We have walked by Nom Wah Tea Parlor a number of times in our strolls around Chinatown, but, for some strange reason, we had never been in until a couple weeks ago. I guess the lines at the door put us off a bit (not a good thing when you have kids, as you well know) and the fact that it was announced as the oldest dim sum establishment in Chinatown made us think that it would most probably be a tourist trap.
The fact that most dim sum places are out of the good stuff by 1.00pm and that you are much better off if you speak Mandarin or Cantonese, with extra points if you go with someone that actually knows what to order, have reduced our dim sum escapades. Especially after all of our dim sum connoisseur family and friends have left NYC for greener pastures.
It was around 4pm when we got to Nom Wah with two hungry kids and a stressed out set of parents. There was a wait at the door but it was not too bad, around 10 minutes once we had given our name. While Dad Vivant patiently waited at the door to be called (and checked his phone, let’s be honest here), the girls and I walked around Doyers Street, the nook where Nom Wah is located and that used to be called the “Bloody Angle“, due to the violence harbored back in the early 1900s.
The unassuming entrance leads to a pretty decent sized space. We immediately loved its vintage feel, as if time had stopped in the 1920s: booths with red banquettes on the left and at the back of the room and rows of tables, with matching red chairs, brimming with food and people, take over all of the room. There were a number of kids on high chairs enjoying the “little pieces of heart”, which is what dim sum (點心) of dian xin, in Mandarin, mean. On the right hand side, there is what seems to have been a coffee bar, like those in a diner and a huge open cabinet with teapots and vintage cans of tea.
As opposed to other dim sum establishments, there are no tidbits being wheeled around in carts. All items of the menu are listed with a photo and a brief description and there is a little list where the items chosen are marked and given to the waiters. They don’t have a kids menu, but that was not a problem with the girls, who love dumplings and (as we discovered) steamed pork buns. They also have wine (a selection of both red and white, on bottle and by the glass) and beers (with an offering of 6 local beers and 6 international beers). We decided to get a Taiwan Beer each, which was crispy and refreshing, and that brought some childhood memories of the year my family lived in Taipei.
For food we ordered two pork buns (which were generously sized, puffy and filled with a heavenly roasted pork); two different types of fried dumplings (crispy and juicy at the same time); the always difficult to eat rice noodles (with shrimp as our choice) and the most decadent deep fried shrimp wrapped in bacon, which was delicious and deep fried to perfection while not greasy at all.
The food came in pretty fast in spite of the place being packed. It was very fresh and with the perfect temperature. All of the dishes were flavorful, although I would say that a bit more adapted to the American palate as opposed to other dim sum restaurants that we have eaten at. Price wise, it is a bit pricier than other dim sum restaurants, but I would say it’s totally worth it and way more economic than next door’s Pulqueria.
There are two bathrooms at the back of the house, on the right hand side. The ladies room is on the right hand side and it is really tiny with no changing table (and not much space to maneuver, as I got to know when la Petite Wasabi asked me to go with her). They have also kept the same look than the rest of the restaurant, and it was surprisingly clean.
So now that we have actually let go of our prejudices, we are obsessed with both this place (the girls gave it a two thumbs up) and the history of New York’s Chinatown. We are now trying to get some friends to join us so we can get to try some new dishes.
Unlike most of dim sum places, Nom Wah takes online reservations for parties of 3 to 5 people, with no reservations Fridays through Sundays, and they do take credit cards as well (American Express only).
If you are in the area, don’t let the lines fool you and go enjoy some “piece of heart” (and a beer) with friends at the oldest dim sum place in New York.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Sunday: 10:30am – 10:00pm