chinatownBeneath the famous Friendship Archway at H and 7th Streets lies the entrance to one of the District’s mostwellknown and culturally inspired neighborhoods, Chinatown. Only blocks away from the Verizon Center, the district is most visited for its restaurants and annual parade commemorating the Chinese New Year.

Each year, Chinatown celebrates the new year holiday with a parade, Chinese Dragon Dances, live musical performances and a host of other activities. The Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration which begins with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon two weeks later. This year, the new year will fall on Feb. 3. Keep in mind that during the festivities, it is customary for both performers and spectators to wear red, a color which is believed to aid in warding off evil spirits.

Chinatown spans nearly five blocks and contains approximately 20 Chinese, Asian and Asian-inspired restaurants, all within walking distance. While the neighborhood has recently played host to an increasing number of American chains such as Starbucks, Hooters, McCormick & Schmick’s and Legal Seafoods, it still maintains a firm grip on its Asian roots.

Today, many of its Asian restaurants are family-owned and operated. Of note is Ping Pong Dim Sum on 7th Street. Despite the restaurant’s seemingly informal name, Ping Pong is actually an upscale venue, offering an extensive menu of dim sum or, in Ping Pong’s words, “little steamed parcels ofdeliciousness.” These range from traditional dishes such as spicy pork and seafood dumplings to those better suited to the more intrepid, such as black prawn dumplings in black squid ink pastry.

Wok & Roll is another restaurant worth a visit, representing both them area’s Asian culture as well as the American history that D.C. is known for: The restaurant occupies a house which once served as the meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in nearby Ford’s Theatre. Alongside this heaping slice of Americana, the restaurant serves the best of both Japanese and Chinese cuisine, including Peking Duck, Soft Shell Crab and a variety of sushi during happy hour from Monday to Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.

After a basketball game this season, stop in for happy hour at Wok & Roll, dim sum at Ping Pong, or try any one of the Chinese dives beneath the famous Friendship Archway. A couple caveats: dining in this area can be pricey, and the surrounding neighborhood is dicey, especially at night. The unique culinary and cultural delights to be found here outweigh whatever reservations you may still have, however. Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

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