I'm sitting at a tiny table in a tiny restaurant tucked above a subway station at the amorphous über-trendy intersection of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. I'm surrounded by what seems to be off-duty models with perfectly messy hair, and all I can think about is the urge to undo the top button of my jeans. That, and how I can somehow eat another bite of enchilada.
Ja Ja Ja (pronounced "ha ha ha," a noise several people in front of me made when informed of the hour-plus Wednesday-night wait time) combines two concepts so disparate as to almost be an oxymoron: vegan Mexican food. Mexican is arguably the hardest cuisine to vegan-ify, often leaning heavily on cheeses, meats, and animal fats for the hearty, recognizable flavors. While old-school vegan staples like fake meats and mayonnaises pop up on the Ja Ja Ja menu, they've also (far more interestingly) set about superfood-ifying Mexican staples. Black beans are fermented, for a complex, tangy flavor. Squash is battered with hemp and flaxseeds and smothered in chipotle almond butter to become a facsimile of a "fish" taco with a crispy crust that, to my trained tongue, came damn close to passing as fried. Tortillas are spiked with turmeric; the Tinga Tostada is served on a chlorophyll-corn base. The food and atmosphere are festive, not austere or rooted in deprivation; with matcha cocktails that still feature a generous serving of alcohol, there's an understanding that wellness is about celebration, tasting good, and enjoying life.
I chatted a bit with the founders to get the secrets behind their runaway success.