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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Chinatown

Eating, shopping, and hanging out in one of the Hub’s oldest neighborhoods

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Located in one of Boston’s most densely populated neighborhoods, Chinatown borders the Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and the South End. It is the third largest Chinatown in the United States, home to a vibrant Asian community.

The neighborhood was originally a tidal flat; a succession of Irish, Jewish, Italian, and Syrian families called it home before the first Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1880s, pitching tents in the area now known as Ping On Alley. The city’s garment manufacturing began there, and some of the old plants have been converted into apartments and condominiums.

Beach Street remains the heart of Chinatown’s bustling business district. The number of dining opportunities is almost overwhelming. Small shops offer items from live turtles and small statues of Buddha to Chinese spices and foodstuffs. Chinatown restaurants were once exclusively Chinese, but they now offer an assortment of cuisines, including Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Although it’s easy to feel like a stranger in Chinatown, there’s a lot more to the neighborhood than firecrackers and lion dances. But you can quickly become comfortable here, especially if you check out the places below on your next visit.

Chinatown Park
160 Kingston St.

Just outside the Chinatown gate, the neighborhood’s formal entrance, is a small park featuring a giant floor chessboard, bamboo gardens, and a large mural. A refuge from the area’s bustling sidewalks, it’s a quiet place to bring your takeout. Although the section that housed the small playground is currently under construction, most of the park is still open to the public. The area used to be a highway exit ramp and is now part of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, named for President John Kennedy’s mother. The Greenway was created when Boston’s Big Dig construction project moved previously elevated roadways underground, making way for a nearly mile-long stretch of parks and green space that today winds through Chinatown, the Wharf District, and North End neighborhoods.

Shabu-Zen, 16 Tyler St.

Shabu-Zen, 16 Tyler St.

My Thai Vegan Cafe
3 Beach St., second floor

The back stairs leading to My Thai may look somewhat foreboding, but for vegans, or vegan wannabes, the climb is worth it. The food is inexpensive, and the restaurant has huge windows, an excellent vantage point for the comings and goings on Beach Street below.

Gourmet Dumpling House
52 Beach St.

With all the bustle on Beach Street, it’s easy to miss the Gourmet Dumpling House. Don’t let the unassuming façade fool you—inside this tiny restaurant is ginseng chicken soup, sautéed watercress with garlic, and of course, dumplings. Try the mini juicy dumplings with pork, but be careful to bite the top off to let the steam out, otherwise you’re in for a world of hurt.

Vinh Sun BBQ & Restaurant
58 Beach St.

Stop by this sliver of a restaurant on the corner of Beach and Oxford Streets for a delicious and cheap breakfast—fried ham and eggs or rice porridge. Be sure to pair your meal with the restaurant’s sweet coffee or Hong Kong milk tea. Vinh Sun also serves lunch and dinner, with an extensive menu of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood dishes.

Silky Way Martial Arts, 33 Harrison Ave.

Silky Way Martial Arts, 33 Harrison Ave.

Sun Sun Company
18 Oxford St.

Oxford Street is more an alley than a street, but it still has room for Sun Sun Company, a grocery store offering fresh vegetables, seafood, and spicy candy. They even sell live crabs.

China Pearl
9 Tyler St.

China Pearl’s yellow sign beckons lovers of dim sum to go upstairs, where they can pick and choose from pushcarts that offer items from steamed buns to dumplings and rice noodles. Point to the dish you want, and the waiter will put it on your table and then stamp your card. If you’re a dim sum novice, it’s best to bring along a friend familiar with this authentic Asian cuisine.

Shabu-Zen
16 Tyler St.

If you like to add an extra challenge to a meal, try hot-pot style dining, where you cook an assortment of raw meat and vegetables in broth right at your table. Not sure if you want the beef or the pork? You can cook up both, with your choice of veggies.

Winmil Fabrics, China Town

Winmil Fabrics, 111 Chauncy St.

Silky Way Martial Arts
33 Harrison Ave.

Silky Way carries books, DVDs, drums, puppets, and dolls. Make sure you find the staircase to the second floor, which offers an incredible array of martial arts accessories.

Eldo Cake House
36 Harrison Ave.

Pastries, buns, candy, and other sweet treats can be found all over Chinatown, but no shop does cakes better than Eldo. Standouts include the pineapple cake, the coconut cream pudding, and the egg tart. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

163 Vietnamese Sandwich
66 Harrison Ave.

Craving some bubble tea? Head to 163 Vietnamese Sandwich, where you can get the coconut- or avocado-flavored drink with or without the gummy tapioca balls in the bottom. Then order up a curry chicken sandwich, which comes with mayo, cucumbers, pickled carrots, daikon, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, and soy sauce.

Winmil Fabrics
111 Chauncy St.

Clean, organized, and amazing, this mom-and-pop shop has a great selection of fabrics, tools, buttons, and patterns. Maybe you need material and accessories for that Halloween costume you’ve been planning or have been looking for material to reupholster grandma’s chair. You’ll find it all at Winmil. The store is closed on Sundays.

Chau Chow City, 83 Essex St.

Chau Chow City, 83 Essex St.

Chau Chow City
83 Essex St.

