Counting Down America’s Best Chinatowns

America’s Chinatowns are more than just neighborhoods. They are cities within cities that have served as enclaves for the Chinese migrating to America as far back as the mid-19th century. A Chinatown represents a unique footprint of Chinese immigrants who left their motherland for a life elsewhere. It doesn’t matter where Chinese people end up, they manage to bring their unique culture along which serves to bind them together and gives the rest of the world a glimpse of this timeless heritage.

While each Chinatown has unique elements, you’ll find several similarities. Most Chinatowns are located in large cities, and they serve as ethnic enclaves for robust immigration from mainland China to the U.S. They are cultural centers as well as tourist attractions, giving residents and visitors alike the opportunity to enjoy Chinese arts, commerce, and culinary delights. Here are just five of America’s Best Chinatowns:

1. San Francisco

Not only is San Francisco’s Chinatown this country’s oldest, but it also one of the biggest and is continuing to grow. The Chinatown was established when three Chinese immigrants arrived in 1848, and it is now the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.

The area is close to San Francisco’s Financial District, covering 20 blocks of narrow streets and alleyways. You can enter from several directions, but the Chinatown Gate (also known as the Dragon Gate) is located on Grant Ave.

If you visit San Francisco’s Chinatown, be sure to walk through Portsmouth Square, look for the Buddhist temples, and sample some of the district’s culinary treats, and famous Chinese restaurants.

2. New York City

New York City has several Chinatown’s but it’s Chinatown is in Manhattan and is known as this country’s largest. This Chinatown encompasses approximately 40 blocks and is home to more than 150,000 Chinese-speaking residents. This area in Lower Manhattan is known for having some of New York’s best restaurants. After you’ve gone shopping for gifts and jewelry on Canal Street, be sure to satisfy your taste buds at Jing Fong Restaurant or Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles.

3. Chicago

Chicago’s Chinatown is characterized by numerous museums and exhibitions that will give visitors a broader cultural experience. Located 20 minutes outside of downtown Chicago, you can get to the Chinatown by water taxi and then pass through the big red “Welcome” gate as you enter the district. Aside from shopping and museums, be sure to visit Lao Sze Chuan for a meal. This Chinese restaurant is considered one of the best in the country.

4. Seattle

Seattle’s Chinatown is officially called The Chinatown-International District of Seattle. Here you’ll find a diverse Asian community that includes Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Filipino residents who have immigrated to the region over the past century and a half. If you visit Seattle’s Chinatown, don’t miss the Bruce Lee exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum. When your stomachs begin to rumble, check out Mike’s Noodle House for a delicious meal.

5. Honolulu

With its proximity to Asia compared to other mainland districts, Honolulu’s Chinatown is also one of this country’s oldest and most active Chinatowns. Located on the western edge of the city’s Financial District, this Hawaiian Chinatown features temples, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, antique shops, and lei makers. If you go, try the moon cakes at Sing Cheong Yuen Chinese Bakery. The district also has an art walk on the first Friday of each month.

When you visit a Chinatown in any city, you are visiting a cultural institution. Whether you have the pleasure of visiting mainland China in your lifetime or not, the unique architecture, food, and heritage that you’ll find in these iconic urban centers will give you an authentic cultural experience.