With locations in Exton, Royersford, Old City and Manayunk, the Han Dynasty empire recently expanded to University City with its fifth authentic Szechuan restaurant opening in what was formerly the MidAtlantic Taphouse.
With the spiciness ranging from mild to brain-burning, the meat, fish and vegetarian dishes are fueled by Szechuan peppercorns and chili oil. The menu remains the same, but the new spot has outdoor seating, eight draft beers and a kitschy, Asian-inspired cocktail list crafted by mixologist Katie Loeb.
Also the same is 33-year-old Han Dynasty chef Han Chiang's punk rock attitude.
"I wanna be a rock star, but in a restaurant," Chiang says. "I want the groupies and all that. I want to take over the world. I'm very opinionated, and I say things people don't expect me to say."
Unlike most high-profile chefs, Chiang oftentimes personally takes orders from customers. So, while dinner at Han Dynasty promises the spiciest food in Philadelphia, there's also a chance you'll experience Chiang's rugged charm.
"If you order wrong, I'll explain to you why it's wrong, and tell you how to order better," says Chiang. "Listen to me, you'll have a great meal. When I take American friends to eat in Chinatown, I don't allow them to order. I order everything, and if they disagree, I tell them to go f--k themselves. Same with my customers."
Though Chiang might be harsh, he means well; his words correspond with a caring, not a hateful, feeling. But, whatever you do, don't complain about the food being too spicy.
"My food's a perfect balance of spice, numbingness, saltiness and flavor," explains Chiang. "If people complain, I say, 'You don't go to McDonald's and complain that the food's too fast, do you?' This is what Szechuan cuisine is. Those people are wimps, and I don't like ignorant people that don't want to try something new. Maybe there's torture and sweating, but it's a pleasurable pain."