The words "Michelin," "star," and "cheap" are not often found in the same sentence, but Tim Ho Wan has been dubbed the cheapest of the celestial group of eateries knighted by the tire manufacturer and travel guide. The Hong Kong-based restaurant—now more of a chain of restaurants—slings dim sum out of hole-in-the-wall outposts with notoriously long lines. It earned its first star back in 2009. Since then, the owner, Mak Kwai-pui, has opened branches from Singapore to the Philippines to Melbourne, several of which have received a star in their own right.
And now Mak is bringing his cheap—but undoubtedly stellar—dim sum stateside. He has announced that he hopes to open his first New York branch this September.
With thirty-plus branches flung across the Eastern Hemisphere, Tim Ho Wan's most popular offering is the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork, which the company's website calls "the marquee dish that transformed the eatery into a mecca!" Yelpers—even those who may on occasion disparage some of the other offerings—rave about the buns. Hwang C. from Hong Kong, to cite just one example, writes: "YES, ORDER THE PORK BUNS!!!! They're the best I've ever tasted, and will come back if just for that."
After opening his first South Korea branch in the summer, Mak will bring Tim Ho Wan to New York's East Village, a locale with no shortage of dim sum purveyors. But do any have a Michelin star for the same price? In a word: no. Dim Sum Go Go in New York's Chinatown has a Michelin Guide mention, but—alas—no star.
If Tim Ho Wan New York charges prices similar to those the chain is charging in Hong Kong, New Yorkers will be able to buy some of the lauded dim sum for under $5 a plate. Mak says, "I don't think about money. But maybe the investors think about money." We'd venture a guess that they certainly do—and that Mak does too, given the proliferation of Tim Ho Wans worldwide. Still, the appeal of Tim Ho Wan has always been that it is great food on the cheap, so we can only hope that maintaining the chain's low price point will be a part of the New York formula.
Mak says he is now looking for a chef who understands New Yorkers and the New York food scene: "We're headhunting now for a dim sum chef. It should be a local Chinese face," he told The Village Voice. The East Village outpost will have a liquor license and, Mak says, the menu may grow to offer dishes that appeal to Americans, including "high quality beef dishes."
Once he cracks the American market, Tim Ho Wan is heading to mainland China, which has so far remained elusive. But Mak is hopeful and obviously hard working. And when you can say you are offering the world's cheapest Michelin-starred food, what really can go wrong?