New York's first dim sum house opened in 1920 at a crook in Doyers Street known at the time as "the bloody angle." That Chinatown passage bore witness to the grisly havoc of the Tong gang wars—shootings and hatchet murders—but the bakery and tea shop had a sweeter reputation: Its almond cookies and moon cakes were legendary. For more than three decades, the Choy family ran Nom Wah, but in 1974, Ed and May Choy sold the operation to longtime manager Wally Tang, who started there in 1950 as a waiter when he was 16.
In 2010, Wally Tang passed Nom Wah on to his nephew Wilson Tang, a banker at ING Direct. The 90-year-old stalwart had fallen into disrepair, so Tang gave it a remodel. He and his wife raided flea markets for vintage lamps and the restaurant's storage room for archival photographs. Tang painted the dingy green walls a mustard yellow, and cleaned decades of dust and grease off the tea tins lining the restaurant's shelves. The most important tweaks, though, were behind the scenes: Tang updated the kitchen and did away with the procedure of cooking dim sum en masse. Now, each plate is cooked to order.
Tang's nips and tucks transformed a health department nightmare into a charming old-school institution, completely unlike the chaotic banquet halls that dominate Chinatown's dim sum scene. The dining room is transportive—checkered tablecloths cover Art Deco tables and couples huddle beneath an old poster of a glam Chinese movie star. The food, too, stands apart; the dim sum here tastes fresher than the competition. Try the ultra-fluffy oversize roasted-pork bun ($1.25), the flaky fried crpe egg roll ($3.95) and the tender stuffed eggplant ($3.50) filled with a spiced shrimp-and-squid mixture.