Those in Singapore and Manhattan are the only ones I’ve seen that deserve to be called like that. The majority of Chinatowns, such as those in Philadelphia, Yokohama, Boston, etc., are little more than several streets full of Chinese restaurants. The one in New York City is huge, the second largest in the world behind San Francisco’s, because although in theory it ends east of Henry St, Chinese businesses have taken almost the entire southern Lower East Side. With nearly 350,000 residents (and supposedly another 450,000 illegal immigrants), being the majority ethnic Chinese, this neighborhood has more population than many cities in the world. That makes it almost an authentic Chinese city, with its advantages and disadvantages.
Chinatown is an area little recommended for overnight, because it is noisy, dirty and unsafe at night, worsening these negative aspects the closer we get to the Lower East Side and the further away from SoHo. However, given its size and authenticity, it is worth visiting:
- There are many restaurants, although only once did I eat in one and I did not find it out of the ordinary.
- There are many Chinese shops, where we’ll know almost nothing of what is sold.
- It is also home to the cheapest bus companies in the city for one or several day trips to destinations such as Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, or the area immediately north in Canada: Toronto, Montreal, etc. They have two drawbacks:
- If you buy a guided tour, it will be in Chinese.
- The guides, clerks, etc., are not in our experience neither friendly nor helpful.
The most tourist area is the axis between Canal and Bowery streets. The Chinese New Year is an important festivity in the neighborhood.
Although very famous, here the topic of ‘4 streets full of restaurants’ is fulfilled; Formerly it was bigger, but Chinatown absorbed most of it. It is worth a visit, especially because it is adjacent to Chinatown and it takes hardly anything to see it. I’ve dined only once there, and it was not a big deal either. The restaurants are competition between them and my impression is that they do not worry about the quality of the food, but about the amount of customers they can cover, the more the better.
There is an interesting Christmas decorations store. The festival of San Genaro, in September, is the most important in the neighborhood.
The alternative answer to the already alternative Greenwich Village. This neighborhood is less select than its brother, more vintage and carefree, getting close to shabby and neglected on some occasions. Not in vain, this area is what was traditionally known as the Lower East Side, its reputation being ominous; the name change came as an attempt to modernize and clean up, so that people would associate it with Greenwich Village.
For my taste, it does not have as many shops, restaurants or coffee shops as Greenwich, and in general the aspect of them is not so flattering, without this being reflected on the prices, which come to be the same. Of course, there are many cool graffiti. I consider it a dispensable visit in Manhattan.
NOLITA, SOHO AND NOHO
Their names mean:
- NoLIta: North of Little Italy.
- SoHo: South of Houston Street.
- NoHo: North of Houston Street.
If there is something that newyorkers like is to form names from abbreviations, more examples are TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street) or DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass, in Brooklyn). These three “neighborhoods” could be one, since:
- They are small and together: their approximate boundaries are Greenwich to the west, the East Village to the east and Chinatown + TriBeCa to the south. The SoHo is as big as the other two combined and is further west, but the truth is that walking around the area you will not know in which of the three you are.
- They look the same: brick buildings with metal stairs on the facades, boutiques, art galleries, coffee shops and yuppies everywhere. It is a good place to visit for those who like this type of entertainment, but dispensable for those who look for anything else.