Early morning is a great time to grab some Chinese food from Chau Chow. And we’re talking early: the restaurant is open until 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Walk over after a night out dancing at clubs on Boylston Street.

Registry of Motor Vehicles
630 Washington St.

Okay, it’s not a historic site, and you certainly can’t order dim sum here, but the RMV branch is one of the first buildings you see when you step off the train in Chinatown. It’s the place to go for vehicle registration, for paying citations, and for getting a Massachusetts driver’s license. Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Getting there: Take the Green Line inbound to the Boylston Street stop, turn left out of the station, and walk down Essex Street, or take the Orange Line to the Chinatown stop.


Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Chinatown area.

Learn about other neighborhoods around Boston here. Check out our Chinatown list on Foursquare for more neighborhood tips.

This article was originally published on September 25, 2008; it has been recently updated to include new locations and current information.

21 Comments

21 Comments on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Chinatown

  • Anonymous on 10.28.2008 at 9:12 am

    Chinatown

    Great article and I love the photos!

    Keep these neighborhood pieces coming!

  • Anonymous on 10.28.2008 at 11:11 am

    The neighborhood articles are my favorite- so fun to try new and different food/get away from campus for a bit

  • Anonymous on 10.28.2008 at 12:59 pm

    chinatown love

    yes! finally some chinatown love. everyone wants to go to the north end, or stay at bu.

  • Anonymous on 10.29.2008 at 3:16 pm

    Wow, I had no idea that Chau Chow styaed open so late! I thought Boston restaurants shut down at 9 p .m. When’s the next one? Ever think about Southie?

  • Anonymous on 10.30.2008 at 12:54 pm

    Just a correction: In the review of China Pearl, the article says “If you’re a dim sum novice, it would be helpful to bring along a friend who speaks Mandarin — not all of the waitstaff speak English.” The waitstaff at this restaurant (like most in Boston’s Chinatown) will speak Cantonese, not Mandarin.

  • Anonymous on 10.30.2008 at 12:56 pm

    Another correction: Chau Chau city, while open late, doesn’t serve dim sum into the wee hours of the morning; their menu changes for the late night crowd and becomes, largely, a weak attempt at Sichuan foods (strange for a place that makes such great Guangdong snacks).

  • Vegan on 12.11.2008 at 1:44 am

    My Thai Vegan Cafe

    Sounds like one of those great tucked away vegan places that’s a treasure to find. If anyone’s looking for menu options at popular places try Vegan Eating Out.

  • Anonymous on 02.04.2009 at 11:59 am

    Living in Chinatown is my dream

    Chinatown is one of the most desirable place to live in. Cheap delicious food, clothes and things. I had a chance to write some papers on Chinatown. It helps make boston diverse.

  • John Petrucci on 02.27.2009 at 3:12 am

    Re:

    The portions are large, and the atmosphere is cozy, with wood paneling and beams designed to look like a Malaysian hut. 

  • David on 04.09.2009 at 11:19 am

    I love Chinatown, I bought so many cool gifts in Chinatown for my friends.

    David
    youtube mp3

  • Anonymous on 06.20.2009 at 6:12 pm

    Chinatown

    Very nice collection of pictures. I have never been there before but would like to go there and check it out. 

  • ed hardy clothes on 08.28.2009 at 2:23 am

    Great article and I love the photos! Keep these neighborhood pieces coming!

  • Gemma Fournier on 01.03.2010 at 9:59 am

    Amazing

    These are some amazing pictures. You have really describe Chinatown well. It is interesting to see what can be done when proper time is taken to do it right. Thanks you for your thoughts. casino online

  • Chris on 02.02.2010 at 10:43 am

    Good mention

    Big fan of the crispy duck at China Perls. They defintiely deserve a mention.

    Regards

    Chris

  • coach handbag on 02.18.2010 at 2:32 am

    Thanks for this information

    Nice information, valuable and excellent design, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need, thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer such helpful information here.

  • Anonymous on 02.19.2010 at 8:56 am

    Happy new year everyone! This year is tiger’s year! Hope everyone strong as tiger!

  • PK on 02.19.2010 at 2:49 pm

    RMV

    Ah, but the RMV building IS on a historic site! It’s where the Liberty Tree once stood. Note the marker on the third floor:

    Anyway, another great article in a great series!

  • Anonymous on 02.19.2010 at 9:17 pm

    another neighborhood

    When will you do one on Charlestown?

  • Anonymous on 03.14.2010 at 9:54 pm

    Majority of chinese are educated in Mandarin, their national language. Cantonese is most widely used dialect. Chances are that these Cantonese Chinese speaks Mandarin.

  • Jenny on 12.14.2011 at 9:04 am

    Foursquare fans, you can now use BU Today’s custom list to check off Chinatown’s sights as you visit. See: https://foursquare.com/butoday/list/nearby-neighborhoods-chinatown

  • Mary on 04.16.2014 at 11:10 am

    Can’t believe you didn’t include “Dumpling Cafe” on Washington St….it has the WAY best juicy buns and everything else. Also,can’t believe you left out Pho Pasteur” which is across the street. The best HugeBowls of Vietnamese chicken soup ( there are also veggie broth/tofu options)

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