Instagram walkabout: D.C.’s Chinatown
If you’re visiting D.C. for the first time, at some point you’re likely to pass through the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station. You might even emerge from the station thinking you’ll be in the middle of a bustling Chinatown.
Don’t get your hopes up.
While you can’t miss the Chinatown Arch, it’s the rest of Chinatown that you might have a problem finding. There’s just not a lot there if you’re seeking an “authentic” Chinatown experience that you might get in San Francisco, Los Angeles or even New York.
There are several Asian restaurants in the Chinatown district, though not all of them are Chinese restaurants. Back in the early and middle part of the 1900s, the area was home to thousands of Chinese immigrants and families of Chinese descent. By the 1990s most of those families had fled to the suburbs.
In fact, in the 1980s most locals would have warned you to stay away from Chinatown because it had become a pretty sketchy area. However, a new arena — the Verizon Center — and a slew of new restaurants helped revitalize the district, which today is a bustling entertainment destination.
I did a photo walkabout on Wednesday after work for my entry into Instagram Travel Thursday, a blog collective whose purpose is to “promote the great travel experts on Instagram and Instagram as a source for travel inspiration.”
While most of my photography on this blog is with either my Olympus or Nikon, it’s a good exercise to every once in awhile put the mirrorless and DSLR away and just use your smart phone. The limited capabilities will force you to be more creative.
If you’re planning a visit to D.C.’s Chinatown, I’d recommend that you set aside at least 15 minutes, maybe even a half hour if you’re a slow walker. The Friendship Archway is at 7th and H Streets and most of what is considered “Chinatown” is within two blocks of the arch, though the majority of the family-owned Asian restaurants are to the east.
The ducks in the photo above were hanging in the window of the Chinatown Express, which serves decent enough Chinese food. I usually head to the Full Kee restaurant, which is a block farther east, though occasionally it can be so-so.
According to Wikipedia:
The Chinatown area was once home to many German immigrants; it is also the location of the Washington branch of the Goethe-Institut. Chinese immigrants began to move into the area in the 1930s, having been displaced from Washington’s original Chinatown along Pennsylvania Avenue by the development of the Federal Triangle government office complex. The newcomers marked it with decorative metal latticework and railings as well as Chinese signage. At its peak, Chinatown extended from G Street north to Massachusetts Avenue, and from 9th Street east to 5th Street.
When I said that Chinatown used to be sketchy, you could actually say that about a lot of D.C. By the time I moved here in 2007, Chinatown was revitalized and a lot of other neighborhoods in the city had gentrified. A lot of the ethnic Chinese residents who used to live in Chinatown fled after the 1968 riots and many others were displaced by the construction of the MCI Center, which is now called the Verizon Center.
Though many of the businesses and restaurants in the Chinatown district are national chains, the city requires that their signage include their names in Chinese characters. This can cause some bewildered stares from tourists who don’t actually realize that they’re in the middle of Washington’s Chinatown. On my walkabout, I saw two tourists outside of La Tasca, a Spanish restaurant, wondering out loud if it served Chinese food because of the signage.
Now the question, you’re probably asking yourself (or at least the one you should be asking yourself) is can a guy or gal at least get some decent dim sum in this rinky dink Chinatown?
Well, D.C.’s Chinatown is known for its dim sum said no one ever.
One option in Chinatown is the Ping Pong restaurant, where the decor, the dim sum and cocktails are trendy, if a bit over-priced. Sadly, there are no push carts in sight.
If you want decent dim sum at an affordable price, you’ll have to get on the Metro and head to the suburbs to the restaurants opened by the folks who left Chinatown in the last 40 years.