Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 28, 2023

Social media gets it right (for a change) with Han-Mi

The noodle stir-fry at Han-Mi in Chattanooga. - Photos by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

As the debate about Korean barbecue raged in the Chattanooga subreddit, I sat back and watched the spectacle I’d unwittingly unleashed.

“Zaya will blow your mind and is worth every cent,” lobbed one user. “I go whenever I can.”

“My husband and I were not impressed,” volleyed another. “It was too expensive.”

“There’s Volcano Korean BBQ,” suggested a third. “People seem to like it.”

“One trip was enough for me,” countered yet another combatant. “For that kind of money, I want someone else to cook.”

This user was referring to the practice at many Korean barbecues of diners cooking their protein themselves on a grill placed in the center of their table.

While this sounded like a fun urban adventure, I didn’t trust myself to heat the meat thoroughly. But I still wanted to try this new cuisine that’s been popping up around Chattanooga like the recent wave of do-it-yourself carwashes.

From Zaya 1943 Korean Steakhouse on Cherokee Boulevard to Volcano Korean BBQ on Gunbarrel to others peppered around the city, I wanted to see what the fuss is about.

Fortunately, one restaurant emerged unscathed from the melee – Han-Mi, a Korean restaurant on Broad Street.

“Han-Mi is all you need,” entered one user.

“I second this,” posted another. “Han-Mi is delicious.”

“I’d die for Han-Mi,” offered a third. “They sometimes have a fried chicken sandwich with mustard peanut butter (aioli) that’s the chef’s kiss.”

“We have a winner,” I declared hours after starting the conversation in the hopes of identifying a unique and appetizing spot for dinner. Then I was in my truck and headed downtown before the dust cleared.

Han-Mi is located at 3130 Broad Street in a building that’s been home to several ethnic restaurants over the last decade or so. I became concerned when I learned where it is because nothing – NOTHING – seems to last there.

However, operated by a family that claims on hanmichatt.com to use the ingredients and cooking methods their parents, grandparents and so on used for generations in Korean, Han-Mi has developed enough of a following to reach the two-year point.

Not only that, but the restaurant is expanding both its hours – it’s now open Mondays – and its menu.

Given how restaurants come and go in Chattanooga – usually after you fall in love with a certain dish – stability is critical went selecting a new haunt.

Another reason I chose Han-Mi is its diners don’t cook the meat themselves. This was a relief because, frankly, I go to restaurants to have ready-to-eat meals placed in front of me.

I was concerned about heat, as I’d read that Volcano Korean BBQ cranks up the thermostat. Thankfully, the server who attended to me and two friends who tagged along explained that, yes, some of their dishes are intense but many aren’t, and pointed out which is which.

The Korean Fried Chicken appealed to me, but since I like only a little kick I was worried about the names of its variations, which included Spicy Tangy, Mongolian Eradicator and Tears of Joy.

The server assured me the Spicy Tangy would suit me while warning me against ordering the others.

“The Mongolian Eradicator is a seven on the spicy scale, while Tears of Joy is a 10,” he noted. “We’re about to come out with a new one that’s even hotter called Emotional Damage.”

“Nooo thank you,” I said, although one of my dinner companions, whom I didn’t know was a masochist, expressed interest.

I settled on the Spicy Tangy, while one friend ordered the Pork Belly Wraps (slices of select pork belly purchased from a market in Atlanta topped with scallion salad and seasoned miso) and the other requested noodle stir-fry (marinated chicken, udon, cabbage, zucchini, onions, scallions, sesame and a spicy sauce).

A couple of remarks before moving on: The server bragged about the pork belly, saying it’s not greasy, like in many Korean restaurants. Also, note that the chicken in the stir-fry is marinated, not rubbed. The server said this is characteristic of Korean food.

Feeling like George Constanza in the episode of “Seinfeld” in which he orders his friends a lot of food and encourages them to, “Eat! Eat! Eat!” I also ordered a plate of palm cakes as an appetizer for us to share.

These vegetarian cakes come with the peanut butter mustard aioli the Redditor mentioned, and I wanted to try it.

The cakes were a hit. Fried to a crunchy crisp on the outside and topped with edamame, they were unlike anything I’d ever eaten. The aioli tasted similar to a Dijon mustard but had a tasty peanutty finish.

The server brought chopsticks, which one of my friends used skillfully, but I asked for a fork after making a mess of my cake.

I also used the fork to consume my entrée. To my enjoyment, its meaty chunks were moist and chewy and had only the slight kick the server promised. And the flavor was, as one Redditor said of the fried chicken sandwich, the chef’s kiss.

While each of us felt like we’d hit the bullseye when ordering, it’s possible none of the dishes I described sounded enticing to you. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy a meal at Han-Mi, as their menu has considerable depth and the team adds new items on a regular basis.

New this spring, for example, are poke bowls (rice, peanut butter mustard aioli, edamame, bean sprouts, cucumbers mango and a choice of protein), Banh-Mi (cucumbers, carrots, radish kimchi, cilantro, jalapeno, peanut butter mustard aioli and sliced pork belly), pork belly slices and Japchae (potato noodles, peppers, mushrooms, onions and carrots).

I’ll certainly be returning, as I have my eye on a plate of short ribs. I don’t know if I’ll bring my friends, though, as I’d rather not have to share the palm cakes.

That might irk Redditor GotMyTimberlandsOn, who assured me Korean barbecue is “best experienced with a group.”

The debate goes on.