All photos courtesy of DanDan.
Being raised in the Han Dynasty clan, Catherina “Cat” Huang—sister to the peculiar, critically-recognized Han Chiang—is no stranger to crafting proper dan dan noodles. She’s actually so keen on the quintessential Sichuan dish that she and her husband, Kevin, decided to branch out on their own from her family’s eight-location chain to launch an elevated concept that celebrates the fiery noodles at their finest (previously the pair operated and managed the University City Han Dynasty).
Enter DanDan, the newest Sichuan/Taiwanese restaurant to enter city limits, in Rittenhouse. The Huangs rehabbed a former bi-level print shop on the corner of Moravian Street into a stunning, high-end bistro. Lined with chic accents like hanging Japanese lanterns and marquee lights (spelling “dandan,” of course), as well as industrious stainless steel and slate finishings, this sophisticated rendition is not a Han Dynasty 2.0.
Sure, you’ll find menu similarities (Han Dynasty is built on her family’s recipes). The slurpable dan dan noodles, tossed with textbook chili-laced broth and a heap of ground pork, could be considered a spinoff of the Han dish. The spicy, crunchy cucumbers are comparable to those at her brother’s restaurants, too—though for us, this rendition packed a mightier flavor-backed heat.
But there are also DanDan originals, which made our visit to Rittenhouse well worth the trip. The signature gua bao (read: Taiwanese hamburger) offered us the first snapshot of faith in Cat’s new concept, allowing us to disconnect her from the Han Dynasty association and assign her a culinary identity of her own. Crafted on a fluffy, steamed bun that’s stuffed with crispy pork belly, pickled mustard greens and a sprinkle of peanut powder, this snack was making addicts out of us, intriguing us with its layers of textures and punchy flavors. We’d equally hype her “Golden Dish,” a compelling plate piled with one of the more interesting mushroom varieties—bonapi!—sweetly cloaked and crisped in duck egg yolks.
From left: DanDan fiery ribeye brew pot; Spicy cucumbers.
Since Cat is devoted to educating diners that Sichuan cuisine is less about insanely fiery plates than it is about those executed with bold flavor profiles and inferno levels of spice, we had to give one of her spiciest options a chance. The Fiery Ribeye Brew Pot, stewed with beer, copious amounts of chili peppers, enoki mushrooms, green peppercorns, glass noodles and cabbage, is not for the faint of heart. Be warned: this dish is spicy, yet absolutely dynamic and well-prepared. We recommend ordering it toward the end of your dinner’s progression, as to not destroy your palate.
Additional dining highlights included the flaming wok twice-cooked fish drenched in fermented black beans and loaded with sauteed leeks and hot peppers. It’s tender and unique, unlike many of the restaurant’s chili pepper-packed dishes. The delicate soft shell shrimp prepared with fried soybeans and garlic is eye-catching, as well, tender in execution and flavor.
When asked if she planned to replicate her concept, as her family has done, Cat expressed an interest in expanding her brand closer to home. (The Huangs are residents of Devon.) Whether she sticks with one location or pops up in the suburbs, though, we’ll keep making Rittenhouse trips—especially for her bewitching pork buns.
DanDan also features a sharp beverage program and a 10-seat bar—the hot seats for the weekday happy hour (4:30–7 p.m.; $5 beverages and $5 snacks available). Lunch and dinner service available. Follow DanDan on Facebook for up-to-date news and food specials.
126 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, (215) 800-1165, dandanrestaurant.com