in the dish. My last visit had friends leave nearly two complete plates almost untouched. Kudos for saying it out loud… it is indeed okay and satisfactory but not earth-shattering.

    • Mark Gisi

      Which location did you go to, Kory? The service is often terrible, but to me, the food has always been great.

      • Kory Aversa

        Hey Mark! Old City location – the old location. Service the last time was iffy, but I didn’t dwell on it sometimes you get folks having an off day.

        • Mark Gisi

          Either way, bad food or bad service, I feel like it’s easy for him to lose sight of quality control. The Manayunk “store” is a standby for us.

  • rk

    i’m trying to identify an even more obnoxious example of humblebragging bullshit that’s not related to the topic at hand than your Rolling Stones tangent, but I can’t. I guess…well done? Also, way to be a brave dude and disagree with the consensus and actually make a stand. Oh, wait. You waited until someone else with a bigger name and bigger platform did it and then claimed you were first.

    Congrats, Sheehan. Someone just wrote a worse screed than you on this blog.

  • Ali Waks Adams

    I’ve been to handynasty a few times, the first time was not exactly pleasant (there was an issue with napkins the server refused to bring us more than a single bar nap after repeated pleas for more napkins – which was just silly- but it have a thing about service, having been a server I believe it’s like your job to fulfill reasonable requests for things like food, napkins, water etc- but I digress) Subsequent visits proved more satisfying though I still felt that perhaps the oil & salt content was waaaay high and that I like good potsticker and do do not want to feel the fool for ordering them. Anyhow, last weekend we went to RedKings2, wanted Sichuan without drama and with the possibility of karaoke. The food was delicious (ok the dan dan noodles were less peanutty than Hans and do maybe not as good) but the Cumin Lamb was outstanding! And even more outstanding were the lovely and accommodating staff. We brought bday cake & champagne and they were so sweet about it (not even a plate charge which was above and beyond) And they turned the tv channel when I asked (it seemed to be stuck on a Operation Smile telethon which was not so joyful to behold)

    Anyhow the food was terrific … The staff lovely the decor was lacking but who gives a shit… We had a relaxed fun time ate great Sichuan and no one was looked down upon for ordering the veggie dumplings

  • Mika

    I quite like Han Dynasty, but I made a rather disturbing discovery the last time I dined there. I’m about 90% sure that the “pork belly” in the double cooked pork belly is actually…bacon. Yes, I know pork belly and bacon are the same, but the cut just looked a little too much like it came straight out of a package.

  • James Hathaway

    Not a fan of the way they increase the spiciness of food, and I think that they go wayyyyy overboard on the chili oil. That being said, some of the items on the menu are great. The Level 10 items aren’t that hot, they are just a ton of the same pepper. some variety would be preferred rather than half a lb of Szechuan chilis in chili oil.

  • Miz Val

    Not a fan and would not darken their doors again . I spent the better part of 2 days getting my stomach back on track after consuming food so spicy you could not taste it Chiang the owner needs to lose the personality of a dial tone when people are throwing good money in his direction and making him richer than he already is..

  • Mark Gisi

    (0) for you. I learned that from Han himself.

  • Beaver Gear

    I love how people comment that “I’m glad someone finally said it” because someone agrees with their opinion while the majority do not. So you’re implying that HD food isn’t good, but since everyone else says so, they’re merely jumping on the bandwagon?
    Or maybe it’s that everyone actually likes it and a few don’t. I absolutely love Han Dynasty. And not because anyone else does. But because I happened upon the place when he first opened in the burbs (pure luck) and I had never tasted anything like it.
    In glad for Han’s success. And it’s par for the course that a few people won’t like something most do. For instance, I hate The English Patient, Rashida Jones, and cherries. Conventional wisdom says I’m bonkers for those beliefs. But, hey, there it is.

  • no

    I did go to the (old) Old City location once, and yeah, they kinda acted like they didn’t appreciate my presence there. But the Manayunk location’s staff doesn’t seem to have that problem, plus I’ve never had to wait in line there.

  • Bob noxioud

    Wow I thought I was the only one who didn’t get it. I have eaten at the original in Exton a Dozen times over the last few years. It’s good. Some dishes are special, like the dry hot pepper chicken. Yes the meats are an odd texture. The dumplings are sad. Don’t even try wonton or hot and sour soup. Yes I know they are not authentic, but Sang Kee manages to make an excellent version of both. My opinion is that all dishes in a restaurant should be great or don’t bother. Unfortunately too many items are so so.

  • Natalie

    I will and did wait 30 minutes+ minutes for a great restaurant, whether at the bar or by taking a walk around the block, like I did for Cheu Noodle Bar the other night. Totally worth it. Not every restaurant is worth waiting in line though when we have so many good ones in this city. I get that.

    You can get good Szechuan with no wait at Chili Szechuan in West Philly. I’ve heard it’s similar to Han Dynasty but cheaper.

  • guest

    way to have the balls and say something after a big time new york reviewer said it.