Tim Ho Wan, The World’s Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant

Hong Kong is probably my favorite city in the world, and at the moment I’m taking Ford there for his first ever trip to Asia. I’ve been to Hong Kong dozens of times, and it’s one of the cities I consider myself to be most knowledgable about.

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When we arrived this morning I started rattling off all the things we definitely had to do, and then followed that up with a list of things we could do.

“Well, Hong Kong does have the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, if you want to do that.”

Naturally Ford’s ears perched up, because who wouldn’t want to eat at the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant? Even if it’s just to say you’ve done it.

Truth be told I don’t actually understand how the Michelin star rating system works, and I’ve never visited a restaurant because it had a Michelin star.

The cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world is Tim Ho Wan. I’ve been a few times, though personally I’d never go because I wanted to, but rather just if someone I was with really wanted to go.

I said “I’m happy to go, but I just want to make sure your expectations are set correctly. The dim sum is very good, but no better than a lot of the other places I’ve had dim sum. The wait will be really long, and tables are shared, so you’ll be pushed in and out pretty quickly. Oh, and you won’t be able to order a filthy martini.”

With that caution I felt like I was properly managing Ford’s expectations, and he was up for it.

We went to Tim Ho Wan (specifically the location in Sham Shui Po District), and as usual there was a massive crowd outside waiting to be seated. They give you a number, and then you wait outside until they call your number (only they don’t call them in English, so if you don’t speak Cantonese it’s sort of tough to figure out when you’re called).

Tim-Ho-Wan

After about a 90 minute wait we were seated at a shared table.

Tim-Ho-Wan-1

The dim sum was excellent, and our filling meal cost a mere 117HKD (~15USD). And the funny thing is that even though this place has a Michelin star and is a huge tourist destination, it’s actually 95%+ locals who come here to eat, who clearly couldn’t care less that the place has a Michelin star. That’s a testament to the quality of what they serve.

Bottom line

Clearly Tim Ho Wan serves great, no frills dim sum. And it’s extremely affordable.

Still, the waits are consistently very long, the restaurant itself couldn’t be simpler, and there’s not really much in the way of service at the restaurant (you fill out your own order sheet, and then they just bring the dishes as they’re ready).

I can’t decide whether that should make me love the place or feel lukewarm towards it.

Personally I don’t feel like the dim sum is significantly better than a few other “no frills” dim sum places in Hong Kong, or even some in the US (like in San Francisco or Seattle). At the same time, if it’s a leisurely meal “experience” you’re after (which I think is what many people seeking out Michelin star restaurants are after), there are plenty of places with nicer decor, better service, etc.

To sum it up, I’m always happy to go to Tim Ho Wan with a first-timer if they’re intrigued at the concept of going to the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant. Would I go there of my own accord? Nope, because I think there are places with equally good dim sum, better ambiance, and shorter waits, though they might be a bit more expensive. But those are things I don’t mind paying a premium for.

Some say Tim Ho Wan got a Michelin star after people complained the rating system was elitist, which seems fair enough. Would this place have a Michelin star if they charged three times as much (which would still be a pretty reasonable price)? Probably not. Would I be willing to pay two or three times as much for a place with a more convenient location, shorter waits, better service, and nicer decor? Probably.

But Tim Ho Wan is still a great place to take first-timers looking for no frills dim sum, assuming they’re properly briefed on what to expect. I still don’t totally get the hype, though.

Tim-Ho-Wan

Have you been to Tim Ho Wan? Do you swear by it and return every time you’re in Hong Kong, go when it’s convenient, or do you think it’s somewhat hype?

Comments

  1. Luckily when I was there in Februari there was no line outside. I went in the afternoon, maybe that helped. Dim sum was not that special, but still really good.

    Loved the pork buns though ( char siu bao)! Best I have ever had.

  2. Flying into HKG Tuesday night. Gonna hit Mak’s noodles, one dim sum and probably Tim Ho Wan. Any other suggestions or alternatives I should look at? This is my first trip to HKG.

  3. ^there are several tim ho won locations in HK. Some are more convenient than others. I haven’t been to the original but the ones I have been to were excellent.

  4. A 30 min wait is about all I could stand. Will be in HKG in Dec so might at least walk past. Thanks.

  5. I liked the dim sum there, but agree, it’s nothing mind blowing… and to me doesn’t really deserve the star more than any of the other really great dim sum places in HK. I say that as someone who regularly eats at michelin starred places and seeks them out.

    If you’re going for michelin stars, then by far, my favorite HK restaurant would be Amber in the Mandarin Oriental. The food there is amazing and the sea urchin signature dish is perhaps one of the most memorable I’ve ever eaten.

  6. now that you’ve introduced Ford to the low end, do a great high end HK meal. I suggest Bo Innovation followed by drinks at Nocturne.

  7. Ben, go try Fuk Lam Mun in Wan Chai, my ex-driver became a dim sum chef there, the dishes are AMAZING. I’m a local HongKonger, trust me. Love your blog, big fan.

