Chinatown has long been a popular destination for tourists in Lower Manhattan. But visitors willing to explore the city’s outer boroughs might consider a subway ride to neighborhoods in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, or Flushing, Queens, which are also home to large Asian populations and bustling commercial strips dotted with restaurants and shops.
All three neighborhoods also host events connected to Lunar New Year. The holiday is officially marked on Feb. 19 but several parades and other festivities are planned for the weekend of Feb. 21-22. Here are some details on the holiday and the three Chinatowns.
▪ Year of the what? Each Lunar New Year has a different animal symbol from the 12 creatures in the Chinese zodiac. But this year’s animal is subject to interpretation.
“We just had this discussion a few weeks ago. What exactly is it?” said Lenny Cheng, who works in the Brooklyn branch of the Chinatown Planning Council. “It can be a ram, sheep or goat — any ruminant mountain animal with horns.” Cheng’s organization is going with year of the ram.
▪ Sunset Park: Sunset Park isn’t as well-known as the Chinatowns in Manhattan and Queens, but it’s one of the city’s fastest-growing immigrant neighborhoods. There’s an Asian enclave here — predominantly Chinese, with a concentration of Fujianese and Cantonese residents — as well as a large Spanish-speaking population. Latino eateries and businesses are centered along Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue, while Eighth Avenue is home to many Asian restaurants, markets and shops, roughly between 40th and 60th streets. The neighborhood is served by several subway stops.
Good, inexpensive, authentic eateries abound. Some aficionados have anointed Ba Xuyen, 4222 Eighth Ave. in Brooklyn, as home to the best banh mi in the city: Vietnamese sandwiches on crispy baguettes, loaded with ingredients like crunchy pickled vegetables, savory meatballs and fragrant cilantro. Others swear by Lucky Eight, 5204 Eighth Ave., a Chinese restaurant that’s even recommended by the Michelin guide. Another foodie fave is Yun Nan Flavour Garden, 5121 Eighth Ave., known for rice noodles and other specialties of China’s Yunnan province.
On Feb. 21, a public school, P.S. 310, at 942 62nd St. in Brooklyn, is hosting a day of free festivities in honor of the new year. It runs from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and includes include martial arts and lion dance performances, games and vendors.
While you’re in Sunset Park, consider visiting a major attraction that has nothing to do with Chinatown: Green-Wood Cemetery. This beautifully landscaped National Historic Landmark, established in 1838, offers tours and is the final resting place for many famous individuals, from Leonard Bernstein to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and 25th Street (in Brooklyn).
▪ Flushing: Take the 7 train to the last stop in Queens, Main Street, into the heart of a busy neighborhood that’s a shopping and dining paradise. You’ll find everything from Sheraton and Best Western hotels to malls filled with Asian food stalls and shops. The Golden Mall is home to the flagship location for Xi’an Famous Foods, in the basement of 41-28 Main St. Xi’an is known for unique noodle dishes and now has 10 locations around the city.
A Lunar New Year Bazaar takes place Feb. 14, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd., while a parade with a lion dance will run from Union Street to Main Street and 39th Avenue, Feb. 21, expected to take place around 11 a.m.
▪ Manhattan: This is the city’s oldest and best-known Chinese neighborhood. Its massive, colorful Lunar New Year parade and festival take place Feb. 22, kicking off at 1 p.m. at Canal and Mott streets, heading to Chatham Square, then down East Broadway, Eldridge and Grand Streets to Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Also at the park, on Feb. 19, there will be a firecracker ceremony and cultural festival starting at 11 a.m.
But a walk in Chinatown is fun and evocative any time of year. Walk down Mott Street from Canal past dozens of souvenir shops and restaurants. Brave the line of diners waiting for soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai, 9 Pell St., just off Mott, or join the weekend crowds chowing down on dim sum at places like Dim Sum Go Go, 5 E. Broadway.