How the Team Behind Some of Atlanta’s Best Restaurants Celebrates Lunar New Year

Plus, we’ve got a list of the best ways to celebrate Lunar New Year in Atlanta.

Ron, Anita, and Howard Hsu at Lazy Betty
Ron, Anita, and Howard Hsu at Lazy Betty | Photography by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Ron, Anita, and Howard Hsu at Lazy Betty | Photography by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Decades before Howard and Anita Hsu owned Sweet Auburn Barbecue and their brother, Ron, was the chef-owner of Lazy Betty, they were just three kids growing up in their parents’ Henry County Chinese restaurants.

With no idea they’d one day be running some of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in the country, these children of Malaysian immigrants counted down to their epic Lunar New Year celebrations every year.

Anita’s earliest Lunar New Year memory is of lion dances at her parents’ restaurant, Hunan Village. “It usually consisted of my cousins and uncles performing in it,” she remembers. “Even some of the non-family members of the staff would be drummers.” Hunan Village was the only Chinese restaurant in Griffin at the time, so it was the place to be when the annual holiday rolled around.

Lunar New Year begins with the first new moon of the lunisolar calendar—this year it’s on February 10—and ends 15 days later with the arrival of the first full moon. It’s the biggest holiday in China, Korea, Tibet, and Vietnam, and is sometimes referred to as Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, Tet (in Vietnam), or Losar (in Tibet). It’s such a big deal that businesses in China typically shut down for the first week so families can partake in festivities like street parades, family gatherings, and fireworks.

Photo courtesy of The Hsu Family

The revelry is more subdued in the US, but still proved to be memorable for the Hsu family and their guests. Betty, their mother and family matriarch, along with their father, George, took hosting duties seriously. Betty and George immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, and Betty helped her seven siblings immigrate in the 1980s. This made for a full spread on the banquet table.

“A lot of them worked in the restaurant or had restaurant experience,” says Howard, the oldest. “So during Chinese New Year, it was a lot of fun because everybody would prepare their specialty dish. You had a lot of good food and a lot of different dishes that everybody was really proud of.”

As time went on, the celebrations grew to include their teenage friends. “All of our friends, at one point, had worked with us at our parents' Chinese restaurants,” Anita says. “And they all really loved the lion dance, and they loved coming to these parties. So having your friends validate it made it cool, too."

The Hsus remember eating traditional dishes like thin, crispy pan-fried egg noodles smothered in a meat and vegetable sauce. There were sweet and sour fried pork chops. Long noodles, known as longevity noodles, would be served as a symbol of long life. There would also be a steamed whole fish which represented abundance. “One of the things that stood out to me with the fish, was that we would get reprimanded if we tried to flip the fish over when the meat was gone on one side,” says Anita. Flipping the fish is forbidden because, if you turn it over, you risk losing your fortune.

There were also other traditions. “As a child, your aunts and uncles, and the elderly members of the family, would give you red envelopes, hóngbāo. Usually there's anywhere from a $20 bill in there to $100 bill,” says Howard. “I remember one time I might have gotten a couple of hundred dollars, and that was super exciting.” Additionally, there would always be a game or two of mahjong played at their house or the restaurant.

The feast grew to include American food, too. One aunt married a man who owned a KFC franchise and added his own flair by bringing buckets of fried chicken, which soon became part of the annual tradition.

Ron Hsu cooking at Lazy Betty
Ron Hsu cooking at Lazy Betty | Photography by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Naturally, the celebrations waned as kids grew up and families dispersed throughout the country (including Ron, who lived in New York until three years ago). Instead of mahjong and a banquet, the siblings would go to their parents’ house where Betty and George would cook for them, or they’d go to a local Chinese restaurant.

This year, Sweet Auburn Barbecue will host a Lunar Lovin’ Brunch Pop-Up with guest chef Vivan Lee of Leftie Lee’s. Lee will serve a limited edition Jap Jae Bun for the festivities, while the Hsus are bringing back the Char Siu Smoked Pork Bao for one day only. So fuel up for the year of the dragon at this event on February 11 and if you’re looking for more ways to celebrate Lunar New Year in Atlanta, we’ve got you covered with a few festivals, parades, and parties below.

Lunar New Year Events in Atlanta

February 7–9
Morningside/Virginia Highlands, Prices vary
The iconic Doc Chey’s is celebrating its 18th annual Chinese New Year festivities with eight grand prizes hidden in their special fortune cookies. Grab a meal and try your luck with a fortune cookie to see if you win a Braves or Atlanta United Prize Pack with additional swag and tickets.

February 10–11, 17–19, 24–25, 4–9 pm
Stone Mountain Park, $19.99
For the last three weekends in February, Stone Mountain Park will host the second annual Lunar New Year Festival for the year of the dragon. The festival pays tribute to Asian culture and New Year traditions of Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other countries that follow the lunar calendar with plenty of special events. This year’s celebrations include a special drone and light show on the largest screen in the world, a light-up parade, craft activities, live entertainment, and more at this Atlanta favorite destination for family fun.

February 10, noon–4 pm
Atlantic Station, Free
Atlantic Station, an upscale commercial and residential area, in the open-air Atlantic Station mall, will ring in the year of the dragon with a festival full of traditional rituals and family fun. There will be lion dances, Kung Fu and Tai Chi performances, craft making, and a chance to sit with a numerologist who will make predictions based on your birth date.

February 10, noon–4 pm
Heisman Field, Free
Lunar New Year celebrations of Johns Creek will be held at the Heisman Field across from Atlanta Athletic Club. This family-friendly event embraces cultural diversity in the community with food, arts and crafts, cultural performances, and other vendors that highlight the Lunar New Year traditions.

February 10, 5 pm
Chamblee, Prices vary
At Hopstix, the fusion brewpub in Chamblee, founder Andy Tan is honoring his roots with a special menu to celebrate the year of the dragon. The restaurant will host a lion dance at 5 pm and hand out traditional red packets to kids all day.

February 11, Times vary
Asian Square in Doraville and Orient Center in Chamblee, Free
This well-known martial arts school will perform the traditional dragon dance and offers kung fu demonstrations at the Hong Duc Jewelry Store at Asian Square and Orient Center to kick off the year of the dragon. The Orient Center performance is slated for noon, while the Asian Square performance will take place at 1:30 pm.

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Lia Picard is an Atlanta-based journalist writing about food, travel, and a variety of other topics. Her work appears in The New York TimesThe Washington PostWine Enthusiast, and CNN Travel.
Karthika Gupta is a travel photographer, freelance writer, and podcaster based in Chicago but originally from India. Through her storytelling and photography, she aims to bring cultural narratives to the forefront. Her work has been featured in VogueBBC TravelConde Nast TravelerHemispheresTravel and Leisure, and more. Follow her work via Instagram or her portfolio.