  8. The only reason to go to THW (and really, the reason they have their Michelin star) is because of their pork buns.

  9. The Tim Ho Wan you want to go to without waiting too long is the North Point location. I’ve never really had to wait there.

    Though I agree, the dim sum, aside from their baked char Siu bao, is nothing that special in HK. Good but not spectacular. Now the 2 star restaurant at the Langham Place hotel on the other hand…

    Also as of the last Michelin guide it’s not really the cheapest Michelin star restaurant anymore. It’s arguably as cheap or cheaper to eat at Yat Lok, famed for their roast goose in Central

  10. Tim Ho came here to Singapore a couple of years back. The waits were long but now are more like other restaurants.

  11. Been here three days now, have stopped by here every day so far for 2 orders of the baked BBQ port buns to go! You can bet I’m going today too haha!

  12. They were recently featured on the Hong Kong episode of PBS’ “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”. Good travel show BTW; I wish we had seen it before going to HK this past spring.

  13. Not really a fan of lines, but I’d probably bear the wait once for a Michelin starred restaurant.

    A slightly cheaper Michelin lunch can be had at Nakajima in Tokyo. About $6.50, depending on the exchange rate.

  14. I see you stayed in the Hyatt regency at k11, seems almost the same room as where I stayed in september!

  15. I have been to the original location in TST and the char siu bao is definitely the standout dish and one of the best food items I have ever eaten. The dim sum is pretty amazing, better than any I have had in the States. MUCH better than Seattle and slightly better than the best places in LA and SF. I would recommend going because you won’t be able to get better char siu bao anywhere else. The franchised locations in Singapore are average at best, and therefore not worth the wait.

  16. we’ve been to a couple of tim ho wan branches in singapore … nice pork buns, etc., but not worth the lines IMO … would pay a premium to avoid the wait. but as you say, nice to take a starry-eyed first-timer.

  17. I suppose if we want to get technical Tim Ho Wan can still proclaim cheapest Michelin star by the sole fact that you could order 1 item, the BBQ pork buns, for $2.32 USD and the buns are definitely large enough for breakfast. And if you’d rather have a rice bowl for lunch you’re only set back $2.97 USD. Cheap!

  18. Damn you, DAMN you ALL for making me look at availability to HKG!

    THW is great for the pork buns, everything else is good but nothing outstanding.

    @yjee: +1 on Amber — love that place.

    @Jon W: +1 on Yat Lok. I can smell the place now. Please see the first line of my comment! 😉

  19. You should definitely take Ford to Lung King Heen at IFC for Dim Sum Lunch!!!
    The Chinese food there is to die for ,the Harbor view is amazing. If you guys like Beef Soup Noodle, definitely check out Kau Kee near Hollywood Road—- long line, 100% local and the beef brisket melts in your mouth. Have a great time in HK!!!!

  20. NO dim sum in Seattle comes close to Tim Ho Wan (of course we do have great dim sum a short drive away in Vancouver BC). Concur with the Char Siu Bao raves (even my Singaporean in-laws ooh and aah over them), though I like THW’s Siu Mai best. Xiao Long Bao not as good as Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung. Yeah, if you live in NYC, SF, or Vancouver (maybe Toronto), it’s probably no big deal, but it’s probably better dim sum than any other city in North America and at an amazingly low price.

  21. I was just at the Sham Shui Po location on Saturday at 6pm. Walked in without a wait at all (though I was alone and they fit me at a table with a party of 3).

    I’ve waited 60 min or more at the IFC location.

  22. Another cheap 1 Michelin Star in HK for tasty wonton noddles:
    Ho Hung Kee

    They have different locations, their restaurant in Causeway Bay (Hysan place) is my go-to place.

  23. I’ve eaten dim sum many places in the US and really enjoyed it. Looked forward to dim sum in HK this past summer, particularly a Michelin Star one, waited an hour and a half for table and really disappointed. We ordered nine different dishes. Nothing special, aside from the pork bun, definitely not recommend their chicken feet, worse, I’ve ever had. Better dim in the US.

  24. Come to Austin, and try to get some of the “best bbq in America”, at least according to Bon Appetit magazine. The line will be 4 hrs on weekdays, and longer on weekends. Is it worth it? Nah, probably not, but it is an interesting experience and the brisket is awesome.

  25. @Bruce: Re Xiao Long Bao, my personal opinion is that Crystal Jade is the best in Hong Kong (their IFC location in particular).

  26. HK is a great food city, and there are hundreds of excellent options. Although THW has decent dim sum (their pork buns are quite tasty although most of the rest underwhelmed), unless you are a true dim sum lover there are tons of great restaurants that offer great dim sum AND other food with shorter waits and better service. In a way, THW reminds me of some of the US burger chains who have gotten a cult following and stay incredibly busy despite their food not living up to the hype.

