Ryan Giggs' eighth-minute header proved enough for Manchester United as the hosts extended their 100% start to four games against a profligate Spurs side.
Former Spur Michael Carrick and goalscorer Ryan Giggs celebrate
The Welshman swooped to head in off the bar after Paul Robinson tamely parried Cristiano Ronaldo's swerving free-kick.
Ronaldo was at his magical best at times and was twice denied by Robinson.
Michael Dawson, Ledley King, Jermain Defoe and Mido all wasted superb chances to seal what would have been a deserved draw.
United had Edwin van der Sar to thank for preventing Dawson and King scoring, tipping the former's attempted lob away in the second half before blocking King's follow-up on the floor.
But Defoe had no-one to blame but himself for missing a golden opportunity 20 minutes from time when he contrived to head over the bar from six yards with the goal gaping from Benoit Assou-Ekotto's cross.
And Egyptian Mido, on his return for Tottenham after securing a permanent move from Roma, was equally wasteful when he failed to connect with Reto Ziegler's swirling cross.
A leveller would have been just rewards for the visitors, who reacted well to going behind early.
With Aaron Lennon absent with a knee injury, Spurs' narrow midfield - which included a deep-lying Mido - coped well despite United's abundance of attacking flair and confidence.
Michael Carrick in particular was in impressive form against his former club, dominating the midfield in the early stages and spraying cross-field passes around much as he did for the Londoners last season.
And it was one such Carrick pass that led to United's first chance when Ronaldo drifted in from the right and tested Robinson with a curling left-footed effort.
United always looked dangerous, with Ronaldo at the heart of all their good attacks, tormenting the visiting defence throughout the afternoon, not least when he forced a superb reaction save from Robinson from an angle on the hour mark.
And he set Louis Saha free to almost have the final say of the afternoon when he raced clear of the Spurs defence, held off Assou-Ekotto and blazed at goal only for Robinson to palm away well.
It was representative of an open contest, played out in front of a record Premiership crowd of 75,434.
However, Spurs manager Martin Jol will find it hard to reason how Spurs did not find a goal, with Jermaine Jenas also blazing wide when well-set in the first half.
The Dutchman will have been encouraged, though, by his side's resilience and the performance of new boy Pascal Chimbonda, who hardly put a foot wrong at right back.
But Spurs' missed chances meant United were able to hold on for the win - the first time they have won their first four games of the season in the Premiership - and return to the top of the table.
Tottenham, meanwhile, have now stumbled to their worst start to a season since 1995 with work to be done ahead of their Uefa Cup clash against Slavia Prague on Thursday.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson:
"We beat a good side who will make an impact in this league.
"I think Ryan has shown his experience and maturity. His ability's always been there. He's been a fantastic player for this club.
"He'll go down as one of the greatest. But he's using his experience. I'm pleased as we need players to do that."
Tottenham boss Martin Jol:
"I think in the first half we probably lacked a bit of confidence.
"It was a new team again, we had Hossam Ghaly making his debut and Pascal Chimbonda was new. But I think he did terrifically well.
"First half they didn't cause us a lot of problems. But at Old Trafford you get two or three chances at the most. And we had probably five today."
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, Evra, Ronaldo (Silvestre 90), Carrick (Fletcher 79), O'Shea, Richardson (Park 70), Giggs, Saha.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Solskjaer.
Booked: Richardson, Evra.
Goals: Giggs 9.
Tottenham: Robinson, Chimbonda, Dawson, King (Murphy 81), Assou-Ekotto, Jenas, Zokora, Davids (Ziegler 57), Ghaly, Keane (Defoe 57), Mido.
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Huddlestone.
Booked: Ghaly, Mido.
Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).