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Henry's Hunan--did it used to be... [San Francisco]

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Back in the early 1980's I worked on Nob Hill (the building is now the Ritz-Carlton--my old office is the gift shop!) I used to walk down the hill and have lunch in a place on Kearny, probably near California or Sacramento Streets. it was a hole-in-the-wall, just a counter and one row of tables, and I think it was just called "Hunan." I remember some of the stuff they had on the wall: a photo of the members of The Who eating there, and a review from the New Yorker saying that it was the best Chinese restaurant in the world--period.

Has that little place morphed into all the Henry's Hunan locations? And are they still as good as that little dive used to be? I'll be in town again in a few weeks, and I was hoping to have another good sinus-clearing meal there.

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  1. Yes, that's the one. Henry's Hunan gets mixed reviews here but the other Hunan restaurants in SF like Hunan Homes or Brandy Ho's tend not to get raves either, so it might be worth a stop just for nostaigia's sake.

    Though if you really want to clear your sinuses, go to Lers Ros and order the green papaya salad extra spicy. :)

    -----
    Hunan Homes Restaurant
    622 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

    3 Replies
    1. re: bigwheel042

      Henry's is great. Hunan Homes is Taiwanese, if I recall, and Brandy Ho's is Chinese-American.

      The recipes at Henry's like the smoked ham rice plate have not changed in the past 20 years, although the menu's longer. It's still run by the same family. I like the Sacramento St location DavidT mentions if you're downtown for lunch.

      But if you know Jeff and Eddie, they're now running the Noe Valley location on Church and 29th. Cousins are running the other outposts.

      -----
      Hunan Homes Restaurant
      622 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

      1. re: Windy

        The smoked ham rice plate at the Noe Valley location is quite delicious. Nice to know that it's an old family recipe!

        1. re: Pei

          On the lunch menu at Bryant street, it was rice plate #1 (of a total of 4). I have trouble ordering anything else.

    2. There is a Henry's Hunan on Sacramento Street, just east of Kearny. The vibe in that place is pretty close to the original where you used to go. There is a counter where you can sit and watch the cooks with their woks. There are much larger Henry's Hunans north of Broadway and south of Market.

      http://www.henryshunanrestaurant.com/

      1. I like the branch on Sansome, decent draft beer selection. Some more history:

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/23772

        9 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Oh what a wonderful thread, Robert, thank you for linking it. Hunan was one of my favorite haunts back in the 80s. I hope it has Diana's Special in it! Plus there was a fantastic chilled eggplant dish there I love.

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Diana's Special and the eggplant salad are still on the menu.

            This guy famously ate every dish on the menu:

            http://greasepig.com/henrys/

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Does anyone know what's in the DIana's Special besides the deep fried pancakes, meat sauce and shredded lettuce? Is there something creamy/dairy'ish in there, too?

              My cookbook arrived, and it has the chilled eggplant salad, so I'm thrilled. The $8 I spent on the book is justified by that recipe alone. But, it doesn't have Diana's special. I'm wondering if I can assemble it from the components in the book, which has onion cake appetizer: "cakes" similarish to tortillas (which he recommends as an alternative), with a thin layer of onion spread in between. There's also a recipe for noodles with meat (pork) sauce. I think I could fry the pancakes (omitting the onion spread of course), use the meat sauce, and add shredded lettuce.

              But, is there also something creamy/dairy-like in DIana's special? I can't remember...

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I don't think there's any dairy, just lots of pork fat and oil. The greasepig.com "journey through the menu" item on Diana's Meat Pie says it's the same meat sauce as in the Noodles with Pork Meat Sauce and Vegetables and Bean Curd with Meat Sauce.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Okay, good to know. If' it's just lots of pork fat and oil, I've got it covered!

                  That link to greasepig's journey was very helpful because it confirmed, as you point out, that the meat sauce is the same as on the noodles, which recipe is in the book.

                  For some reason, something I read somewhere said there was something creamy in there, too, but that just doesn't make any sense. I don't personally remember any dairy, though it's been a long time since I've had a Diana's special. Maybe 10 years?

                  Anyway, thanks! I'm so glad this thread popped up.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Answers my question as well. I have the book so I will have to look again at the meat sauce recipe. It didn't strike me as the same sauce but perhaps I am attributing one of the other ingredients in the dish to the sauce. I always thought there was almost a peanut butter, or maybe miso, flavor - maybe even ground sesame seed. I'll give it a try.

                    1. re: tomatoaday

                      I think the extra ingredient in the meat pie is parmesean cheese. I'm not kidding.

                      1. re: fredocorleone

                        That defies logic, but it's certainly possible! I wonder if they'd tell you if you called and asked.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: fredocorleone

                          HAHAHAHA! You are absolutely correct: Parm Cheese. It doesn't take a whole lot of sleuthing, as it turns out.

