Dim sum is a type of Chinese cuisine in which the food is prepared in small portions and usually served with tea; typically a large group of family and friends assemble a number of the small plates to form a meal. Like an American brunch, dim sum is generally eaten in the late morning or early afternoon hours. And similar to Spanish tapas, it’s basically a prototype for the modern style of restaurant meals in which diners graze on numerous small plates meant for sharing.
Tim Ho Wan’s first location opened in Hong Kong in 2009; since then, dozens more have opened throughout Southeast Asia and Australia. Three of its Hong Kong branches have been awarded a Michelin star, leading to the much-cited moniker “the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.” It took some time for Tim Ho Wan to reach American shores… but it finally has, landing in New York City’s East Village; the official grand opening is today. The location is Tim Ho Wan’s 45th.
The restaurant has been in soft-opening mode for about a month; during that time it’s become even better known for the long lines of hopeful diners angling for a table than for its delicious and budget-friendly food. If you’re lucky enough to get inside, you’ll find yourself in a small, elegant space—nothing like the casual and cavernous dim sum palaces in Chinatown, Flushing, or Sunset Park. It’s more like a traditional dining experience, if not quite a fine-dining one; rather than snagging small plates from carts passing by with various offerings, you order at the start of your meal via a slip of paper, and all dishes are cooked to order. Another difference: Tim Ho Wan offers all-day dim-sum dining, unlike most other places, which offer the small plates during the midday hours and then switch to a different menu in the evening.
Prices are low—currently, no dish costs more than $5.50—and everything we sampled was delicious. The famed BBQ pork buns are the must-order; baked, not steamed, the buns are sweet and pillow-soft with a light crunch. You’ll also want to try the two dishes unique to the New York City location: deep-fried vegetable spring rolls and custard-filled french toast bites. Manager Dina Long explained that the dishes were created to please an American market that was perceived not to eat as much meat as Hong Kong diners.
The New York City branch is already gunning for a Michelin star of its own. All dishes (except for the NYC-specific ones), says Long, are made from recipes identical to those of the Hong Kong menu “so that we can get the closest taste to what they have in Hong Kong, so we can have the star too.”
To see more of Tim Ho Wan’s first U.S. location, check out our video.