Bonnie Tsui, author of American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, takes a short look at some of America's Chinatowns. The formula, she says, for a great Chinatown is four things: fish, dragons, smoke, and crowds:
Live fish mean that there are enough people buying to make the trouble of caring for the seafood worthwhile. The dragon eye — longan in Cantonese — is a strange fruit, a sweet, subtly fragrant exotic with coarse, sandpapery skin...As strange as it may seem, smoking is a strong cultural indicator that a Chinatown continues to serve a vibrant population of immigrants. A Chinese restaurant with a bunch of cooks smoking out back, or customers puffing while waiting for a table? Worth a try! It’s one that’s less likely to be Americanized...New immigrants mean a certain density and that prices aren’t too high. The more people, the better.
In this pieces she examines the Chinatowns in New York City (more traditional), Monterery Park, California (the "'Chinese Beverely Hills'"), Las Vegas (an "invented Chinatown mall experience that has come to be its own authentic creation."), and Austin, Texas (which is showing promising signs of development).