About two and a half years ago Koorosh Bakhtiar and Nima Garos opened their vegan Mexican spot Jajaja in that area around East Broadway that's home to a lot of very good, very happening restaurants (Kopitiam, Dimes, Golden Diner, Cervo's, Scarr's, etc.). As predicted, Jajaja's combination of warm hospitality, a pretty room, lots of booze, and fun, first-rate food has made it a huge hit, with table waits approaching two hours at prime time.
Now Bakhtiar and Garos are spreading the love across town with a second, much larger Jajaja, recently opened near the southern end of Carmine Street in the West Village. And they're not about to mess up a good thing. The overall aesthetic is the same as the Lower East Side original, with lots of light wood, abundant plant life, some stucco, splashes of color, dramatic lighting (often combined with arches), and plenty of geometric patterns. They even replicated the century-old penny tile mosaic floor from the East Broadway location, which was discovered hidden beneath the floorboards during the initial construction of that space.
There are some key differences here in the West Village though. Improvements even! As stated, the space is much bigger, with seating for about 130 total, but Bakhtiar and Garos have retained some of that intimate feel by dividing it into sections. There's the front bar area, with a pair of booths right by the door, then a row of raised seating nooks running opposite the zinc-topped bar.
Further back is the dining room proper, which is comfortable and inviting, and further back from *that* is the triangular outdoor patio, slightly elevated and set back just enough from 7th Avenue South to feel a bit secluded, and obviously the best place to eat while the weather's still warm. But maybe the biggest change and best news for those of us who hate table waits is that the West Village Jajaja also takes reservations, though with plenty of seats still set aside for walk-ins.
Most of the all-vegan menu on Carmine Street will be familiar to Jajaja fans, and that's a good thing. There are the excellent Nachos, for example, piled almost to toppling and covered in spicy, seitan-based chorizo, funky, fermented black beans, and creamy, turmeric queso fundido. Pay the extra three bucks and get a big blob of Jajaja's terrific guacamole on top. Plant-based or no, these are some of the best nachos in NYC.
There's a new variety of taco here, a yuba-based Barbacoa, to go with the full slate of favorites, including the Hearts of Palm Carnitas, the Mezcal Mushroom, and, my personal go-to, the Crispy Chayote Fish, which delivers a nice spicy kick. All of these come two to an order, and are hearty enough to function as an entree if you've just split, say, that mountain Nachos with your companion.
Two new bowls join that section of the menu, a Tri-Color Couscous and a fruity, salad-y Jajajaya. The new soup is an avocado concoction, joining other starters like Beet and Pumpkin Empanadas, Sikil Pak, and a slippery pile of Hijiki Hearts of Palm Ceviche. Under "Specialties" you'll find crowd-pleasers such as the Jajaja Chorizo Burrito, Enchiladas Mole, Enchiladas Verde, Coconut Queso Quesadilla, and the popular Guac Burger. And in addition to other treats like Choco Mango Pie and Coconut Dream Cake, the dessert menu stars an exceptional Caramel Flan.
One of the first things that struck me about the original Jajaja was the kind and helpful service, how even when the place was packed I always felt welcome, and even given a two-top as a solo diner. This culture of friendly, focused hospitality is everywhere in evidence on the west side as well. And everyone here seems to know this food down cold: my server, the hostess, and a runner all immediately answered very specific questions I had about the inner workings of different dishes. Beyond the fact that everything tastes really good, it's also just a very pleasant place to be.
Jajaja West Village is located at 63 Carmine Street, between Bedford Street and Seventh Avenue South, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight (917-262-0194; jajajamexicana.com)