Dim sum has always been a special experience to me.  Some of my favorite foods like lo mai gai (glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf) and char siu bao (barbecue pork buns) are dim sum standards. [Note: I'm using the Cantonese names.] There's also something so festive to me about sharing a large spread of different dim sum dishes with my friends and family. So when I found out that Tim Ho Wan, a Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant chain, was coming to New York City, my foot was practically out the door. Who could resist a headline like "World's Cheapest Michelin Restaurant Opening Dim Sum Eatery In NYC"? I needed to try dim sum at Tim Ho Wan. 

Amanda Ryvkin

The first time I tried to go to Tim Ho Wan, I went in a group of about 5, and was gobsmacked by the wait times.  We arrived at 10:30am and there was already an hour and forty minute wait. I’ve waited for dim sum at places like Jing Fong, but never for that long.  I had been unaware that Tim Ho Wan is actually rather notorious for its long wait-times

The second time I tried to go I went on a Saturday at noon and the wait time was even longer.  It was going to take them two hours to seat us. While I'd say you generally have to wait quite a while, once I went on a Friday at 11 a.m. and I was lucky enough to only have to wait for ten minutes. I’m still reeling.

The wait can be annoying, but their system makes it slightly more tolerable.  They take your name and number and will text you when your table’s about to be ready. I recommend that you bring a book or some homework with you, get your name on the list, and then go hide out and do work in a cafe while you wait.

Amanda Ryvkin

But before you even head downtown with this new waiting life hack, you're probably asking if dim sum at Tim Ho Wan is even worth the wait. What makes this place so special anyway?

Tim Ho Wan is different from a lot of dim sum restaurants in that it has a small menu that doesn’t include a lot of the common dim sum dishes. If you’re looking for dan tat (egg custard tarts) or xiao long bao (soup dumplings), you won’t find them. 

What you will get at Tim Ho Wan is a very different dim sum atmosphere. While most dim sum restaurants I've been to usually have a lot of large round tables with lazy susans and look sort of like a banquet hall, Tim Ho Wan has a simple and sleek look.  A lot of the decor is made out of light wood and the place is well lit, all of which gives the place a cheery vibe.  If you’re searching for the chaotic joy of cart service, you won’t get it here. (I’d recommend Jing Fong for that), but that doesn't mean Tim Ho Wan can't be hectic.  There can be a lot of people, and it can feel a bit cramped as the place isn't that large.

Amanda Ryvkin

What you will also get at Tim Ho Wan is an interesting take on classic dim sum items (like the barbecue pork rice roll with different spices and vegetables pictured above).  You'll also get a chance to try new, creative dishes you might not get at other dim sum restaurants.  

Pete Wells of the New York Times writes that Chef Mak Kwai Pui's original idea when he opened Tim Ho Wan was to “go back to basics, retaining some of the techniques and refinements of high-end dim sum while bringing prices down to sea level.” I'd say that Chef Mak Kwai Pui has succeeded. The quality of the food is wonderful, and the prices are rather reasonable and seem to reflect standard dim sum pricing. Everything feels fresh and not too oily. There are also interesting flavor combinations and innovative new takes on classics.

When I went in September, one of their specials was a green tea black sesame ball that had black sesame filling instead of the normal red bean filling and a bun with green tea flavoring. They were intense but also definitely the best sesame balls I’ve ever eaten. (Scroll to the last photo of this Instagram story to see what they look like.)

They also serve meat over rice, which I don’t normally see at dim sum restaurants (but perhaps that’s just because I don’t look for them). We ordered the minced beef with egg over rice (pictured below). The beef was gelatinous and subtle in its wonderfully savory and almost sweet flavor. They also put soy sauce in the bottom of the bowl so as you mix the meat with the rice, the rice is already flavorful. I definitely will re-order that dish the next time I go.

Amanda Ryvkin

Their char siu bao (barbecue pork buns, pictured below) are also slightly different than other char siu bao I've had.  Tim Ho Wan's buns are baked with sugar encrusted on the top, which makes them especially sweet. I also feel like their filling is juicier, as it seems there is more barbecue sauce in them than in other char siu bao I've had.

Amanda Ryvkin

To be completely honest, I’m not sure that dim sum at Tim Ho Wan is worth the wait -- which can really be long -- but I do think it’s worth trying at least once. The food is flavorful, innovative and delicious, and the atmosphere is rather nice. Do I plan on coming back? Absolutely. But I’m going to come back with some books, my laptop and a few hours to spare.