The tongue is a great taxonomist. When confronted with a new food, it reaches into the taste memory files and looks for associations. When I bit into a sandwich from the Han Burger — a virtual restaurant that offers only carryout and delivery from a shared kitchen — my tongue took me back to my sister’s house in Philadelphia years ago.
“This is a real hoagie,” she said, unwrapping a tube of butcher paper secured with masking tape that she had driven to South Philly to fetch for me. The roll was glossy and firm enough to make a bit of noise when tapped. It was also thirsty for whatever olive oil, pickled pepper brine, and porky capicola grease it could absorb. No typical sub, it was a precise union of bread and fillings.
The Han Burger hits all these sensations but with a different taste profile. Owners John and Arami Hackett (who are American and Chinese, respectively) based it on roujiamo, a street snack popular in China’s west-central Shanxi Province. If you’ve tried one of these small stuffed flatbreads (say, at Chinatown’s Xi’an Cuisine), you’ll find the Han Burger heftier and more tricked out.
The basic version, the Han Solo, holds a generous serving of soft, shredded pork belly imbued with walloping flavor (five-spice and cilantro, among other seasonings) and a thin layer of tingly hot peppers. The griddle-browned roll (think Chinese English muffin) sponges up the excess grease yet stays firm. A cup of au jus comes for your dunking pleasure. There’s also a version with beef brisket, which tastes quite similar, if a bit leaner.
You may also choose add-ons, such as a fried egg, giardiniera, or garlic aïoli. The latter gilds the lily of the Aïoli Han nicely but soaks into the wrapper and renders the roll greasy. Get it on the side. Speaking of sides, you can opt for some spiced roasted potatoes, but don’t bother: They taste like the garnish from a middling brunch spot. I’d rather have waffle fries or a bag of some fun-flavored chips. You’re ordering in: Just provide your own damn sides and wait for the goodness to arrive. It will remind you of a hoagie, a muffuletta, or even an Italian beef, but no matter what, it will speak to you. thehanburger.com