TNT Diner

$3 banh mi, mini chè and good-luck money at Tacoma’s Lunar New Year celebration

You don’t need a Monkeyshine to celebrate the Year of the Rat in Tacoma.

The Lincoln International District will host its annual Lunar New Year celebration on Sunday, Feb. 9 — the first time under a new streetscape. The city completed the Lincoln revitalization project last spring, bringing bigger sidewalks, more lighting and a designated festival space.

East Asia Market, at the corner of 38th Street and Tacoma Avenue, will host the brief opening ceremony at 10 a.m., led by the 4th District’s City Council member Catherine Ushka.

Traditional lion and dragon dancers will start there and wander west on 38th Street, stopping at restaurants and shops along the way. In addition to entertaining, they will try to catch li xi — red envelopes with money tucked inside.

A few restaurants will offer specials, including $3 banh mi at Vien Dong at 3801 S. Yakima Ave. The pho favorite will also have hot or iced coffee for $2.50 and sodas for $1.

Bambu, the boba tea and dessert shop, will have two limited-edition offers. First, there’s a $3 mini chè — otherwise only available in catering orders — in one of three flavors: Red Bean Combo, Bambu Favorite or Taro Lover. The drinkable Vietnamese dessert blends boba or tapioca pearls and other jellies with coconut milk and crushed ice.

If you prefer a standard 16-ounce chè, upgrade your milk tea to take home a reusable boba tumbler adorned with a cute-alert smiley face and glitter ($15.99 with free milk tea and two extra toppings).


Lincoln’s new year festival is a bit late this year due in part to, alas, the Superbowl. On Saturday, the dancers will perform at Seattle’s popular Chinatown event, and here in Tacoma the Asia Pacific Cultural Center is running its free celebration at the Tacoma Dome.

According to Lee Lee Nam, who has run Lorinda’s Hair Care in Lincoln for more than 30 years, some businesses opted out this year due to the timing. She still expects a crowd in the streets as residents and visitors alike revel in the energy that comes along with firecrackers, drumming and dancing dragons.

Plus, of course, the red envelope. Called hóngbāo in Mandarin, their color symbolizes good luck. Kids will have the chance to collect their own at participating businesses on Sunday.

How much is in each envelope?

“It’s bad luck to tell,” said Hayes Alexander, the unofficial treasurer of the Lincoln Business District. He’s a board member at the Tacoma Tool Library, a tool-sharing nonprofit nestled between Dragon’s Crawfish and VK Viet Kitchen.

Why do I mention the tool library?

Well, it used to be located in Hilltop, in part of the building now home to the Tacoma Baking Company. Now it’s in a neighborhood glimmering with Vietnamese, Chinese and Mexican influence. Supporting the traditions related to that multiculturalism is core to the district’s charm.

Hayes and VK’s co-owner Vincent Chu have joined Nam’s efforts to engage fellow business owners in the neighborhood.

“We have fun,” said Nam. “The dancers, they work the crowd.”

The new streetscape provides a safer and brighter place for residents and visitors, added Chu, who remembers coming to the district’s new year festivals as a kid. The cloud gates remind Tacomans that here, the sky’s the limit.

People of all backgrounds come to Lincoln to eat, shop and connect, they said, and the Lunar New Year is no different.

Lincoln District Lunar New Year

Where: 38th Street between Tacoma Avenue South and Thompson Avenue

When: Sunday, Feb. 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kristine Sherred joined The News Tribune in December 2019. She spent the past decade immersed in the culinary scene of Chicago and, for a time, covered the global chocolate and snacks industries. An avid home cook and beer/cocktail pro, she now explores all things edible and sippable throughout Pierce County. Reach her also at @kriscarasher on Twitter.