My LES: Wilson Tang

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This week, we are featuring Wilson Tang of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, who was appointed to Community Board 3 this spring. (Wilson was also featured in our print magazine this month). 

What do you do?

I run one of the oldest and coolest restaurants in Chinatown, Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street, aka “The Bloody Angle.” The street where gang violence was huge and now, not so much. It’s just a rad street with awesome dim sum and a post office.

How long have you lived on the LES?

I’ve lived on Allen Street between Canal and Hester since my childhood days [except for when] my folks moved me out of the neighborhood and into Queens. It had something to do with the gang violence back in the day, but I was back on Allen through college, when I attended Pace University for my undergrad. My ’rents still live there, but I live in FiDi now with my wife.

Favorite block in the neighborhood?

There are so many! I think if I had to just pick one, it would be Orchard Street, between Canal and Hester. Is that cliche to pick Orchard St since there is so much good stuff on that block? Where do I start? There are the cool folks from T-Shirt Express, Gargyle for the latest threads, Fat Radish and Cheeky Sandwiches for some good eats. There is a flower shop, a wholesale noodle place, a wholesale soda place (where I get stuff for Nom Wah). There is a newsstand on the corner and a whole lot more. A very quiet residential and business block. It’s also a good mix of old tenement-style housing versus new buildings like 30 Orchard. And the same for businesses, like old-school Jewish undergarment places, Chinese laundromats and new, hip art galleries. There is also Sweet Paradise with the incognito sign for a quick drink.

Favorite date spot in the neighborhood?

I think our favorite date spot is definitely Fat Radish on Orchard. It is such a great space inside, with friendly service and great food. I think our second pick would be Bacaro on Division. The basement dining room and bar is so romantic. And rounding out the top three, the back room at Les Enfants Terribles. I also just realized that these three places are within about one block of each other. I need to get out more.

Favorite coffee in the neighborhood?

Hands down, Lost Weekend … Serving up killer Blue Bottle Coffee with killer, rad vibes. Kudos to the surfing video, ocean pictures and laid-back staff.

Favorite “cheap eats” in the neighborhood?

My favorite cheap eats is either a slice of pizza at Rosario’s on Orchard or Fried Dumpling on Allen.

Favorite dive bar in the neighborhood?

My favorite dive bar on the LES is definitely La Caverna. Although I haven’t been there in a few months because I’ve been hanging out more at my other watering hole, Whiskey Tavern, in Chinatown. But I’ve had more than a few there.

Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?

It’s funny. My cousin was just in town from Toronto and the first place we went to was the Hester Street Fair (after throwing down a few dumplings at Nom Wah, of course). Is that a cool place to kick back on a Saturday or what? Some jerk chicken from Spur Tree, macarons from my boy Simon [Tung] at Macaron Parlour, coffee from Grumpy — the list goes on and on. The other place I would go would be the Tenement Museum on Delancey and then over to Top Hops for a beer or four, out of the 700 different types. A little shopping here and there, and then dinner at one of many fine dining joints in the LES, like Katz’s.

What sort of changes have you seen in the neighborhood in the last few years?

Oh man, where do I begin? I remember as a kid, it was very much a Chinese and Jewish neighborhood. It all worked hand in hand. Tenement after tenement building, all with immigrant families, is what I saw. Hard-working Chinese businesses next to hard-working Jewish businesses was the norm. As I got older, more and more cool kids moved in. I see construction, and a lot of it. Tenement buildings knocked down and turned into lofts. A “blue building” popped up, old buildings refurbished into condos, lots of hustle and bustle. Sometimes I sit and wish things didn’t move so fast and that some things were left alone, but I realize change is inevitable. But I will try to do my part to just slow things down a little bit.

Favorite LES memory?

My favorite memory of the LES has to be when I was old enough to go to the park by myself. My dad used to run a restaurant supply store on Allen, and after I helped him out in the morning, I would be allowed to go play after lunch at Seward Park until 6:30 p.m. In the summer months, I would just hang out in the park and when it was colder, I would be at the library that is right there. And here’s a fun fact: there used to be a wholesale bakery at the corner of Jefferson and East Broadway, where Cafe Petisco is now. They made all sorts of baked stuff. I would always stop in there and say “Hi” to Mr. Yau. He was my dad’s homie and he would give me a nice warm buttery croissant. Score!

  • http://thoughtfulplate.wordpress.com/ kim

    Great introduction to the neighborhood. :)