I’ve lived in New York City for two and a half years, and during this time I’ve had my fair share of unforgettable meals. Still, when I’m on the hunt for food, I use way too much brainpower mulling over every option for takeout, much like I spend hours watching trailers on Netflix and falling asleep before ever actually deciding on a movie. So when my mom came to town this fall, naturally, I used every brain cell to find the perfect place for a late-night dinner.
After an extended amount of time researching Yelp reviews and tagged Instagram photos, I settled on a Mexican restaurant in the Lower East Side called Jajaja and, (bold statement alert) this is the best meal I’ve ever had in New York City. It also happened to be completely vegan.
When I arrived at the restaurant around 9 p.m. on a cold fall night in October, it was a full house, so we added our name on the waiting list and dipped. Jajaja is fairly small with no proper waiting room, but if you leave you won’t lose your spot in line. The hostess said we could venture out and that she’d text us when our table was ready, so we hopped over to Little Canal, a hipster coffee bar next door, and passed the time with prosecco, blood orange cider and roasted nuts.
Forty-five minutes later, the hostess rang. We closed our tab, made our way back and were promptly seated at a cozy corner booth. The atmosphere is warm, comfortable and romantic. The penny-tiled floors are charming and the walls (a mix of brick, cement and tile) are tastefully distressed. Bright teal chairs made from metal pop against light-washed wooden booths, and gentle glowing orbs hang above candle flames flickering on tabletops. There’s a trendy millennial, albeit natural vibe with deep green vines draped overhead and plants like cacti and aloe scattered on shelves throughout.
It’s probably important to note that my mom and I are vegetarian (teetering on going vegan) and prior to this moment, neither of us had been to a restaurant with an entirely vegan menu. Usually when I go out to eat, I find a few offerings that are vegetarian or vegan-friendly, but all 25-plus dishes at Jajaja are devoid of animal products.
Before deciding on what to order for dinner, we ordered booze. I got the Cucumber y Basil cocktail with vodka, pressed cucumber juice and lime ($13). This cocktail was what dreams are made of. Similar to other beverages that utilize fresh cucumber, it was the definition of refreshing. Like a day at the spa, on the rocks.
For food, everything looked insanely good, so we settled on two plates to share: “Buffalo Flower” tacos with tempura cauliflower, flaxseed, shredded carrot, queso azul and apple blossom ($8 for two); and the “Coconut Queso Quesadilla” with spinach and basil pesto, serrano chile, king mushrooms, pico de gallo and sour cream ($13). Both were out of this world and, apart from the obvious lack of meat, you’d never know that what you’re eating was completely vegan.
The coconut in the quesadilla is present, but it’s not overpowering and marries nicely with the basil pesto. The tortilla was flawlessly crispy and stuffed to perfection with plush vegetables and melty vegan cheese.
Now, onto the cauliflower tacos. Point blank, they are God’s gift to Earth. I’ve been a vegetarian since 2015 and the one thing I miss most is Buffalo wings (I can do without the texture, but the flavor is unlike any other). These tacos hit the nail right on the head. The fried cauliflower is euphoria-inducingly crunchy and the tempura batter really locks in the hot sauce flavor. I have nothing bad to say about this dish and I will be getting it again as soon as possible because it’s been running through my mind night and day ever since.
As for my mom, she enjoyed the experience too. When I texted her asking what she thought of the meal, she said it was ”sooooooo yummy.” Of the atmosphere, she said the place was “super cozy” and that she felt like she was in “the womb.”
The only minor complaint I have about Jajaja is that since it’s so small, you’ll be intimately close to the diners next to you. There’s minimal space between tables, so if you get up before your neighbor has finished their meal, be careful not to bump their plates or send them crashing to the floor. On the other hand, you can still have a private conversation because the music is loud enough to mask your secrets but quiet enough to save you from a headache (unless you have too many margaritas).
If you’re local to New York City, you need to go to Jajaja. If you’re a tourist visiting New York City, you need to go to Jajaja. The all-vegan restaurant currently has three locations, which you can find in the Lower East Side, the West Village and inside the North 3rd Street Market in Brooklyn. If you’re not in the Big Apple, but you’re looking for dope plant-based eats elsewhere, head to the best vegan restaurant in your state.