Urban Explorer: Lost and Found Through Chinatown

Authentic Eateries and People-Watching Spaces Make Chinatown Worth the Trip


Business and busy-ness. These two facets of New York are perfectly exemplified in one of its liveliest neighborhoods: Chinatown. From the mysterious hooded vendors who whisper in your ear like a guilty conscience- “Fendi, Gucci, Rolex,”- to the sheer human density and cacophony of interaction that occurs on Canal Street, Chinatown has its own distinct flavor . If you ever need an ‘I [Heart] New York’ shirt for less than $5, Chinatown is the place to look. Once you step onto the threshold of Chinatown, it’s difficult to say it is similar to anywhere else in this city.

Walking along Canal Street, I begin to notice details that are unique to this expanding area. An old Chinese woman selling herbs, yet speaking Spanish to a well-dressed customer measuring out what seems to be dried sea urchins, a tourist buying a “Louis Vuitton-inspired” hat with “LW” emblazoned across the top and two college students walking along Mott Street with cameras and note-pads, remembering those 1990s summer days of short-bangs, egg custard and cha shao pao (steamed buns with roast pork).

The United States has roughly 68 Chinatowns and New York City houses the biggest one. This cultural enclave of Chinese immigrants and descendants has shown more fortitude against gentrification-esque change than any previous cultural neighborhood. It has been able to adapt and assimilate to a changing environment.

Chinatown in Manhattan is incomparable and expanding. Keeping old-school values—like cheap authentic cuisine—while adapting to new tastes, our Chinatown is almost a representation of China in the global market. So why not check out the rising power of this New York neighborhood? Chinatown has engulfed most of little Italy and the hearts of foodies and eccentric shoppers alike, so why not yours, too? After spending a day in Chinatown’s busy-ness, I can say Chinatown has got my heart.


Your Urban Explorer

Great Place for Dinner:
Cha Chan Tang
45 Mott Street
(212) 577 2888

This Chinatown place gathers the hip and hungry youth. The décor screams Modern Oriental. This restaurant-café is a must. Originating in the city of Hong Kong, this staple decided to come stateside, and I say, “Thank goodness!” With Chinatown prices, the small portions pay off for the great atmosphere. It’s very “HK Café,” meaning you’ll see things on the menu like “Baked Macaroni and Meat Sauce,” which, despite the grade-school, cafeteria-sounding name, is pretty good.

Great Public Space:
Columbus Park
67 Mulberry Street

This is a great public space to appreciate local culture. Everything from tai-chi and qui-gong classes to chess games, mah-jong players and tea-leaf readers make this a wonderful venue to experience the relaxation of Chinatown. Plenty of benches and cool shade bring children and the elderly out in nice weather. It’s a perfect place to end your Chinatown excursion and take in the day’s adventure.

Best Refreshing Drink:
51 Mott Street
(212) 393-9009

This is my go-to bubble tea spot. Bubble tea is a refreshing tapioca drink, usually served cold with a variety of unique flavors (taro green tea is my favorite.) It’s a really cool place to chill with your friends. Prices are in the Starbucks range, and the environment is great. They also serve some delicious snacks to go with your drinks; try the toast with coconut butter. This place is open until 11:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and until 1 a.m. on weekends, so here’s a place to go after that late night movie.

MOST Unique and Authentic Shop:
Jade Garden Arts & Crafts Co.
76 Mulberry St.
(212) 587-5685

See, I didn’t want to write “giftshop” because, while it is an amazing place to get something special for your someone special, it shouldn’t be associated with Chinatown’s other NYC tourist shops filled with plastic paraphernalia only good for ironic laughs. This matchless gem is packed with amazing, handmade Chinese pottery, sculpture and other art. Many of the pieces are small, endearing and surprisingly affordable for the quality. The owners are always in and will enthusiastically explain the significance of their wonderful collection for a special occasion.

An Unforgettable Brunch:
20 Elizabeth Street, Second Floor
(212) 964-5256

If you’re a Dim Sum virgin, let me explain the genius of this Chinese gastronomy. Dim Sum is like the Chinese version of Spanish tapas. Basically it is a big meal that is composed of small portions of a great array of culinary joys. Servers come around with carts allowing you to pick and choose from the dishes you feel will satisfy your midday cravings. This place is great for many reasons; it’s huge and a perfect place to bring a big group of friends, and the Dim Sum dishes are delicious. You have to try it! It’s definitely an experience.