Chinatown and Little Italy are neighbors, located just blocks from the city's courthouses, City Hall, the municipal buildings of lower Manhattan, and the Lower East Side. To get to Chinatown, cab it or take the subway to the Canal Street station (A, C, E, J, M, N, Q, R, W, or 6 train).
For years, Chinatown has been the place to go for New York's best Chinese food, but it is much more than a neighborhood of restaurants. The interest in Chinatown is the cultural ambiance — there aren't many traditional touristy sights. Since the early settlers came to the neighborhood from China in the 1870s, the area has exploded beyond its original boundaries into Little Italy and even across Canal Street.
For years, immigrants worked in factories, restaurants, and local shops. Many locals still do. The neighborhood houses garment factories and numerous shops. Many of these establishments sell food, and the kids will love seeing roasted ducks hanging in shop windows. Noodles, seafood, and vegetables are abundant inside and outside the jam-packed little shops that line the tiny streets.
Clothing, electronics, souvenirs, and all sorts of goods are for sale here beneath Chinese signs. You'll even see a few pagoda-style roofs, but the area is not a Disney tribute to Chinese culture; it is an authentic and very busy neighborhood that moves at a frantic pace. If you stroll the main business streets, Canal and Mott, you'll find yourself smack in the middle of the frenzy.
A visit to Chinatown should include a stop at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas. Also shop the stores on Mott Street, and be sure to stop by the shops frequented by the local residents. It will give the kids a fascinating view of a unique culture. Once you've worked up an appetite, check out the recommendations in Chapter 17 and have lunch and/or dinner at one of the 300 restaurants in the neighborhood.
Drop into the Museum of Chinese in the Americas at 70 Mulberry Street (212-619-4785). It will be moving to 174 Lafayette Street (between Canal and Howard streets), so call for the current location. Founded in 1980 as the New York Chinatown History Project, the museum was chartered in 1992. It is currently the only nonacademic museum on the East Coast dedicated to documenting and interpreting the history and culture of Chinese Americans. Included in the exhibits are photos, documents, sound recordings, textiles, and more.
Another option is to stop at Fung Wong's on Mott Street to buy rice cakes, roast pork buns, egg rolls, and other delights to take back to your hotel. Definitely visit the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street by Mott for a taste of lychee, papaya, and other exotic flavors of ice cream.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated in grand style in Chinatown, with dragon parades and all sorts of festivities. It's very crowded, but if you're in town during the Chinese New Year, you might head on down and check out the excitement.