“He” in Chinese means harmony. Dining at He Authentic Chinese Cuisine Plus in Middletown means a delicious meal served promptly to your table in a relaxed peaceful atmosphere. The popular restaurant reemerged on the restaurant scene about 3 weeks ago after having closed last year during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The stately, historic brick building dating to the mid-1800s is marked by a sign so discreet you might miss it on your first trip through this residential portion of North Union Street. Also of note, the post at the front of the building would have been used back in the day for tying up your horse. The two stone steps were at one time intended to help ladies dismount.
Formerly a bed and breakfast, the restaurant spreads out across the ground floor of the three-story manor. Customers seated at blond wood tables in sleek plastic chairs are spaced safely apart in the big front room or at high-top privacy tables in the back room.
Twin chandeliers dangle beneath high ceilings and random decorations appear above two marble fireplaces in the spacious, larger dining area. The vibe is laid-back chill and the waitstaff is as friendly and courteous as can be.
“We’re not related but we work together like a family,” one server commented.
Close to the Penn State Harrisburg campus, the restaurant draws numerous students, as evidenced by positive comments written on post-it notes, many in Chinese, that are stuck on the wall in the entrance hallway behind the busy take-out counter.
The Chinese cuisine is very authentic and the spices and flavors are unique. Brief histories of the various Chinese dishes ranging from province to province are depicted on the menu. Shaan’Xi province, whose capital, Xi’an, was the capital of ancient China for 13 dynasties, features “moburger” a folded over pita pocket-style, over-stuffed, meat-filled sandwich that was created about 2,200 years ago. There are two fillings on the menu: braised pork ($3.95) or the more requested cumin beef ($4.45).
Begin the meal with milk tea ($4.45). We went with the black tea version whitened by milk. Plenty of “boba” — chewy tapioca pearls — settle at the bottom of this beige-colored drink. The tapioca pearls are pleasantly chewy and so fat, a wider straw is required to slurp them up.
You’ll need this drink in hand, especially if you have ordered any dish with one or more pepper icons beneath the name. I was not paying attention to the two little green chile icons beneath pepper chicken ($14.95). Do not make the same mistake. Unless you’ve trained your tongue for this incendiary level of heat, there will be an urgency to put out the fire.
Dan Dan noodles ($8.95) pale in heat comparison to the furnace blast of the pepper chicken dish. Long, stretchy noodles have hidden nests of ground pork enhanced by refreshing notes of ginger and garlic. Miniature dice of jalapeño creates a backdrop of spiciness that lingers gently at the back of the throat without the burning sensation requiring a quick drink.
Dishes are set at the middle of the table for sharing and passing around. Eggplant cake with shrimp and minced pork ($13.95) offers a whirlwind of flavors amidst pounded thin succulent pieces of eggplant and tender pork wafers dotted with fresh ginger. Mushroom and pork dumplings ($6.95) have homemade wrappers stretched around meaty filling.
If you love pork belly, you have come to the right place. Pork belly abounds in different textures and ingredients. Sliced pork belly with garlic sauce ($10.95), double-cooked pork belly ($13.95), griddle cooked tea tree mushrooms ($17.95 and sold out most of the time), Korean cabbage with pork belly ($11.95), pork belly spice with green pepper ($12.95) are among the offerings.
What would I suggest? Definitely find your way on the menu to “1 of Chairman Mao’s favorite” ($14.95). No matter what you thought of Chairman Mao, he did have good taste in pork belly. Cubes of lusciously tender pork meat have a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth fatty layer hovering over the top. Loose, flavorful broth and peppers complement this dish. Double cooked pork belly ($13.95) is another intensely delicious pork dish that goes well over a side of white rice ($1).
Gradually, He Authentic Chinese Cuisine Plus is making a name for itself. Nobody can remember the exact name but everyone knows “that Chinese place in Middletown with great food.” I’ll be back. Come to think of it, I have been back…several times.
460 N. Union St., Middletown, (833) 434-7687