                          Per their online menu: Diana's Special Meat Pie
                          Deep-fried flour cakes filled with meat sauce, Parmesan cheese, vegetables, onions and condiments (with or without hot sauce).

                          http://www.henryshunanrestaurant.com/...

                          ~TDQ

            2. I've been going to Henry's since the 70's. I do think there is a difference between some of the restaurants now. The location on Bryant is not great since Jeff left to open the Church St. branch. I would go to either the big one on Sansome St. but if you can go to the Church St. location run by Henry's two grandsons...Eddy and Jeff. Eddy used to be at Natoma St. and as mentioned, Jeff was at Bryant St. I think the food is the best there and they go out of their way to make you feel welcome. They also have the best cooks in the family in my opinion.
              If you're really nostalgic...you can look for a copy of Henry's cookbook which is long out of print but has his recipes...Green Apple Books often has one albeit expensive.

              -----
              Henry's Hunan
              1708 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

              3 Replies
              1. re: cakebaker

                Oh I had no idea he had a cookbook! Heading to Amazon right now.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: cakebaker

                  I have a copy of Henry's cookbook that I bought in the 70s at the Sansome location. There's a line in it about heating the oil in the wok that goes something like "you can't have the oil too hot, just not hot enough" (that's from long-ago memory). I took that literally with an electric range and flat-bottom wok and the next thing I knew I had a roaring oil fire in the wok. After a millisecond of wondering if I could smother the fire and imagining the consequences if that didn't work I grabbed the fire extinguisher at hand and used it. Quite a mess to clean up.

                  1. re: cakebaker

                    Also you can find the book at Omnivore Books.

                  2. You're probably thinking of the Sacramento Street branch. The original Hunan was on Kearny nr. Jackson, and was gone by the early 80's.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: soupçon

                      I believe the original branch was open until the building was condemned after the 1989 earthquake.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Now that you mention it, I think you are right. The Sansome street branch became the "home" branch when it opened, but the Kearny St. branch lingered on.

                    2. Yes, indeed. I remember the Kearny Street branch from my first business trip to San Francisco in 1985. The dish I remember from that visit is the hot and sour chicken. I've been to the Natoma St. location several times in the past few years when I've had conferences at Moscone, and that dish tastes just like I remember it from 25 years ago. Some hot and sour chicken and a nice Sierra Nevada on draft makes a great way to unwind after a conference day.

                      Michael

                      1. a few years back i remembered the sacramento locale was runned by henry's daughter whose name i've forgotten. the sansome one is runned by marty(eldest son), et al. the proprietor of brandy ho's used to work for hunan at one time. at the sansome location, i believe. the other henry's hunan are run by other relatives of the family.

                        this info is a bit old and might be dated by events i'm not aware of.

                        1. We eat regularly at the Noe Valley location, run by Jeff and Eddie. The quality is really consistent, and they're very nice. If you are going to critic the place, you can say many of the dishes are spiced similarly -- hot, salty, spicy. But that's what we go there for (and the have non-spicy dishes, as my 10 year-old son can attest). If I want a different style, I go to a different Chinese place.

                          1. I may be wrong -- in fact I probably am -- but I don't think that the "Hunan on Kearny" hole in the wall is related to the Henry's restaurants. There was another Henry's on Kearny that is now gone, but if my memory serves me, it is/was not the same as the Hunan on Kearny that was condemned in the wake of Loma Prieta. I used to love going to that one for lunch and sit at the counter watching the two wok chefs in action. The menu at the Kearny place was always much smaller than any of the Henry's places, and none of the dishes I loved at Kearny are done as well at any of the Henry's I've been to. In particular, the cold noodles with chicken dish found on Henry's lunch menu is such a poor approximation of the one found at the Kearny place it would be hard for me to believe there's an relation to what I used to have -- I really, really miss that dish.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: BernalKC

                              The Chungs opened the original Hunan at 853 Kearny in 1974. Given the size of the place, it probably had a shorter menu than the second location they opened on Sansome in 1978 ... I ate at both so many times I'm surprised I can't remember.

                              http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                              1. re: BernalKC

                                Not to challenge your memory of the chicken salad but which one are you referring to? I didn't know they also do a chicken salad with a thicker wheat noodle that I got a few years back by accident and was nothing like the chicken salad I've had hundreds of times at all of their places that I love.

                                1. re: cakebaker

                                  They have a cold noodle salad with chicken, cucumbers, and peanut sauce. I think you're right that the recipe has changed, or it used to be better.

                                  We used to get it at Bryant street (mid 90s when Jeff was there).