  27. Ben you if you and Ford like soup from what I can tell you two would really love to try cream of Sum Yung Gai.

  28. You should try the following Chinese Restaurants (from a Hong Kong Native)

    Lunch/ Dim Sum: Ding Tai Fung (Causeway Bay), Siu Nam Guo (in Times Square, Causeway Bay), Maxim’s Palace (throughout), or Fook Lum Mun (throughout).

    Dinner:Spring Deer Restaurant (TST), Ma Po Sin (TST), Hong Kong Old Restaurant (North Point or TST)

  29. Ha! Was just in HK 2 weeks ago!
    Stopped by a THW (the one at IFC mall) early in the day, at about 11am. There was already an hour-long wait. Being by myself, however, I was seated immediately!
    I thought the baked pork buns were amazing!! Tried a few of their other dim sum offerings, and loved them as well. I’m by no means a dim sum neophyte, as I practically grew up eating this stuff.
    I will agree though that HK has tons of excellent offerings food-wise, so if the wait is too long for you, go explore and look elsewhere!

  30. Besides a few locations now in Singapore, including one that is open 24/7, there is one now on Bangkok in Terminal 21.

  31. Honestly Michelin ratings are the only reliable ratings system out there…the South Park episode a couple weeks back on Yelp proved why. When in doubt, and with all the travel you do, visit the Michelin site.

  32. Lucky,
    Nice to see you offering more reviews than just flights and hotels. Tim Ho Wan is very dependable. Their Char Sui Bao is their claim to fame. The location in the IFC, which is actually in the shopping area of the Hong Kong station of the Airport Express. If you go weekdays before noon, you can usually be seated in 15-20 minutes. Trick is to avoid peak times for which ever location you are attempting to eat.

    @David, the chef that started Tim Ho Wan, Mak Kwai-pui, was a chef at Lung King Heen. So, many people in the restaurants in Hong Kong have interconnected backgrounds.

  33. It’s fun to play tour guide in Hong Kong. Even as a local Hong Kong-er I love bringing friends around the city.

    Not sure how long you are in Hong Kong for but if you are looking for fun and sort-of unique places to go for cocktails, I recommend Quinary or The Envoy (at Pottinger Hotel) – both in Central lkf / soho area. The Earl Grey Caviar Martini at Quinary is TO DIE FOR.

    Big fan of your blog 🙂

  34. FWIW it is the best dim sum I’ve had (esp the famous pork bun), and I’ve had them all over the world (though not extensively in HK yet).

  35. Omg @Jon W Yat Lok is amazing. That roast goose.

    FYI the Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po is only a 20 minute wait =)

  36. As someone who has dined at Michelin star restaurants all over the world and generally agree with their ratings, the Hong Kong guide is awful. You have to remember these are French critics reviewing Chinese restaurants and they don’t quite get it.

    Similarly, the Japan guide is suspect at best. The US and Europe ratings are generally spot on.

  37. @o & @GringoLoco – Yes I love Yat Lok and can’t wait to go back and eat the roast goose in January. Granted the last time I went there I was chastised in Cantonese by the grandma who was being the cashier for bringing in Starbucks (as opposed to drinking their milk tea).

    @Bruce & @Andrew – I mean, Xiao Long Bao isn’t a Cantonese item anyway and in general dim sum places that make it range from terrible to tolerable. Accordingly THW (or probably even FLM or LKH) won’t hold a candle to a Taiwanese place like DTF or a Shanghainese place like Crystal Jade (which is on my itinerary for my January trip)

  38. I’m originally from HK. I’d say their BBQ pork in pineapple bun is divine!
    There are all sort of good dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. Tim Ho Wan is one of them but not the best. A lot of locals go there cos of the affordable price. I wouldn’t queue for more than 30 minutes for that though.

  39. I visited Hong Kong for the first time in May thanks to the free stopover on Cathay Pacific. I went to Tim Ho Wan as well but the Olympian City location. Got seated right away and had my own table. I was there on a weeknight though and arrived after 7 pm. Definitely agree with others about avoiding peak time.

    The pork buns were definitely the standout dish! At first bite I thought it was a little too sweet until I took a sip of their tea right after. The dark brew definitely help cut the sweetness and the flavor was a nice complement to the pork filling.

    I would recommend Tim Ho Wan for casual diners and solo travelers. As for the Michelin star aspect, I believe a big part of earning and retaining a Michelin star is consistency. It’s the expectation that you’ll get the same quality of food/service every time. Which is why not all locations have a Michelin star. (Chef and reality TV star Gordon Ramsey lost a Michelin star due to inconsistency at one of his restaurants.)

    Whew that was a long comment! Love reading about your trips. Also, thank you to all of the commenters! Just added so many places to my list for the next time I’m in Hong Kong.

  40. I enjoy their bbq pork buns for sure but everything else was sub par to me. I’ve had much better dim sum elsewhere In HK. I also couldn’t believe when we ordered their seasonal poached vegetable they literally brought us hot iceberg lettuce. But the pork buns are great!!

  41. When we were at the Conrad we went to the THW in Central every time we had a metro going through there. Just got the BBQ pork buns to go. 5min wait and they were always amazing.

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