If you live in New York City, there’s no way you don’t know about Chinatown. The neighborhood is one of the top spots for locals and tourists alike. Many people have that one place they know and frequent, whether that be a favorite restaurant or store, but some of the most amazing parts of Chinatown are tucked away like hidden gems, and are as interesting as the people and place itself.
Not only is Chinatown’s food to die for, but so is the environment. There’s something magical about exploring the colorful, crowded streets and seeing where your feet take you. You might find yourself walking past Columbus Park, overtaken by the smell of cigarette smoke and the sounds of elderly men and women betting and playing games of chess and mahjong. If you keep going, you might stumble upon a place called Tasty Dumplings, where you’ll be able to buy a small plate of five dumplings for only $2.
If you stray further from the main streets of Chinatown, you’ll see the Manhattan Bridge in the distance. You might find yourself standing in front of the Golden Unicorn, watching the steaming buns and dumplings from the window. In another alleyway stands Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest dim sum place in Chinatown. They only take cash or Amex cards, but the trip to the ATM is worth it for their delicious Shanghainese soup dumplings and lotus paste-filled sesame balls.
The atmosphere itself is worth the money and feet ache, especially during nighttime. The neighborhood becomes a completely different place under cover of darkness, only illuminated by lamp posts and colorful neon signs. Nighttime Chinatown feels like something straight out of a film. The neighborhood is timeless, somewhere between the distant past and the present. When you step in, it’s as if you’ve left New York.
Even if you’ve been there before, when you enter the neighborhood, it still feels like a thrilling adventure. There’s nothing in Chinatown that doesn’t feel cinematic, like those old Chinese films I borrow from the library when I want to daydream about the other side of the world. I’ve found myself more than once rushing to Chinatown when I’m sad and near tears, where I’ve found solace beneath the lanterns and colorful signs, listening to the chatter of the locals as I munch on freshly steamed pork buns.
Chinatown is one of those places where trial and error stands as an integral part of the experience. You have to explore to find what’s good and what isn’t. The best places in Chinatown are those you find randomly or hear someone mention. Chinatown is an adventure you’ll never get tired of. No matter how many times you go, you’ll always find something new.