                                  1. re: Windy

                                    Yes, I was referring to the cold noodle dish. Glad to get your corroboration that it was different and better. A lot of times, food memories can be illusory.

                                    1. re: BernalKC

                                      Sorry, maybe I wasn't clear. They have 2 cold chicken salads...one with glass noodles and one that I got by mistake with wheat noodles that with the same ingredients but a very different salad...I though possibly you were referring to that one since I was surprised by it. I have found both the smoked ham and the cold chicken salad (with glass noodles) to be consistent since the 70's. The only caveat is that some of the cooks in some of the branches are much better than others. I have never found either the Sansome location nor "Jeff and Eddy's" to be anything but what I remember. While a small point, I did start ordering the chicken salad with the dressing on the side a few years back as it keeps it from getting soggy so quickly.

                                2. re: BernalKC

                                  hunan on kearny and hunan on sansome are the same owners. remember the lines on kearny going out the door? the elder chungs did the cooking. the older son, marty, maintained the lines outside the restaurant and kept everyone in a good mood. marty's a natural at making small talk,
                                  was a suave dresser, and a lady's man. (single also).

                                3. Thanks for all the info and advice! I'm looking forward to checking out at least one or two of the new incarnations of my old favorite when I'm in town.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                    I ate at the Sansome location a couple of weeks ago. The first thing that struck me was that it was empty, which never used to happen. (It was early on a weeknight.) That made me wonder if it wasn't as good as it used to be, but when the food came any doubts were put to rest. I had twice cooked pork, which has always been a favorite, and hot/sour soup. Everything was just as good as I remembered it. I've also been to the Sacramento location within the past year, and it was excellent too. (And the portions are huge.)

                                  2. When I worked in SF, I used to eat at the Sansome branch at least once a week and loved it. I still try to get there sometimes now for dinner and it always seems empty. I love the dumplings, Diana's meat pit, the shrimp chow mein and the Napa cabbage and shrimp (not the one with meat sauce). My only criticism is that everything seems to have loads of carrots.

                                    A dish they have on their lunch menu but not on the dinner is the thick noodles with cabbage, hot sauce and a ground pork sauce that tastes like it has miso or maybe even ground peanuts in it. Anyone know how that is made? If you, would you post it on the Home Cooking Page? I have the cook book but don't think that dish is in there.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: tomatoaday

                                      I'd be surprised if they wouldn't make it for you at dinner.

                                      1. re: Windy

                                        Oh they have, but I have only asked for it to go. Since the sauce seems pretty straight forward I would like to make the components ahead and pack them in for a bagged lunch. I don't live or work in SF and would like to eat the dish more often than I seem to get to Hunan.

                                    2. Henry's on Sac is still the place to go. Eat at the counter, watch the magic. Actually, one of the locations made it into the Michelin Guide and yes, it's basically the same food. But 49 times out of 50 Henry's on Sac is the place to go for a Meat Pie, Henry's Special and Beef with Green Beans (not green beans and beef which is different).

                                      1. Inspired by this thread, I ended up getting the Henry's on Sansome to deliver food for 30 high school debaters to 2 Embarcadero for lunch today. Everyone was very happy. I went w/ both beef and chicken chow mein (half hot, half not), noodles w/ meat sauce & Hunan sauce, country style veg (half hot, half not), and Marty's special (half hot, half not). It had been a couple of years since I'd been to Henry's, and I definitely need to get back soon (esp. when my ordering is not so constrained).

                                        Everyone at Henry's was super helpful, especially Betty, who took the order. She made sure every dish and permutation was clearly marked in English, and kept in phone contact re: the delivery.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: lexdevil

                                          Some correct information, some incorrect. The Kearny street location closed briefly when Henry moved to Sansome but then reopened. Ultimately, it was a victim of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Sansome is now operated by Marty, Henry's eldest son. Marty has been serving since the seventies when he managed the line outside Kearny Street and worked with his Mom and Dad.
                                          Bryant Street was opened by Marty--with Jeff as the manager. Jeff now runs the Church Street restaurant. Jeff has always served excellent food with excellent service.
                                          Likewise, Marty has maintained the quality of his food and his restaurant. The New Yorker article graces the wall at Sansome Street.
                                          To me there is nothing in the world like Marty's Special but you have to like smoked meat.

                                        2. In the 80's,Brandy Ho's Hunan, which has very similar food and menu to Henry's, was nearby Kearny, on Columbus/Pacific. It's still there. In the 80's the food was excellent, our favorite place that we've pine for since we moved to NYC long ago. I've heard mixed reviews about it now but every time we've gone back it's been just as excellent.

                                          1. I only tried 2 locations but it was the saltiest Chinese food I've ever had.