New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Jajaja Plantas Mexicana: At the crossroads of Mexican cuisine and veganism

The restaurant merges the best of Mexican cuisine with veganism, so that people of all lifestyles can enjoy the pleasures of traditional Mexican dishes.
Kayla Haye
Jajaja is located at 63 Carmine St. For a vegan Mexican-American like myself, Jajaja provides comfort and a sense of belonging, without the usual reliance on animal products. (Photo Courtesy of Kayla Haye)

If you’re in the mood for an authentic Mexican meal and the Tu Taco station at the Palladium Residence Hall food court just isn’t cutting it, then you’re in luck. A short 10-minute walk from Washington Square is Jajaja Plantas Mexicana, a restaurant dedicated to serving authentic Mexican dishes with its own unique twist — it’s all vegan. 

For a vegan Mexican-American like myself, Jajaja provides comfort and a sense of belonging. Mexican food is notorious for its substantial reliance on animal products. The most popular dishes all require meat, lard or dairy (often it’s all three). These ingredients — crucial to Mexican cuisine — make it difficult for vegans of Mexican descent to find a balance between heritage and a plant-based lifestyle. It feels like we have to choose one or the other. 

This alienation is even more frustrating when family members fail to understand the reasons for which one willingly decides to stop consuming animal products. For over a year, I faced comments about my protein intake and was often told my diet was too strict or bland. “Wouldn’t I rather have some juicy piece of carne asada,” they’d ask me. 

Jajaja, however, stands at the crossroads of Mexican cuisine and veganism. It’s a delectable reminder that both identities can coexist. 

While no vegan rendition of a Mexican dish will taste exactly like the original, Jajaja’s menu comes pretty darn close, or at least it offers an exceptional alternative. Their Coconut Queso Quesadilla melts in your mouth. The inside is gooey and creamy — just like cheese should be — and the tortilla itself is perfectly crisp. The pico de gallo on top adds a nice layer of freshness to the decadent dish, and the sour cream and guacamole — which unfortunately costs an additional $3 — adds a layer of familiarity. One bite was all it took for me to proclaim it the best quesadilla I’ve ever had (mind you, I used to eat quesadillas on the daily).  

Equally as amazing are the restaurant’s tacos. Carnitas, chorizo and birria are just a few of the types listed on the menu’s lengthy taco section. The carnitas are substituted for hearts of palm and jackfruit. The traditional pork is replaced by what tastes like soy chorizo and the birria is made of banana blossoms.

While I can’t claim that they taste exactly like the originals, the scarily similar textures and the kick of flavor in each bite are enough to leave anyone wanting more — especially since each order comes with only two tacos. 

The entree section isn’t Jajaja’s only area of expertise. Every dessert on the menu is heavenly, although the churros indisputably take first place. They’re crispy with just the right amount of crumble and are perfectly sweetened with the classic cinnamon-sugar mixture. The sugar crystals stuck to my lips and fell on my lap as I ate, just as they would during my trips to Mexico as a child.

This culinary adventure, as with any other, would not be complete without drinks. Jajaja’s Almond Horchata is the perfect accompaniment to any dish. If you don’t know what horchata is, it’s essentially a drink made of rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. To add a vegan twist, Jajaja has replaced conventional cow’s milk with almond milk. The result? A deliciously creamy and sweet concoction of flavors that is practically a dessert in itself. It was reminiscent of the Mexican restaurants I visited in my hometown of Southern California. I would gulp down three cups of horchata before my meal even arrived. In other words, Jajaja’s Almond Horchata is definitely a must-try item.

At a time when veganism is on the rise, I’m glad to be able to enjoy my favorite cultural foods without compromising my ethics. Jajaja Plantas Mexicana is just one of many new restaurants committed to serving traditional cuisines while sparing animal by-products and adopting sustainability. If you ever find yourself on Washington Square, starving and on the hunt for mouthwatering food, take a trip down to Carmine Street. Jajaja will be there waiting in all of its culinary glory.

Email Natalie Melendez at [email protected]

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  • K

    KizaMar 16, 2021 at 8:11 am

    Single to The iiluminati