Last fall, Lucky Peach, the literary food glossy from David Chang and McSweeney’s, released its inaugural Chinatown issue. Alongside recipes from Mission Chinese’s Danny Bowien and running commentary from food bard Anthony Bourdain, Lucky Peach published a history of Dim Sum, that beloved snack-based feast, by Chinese food expert Carolyn J. Phillips. She explains that Dim Sum, in Cantonese, is pronounced “dianxin,” and it’s a term that, when introduced a thousand years ago, meant “to eat a little something.” “Around the year 1300,” Phillips wrote, “Dianxin turned into a noun that referred to snacks and very light meals, a definition that has more or less remained unchanged to this day.”
Anyone who’s indulged in the daytime ritual of endless tea, dumplings, buns, potstickers, dough packets, rice rolls, and roasted duck knows that Dim Sum is something insanely delicious. You don’t need a history lesson to know that. But there are a few places in New York that combine the rich tradition of “dianxin” with fresh preparation, modest prices and a flair for spectacle. You may have to leave your comfy Manhattan environs to get the best stuff, but it’s worth the trip. And, hey, Queens isn’t as far as Shanghai.
Here are the best Dim Sum spots in New York City.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers Street
New York, NY 10013
Note: The one that started it all. Opened in 1920, Nom Wah Tea Parlor can be found down a winding, old-world curve of Doyers Street, deep in Chinatown, and once you enter you’re immediately overcome by the charm and ancient ambiance of the place. The aroma of steaming tiny plates swirls around the room, and just minutes after you sit you find scrumptious baskets of fried dough in front of you. The Dim Sum itself may be interchangeable with a dozen places in a two block radius, but it’s the history that adds the extra flavor. The news clippings on the walls hearken back to another time, the aging ex-bohemians seem to have been transported from another era of New York, and if everything looks a tad familiar, maybe it’s not just deja vu: episodes of Law & Order and films such as Premium Rush and All Good Things have been filmed inside Nom Wah. When you want to switch from tea to the harder stuff, stop by Apotheke, right next door, for one of the acclaimed out-there cocktails. Just remember, regardless of how authentically “old Chinatown” it looks, it’s a good seven decades younger than Nom Wah.
Resorts World Casino
110-00 Rockaway Blvd
Jamaica, NY 11420
Note: Resorts World Casino New York City is the only place within Gotham’s limits where revelers are allowed to gamble legally. After just a short jaunt on the A Train to Aqueduct station, any New Yorker can drop thousands of dollars as if they were in Atlantic City, sit for hours at video gambling terminals, load up on the free drinks, or go to the race track and bet furiously on horses. As if you had another reason to visit this bizarre emporium of chance, there’s a Dim Sum restaurant called Genting Palace, and it is a sight to behold. Inside the expansive dining room is a mass of Asian businessmen taking a break from the electronic slots to chow down on something from the enormous menu, interspersed with aging men in bucket hats watching the steeds run around the racetrack, betting tickets in hand. For all this ceremony, the Dim Sum is actually quite good, with highlights that include soy-braised chicken feet, stuffed bean curd, and the daring marinated pork knuckles in liquor. Win big, spend it all on Dim Sum.
813 55th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11220
Note: We go from Queens to Brooklyn, from a massive Dim Sum house inside a casino to a massive Dim Sum house above a bank. Pacificana takes up the entire second floor of a building in Sunset Park, and if you make the trek out, you enter to see dozens of carts whirling around the tables, furiously handing off the covered bamboo baskets to the salivating diners, who usually fill each one of Pacificana’s 500 seats. The Dim Sum selection is wide-ranging, and includes basically everything you’d expect, specializing in the Cantonese classics. There’s bok choy and shrimp rice cakes, plus an array of dumplings that leave nothing to be desired. You may have to come early – the place gets crowded fast, but Dim Sum is a morning meal, so set an alarm and hop the subway to Pacificana.
529 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10014
Note: The authenticity and prices of Dim Sum eateries in Chinatown and far-flung outer boroughs maybe can’t be beat, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the West Village and classing things up a bit. Such was the thinking of Chinatown Brasserie vet Ed Schoenfeld, who teamed up with Asia de Cuba mastermind Jeffrey Chodorow to create RedFarm, an upscale Dim Sum-inspired spot on the corner of Hudson Street and Charles Street. The formula is a tried-and-true one: take an old Village townhouse, install communal tables, and hire an old colleague, in this case Joe Ng from the Brasserie. The Dim Sum snacks hew somewhat close to the classic standards, though they’re spruced up a bit. The short ribs are on the sweet side and come with fresh cauliflower and broccoli, while the pastrami egg rolls come with a honey mustard and kaffir lime sauce. The most clever of these creative dishes is the Pac-Man dumplings, little balls of dough colored like the video game ghouls, complete with little black eyes. Just like in the video game, go ahead and swallow them whole.
18 E. Broadway
New York, NY 10002
Note: Chinatown Dim Sum can be so mysterious, so wonderfully anonymous, that you could wander into a tiny storefront, pay your ten dollars for plate after plate of finger food, leave woozy and full, stumble around a bit, and then realize you have no idea where you just ate. Try as you might to find this place again, you can’t. It’s disappeared into the haze of the confusing, meandering streets. Perhaps, for some, Golden Unicorn is one of those places. Once inside the entrance, on a side street off East Broadway, you’ll take a slightly disconcerting elevator ride up a floor, then pass by walls done up in marble affixed with so much Chinese decor it borders on cheesy. But no matter — the dining room, all done up in red with the occasional golden Chinese symbol, you’ll see a series of nicely dressed waiters serving up some of the finest Dim Sum in the city. The deep fried shrimp is blasted with lemon pepper flavor, the dumplings made in-house and mouthwatering, and the duckling tongues are delicious (promise). If those three examples aren’t your cup of tea, there are literally another 100 Dim Sum options waiting for you to order them. Oh, and bring a translator: no one working here speaks English. Hey, you wanted authentic, you got authentic.