Walking through the streets of Chinatown, I expected a scene out of a sitcom. Like when a white guy walks into a barbershop on Saturday morning and everyone just gets quiet and turns their head. Nom Wah Tea Parlor, deep in the heart of Chinatown, was nestled on a small, quiet street away from the fruit stand, purse tables and t-shirt shops of Canal St. On the 10 minute walk from the subway stop, I was the tallest and whitest person visible. I walked with a purpose – as I always do when I am on my way to eat dim sum. Nom Wah is heralded as the oldest running dim sum shop in NYC, being around since 1920, so my hopes were high. I was picturing a scene from Rush Hour. I heard little English as I approached the Tea Parlor. As I walked through the door, fully expecting my barbershop scene – I was disappointed. The scene was more American Diner than it was Chinese Tea Palace.
But no worries, all that means is that good news travels far and wide, right? Ehh, wrong. Nom Wah seems like the embodiment of a bitter old man who refuses to die out of pure spite for the living. Persistence, rather than excellent eats, seems to be the key to this nearly century-old dim sum restaurant. Standard atmosphere, standard service, standard dim sum. Well maybe I just got standard food, you say? Tell that to this plate of Chicken Feet I ordered.
The Chicken Feet were actually my favorite part of the meal. Boiled with sugar and vinegar and steamed with a black bean sauce, the flavor toes the line between sweet and earthy. White meat fans – not for you. If you’re like me and enjoy the dark, grisly meat bits of the chicken joints – for you.
As for the actual dim sum – I got the Pork Sui Mai. Minced pork with mushrooms and shrimp in a wonton wrapper. Texturally, it was pleasant but as far as tasting…not much going on.
The House Special Dumpling Soup was forgettable. The dumplings contained pork and shrimp but they were awkwardly tough and difficult to get through.
All in all, kind of a disappointment for a 4.2-star rated restaurant on Google Reviews. Especially one that’s been around for nearly 100 years. Would I eat the meal again? Absolutely. Would I pay for it again? Nah.