I would not have expected a popular restaurant and a movie I was eager to catch to intersect in quite this way, but so it went: I put my name on the list at Han Dynasty, in the East Village, and went to the multiplex next door to see a film. When I got out two hours later, my name had still not quite reached the top of the restaurant's list for a table. I'd been told the wait could be this long, but I didn't quite believe it till I saw it happen. In any case, this worked out fine for me--I got to see the movie and then meet friends for a spicy and satisfying Sezchuan Chinese meal. (Reservations, by the way, are available, but only for parties of 8 or more.)
Once seated--you've got to materialize pretty quickly once your table is ready; the restaurant will text you, but you've only got 10 minutes to take your seats--we enjoyed cold sesame noodles ($6.95) and spring rolls ($3.50) as appetizers. A guy at the table next to ours recommended the "spicy crispy cucumber" salad ($6.95), so we tried that too, and it might have been my favorite of the appetizer dishes. I then dug into my cumin-crusted tofu entree--stir-fried with bell peppers, dry peppers, and onions ($12.95). My friends got an assortment of fish, pork, and vegetarian dishes--most were pretty spicy (the menu will tell you how hot what you've ordered normally is, but you can request an adjustment if you'd like), and all drew raves. They were also refreshingly affordable--entrees are priced in the low $20 range at the very most. Free-flowing tea helped tame the spice, and the crowded goodwill of the place made the dinner feel like a big celebration. Tip: By about 10 or 10:30, the lines did start to ease, if you don't mind eating late.
I'm not enough of an expert on Sezchuan food to know all the details of why this place is considered superior to so many others that are less crowded. But I can attest that it's damn good; and some patrons who grew up with this food in China claim that it seems just like home. As we welcome in the Chinese Year of the Horse, consider getting your name on the list for a table here, making yourself busy in the neighborhood for a while, and then enjoying Han Dynasty's authentic and well-crafted dishes.
Review By: Pamela Grossman