Keep calm and eat at Ja Moy Kitchen & Bar

Ja Moy is your new midday getaway to enjoy meaningful conversations and mouthwatering meals near campus.


Kevin Wu

Ja Moy Kitchen & Bar provides the perfect ambiance in the midst of New York. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Jay Sophalkalyan, Contributing Writer

In a city that’s constantly in motion with radical individualism raging on every street corner, New York can sometimes make you feel insignificant, lonely even. By default, no one notices you. You are one of a million faces, one of the thousands of people any given person might see on the subway racing through life at 100 miles per hour and never looking back. That is, of course, until you walk into Ja Moy Kitchen & Bar where the hurriedness of life comes to a halt, embraced by the smell of their special Black Pepper Beef Short Ribs.

 I first stumbled across Ja Moy back in September after escaping NYU’s annual Fall Soiree at a bar and grill on Thompson Street. Once I found out that the event was more like a frat party than a traditional evening reception, I couldn’t run fast enough to the restaurant next door. During my first visit, I hardly noticed how much time flew by as I sat and took in the intoxicating ambiance. 

The place is divided into a bar section and a dining room, connected by a wide passage. Many restaurants use their bars as waiting rooms and for overflow seating, but JJ Huang, the owner of the restaurant, has avoided this because of an ongoing staffing shortage since she opened the restaurant in 2021. Right now, Huang is running the restaurant with the help of her mom and a dim sum chef, meaning diners are required to be patient waiting for our food.

It might seem inconceivable for people in New York City to linger for an hour or two in a restaurant when there are seemingly more urgent things to do and places to be. Sometimes, I witness customers getting up and leaving the restaurant because they do not want to wait. But there is something to be said for the experience of being present and taking a break from our perpetually hectic lives. Nothing beats waiting for those crispy, hot and mouth-numbing Sichuan-style dry-fried mala chicken wings infused with premium herbs and spices. You look forward to every bite.

Waiting also offers diners the opportunity to socialize with others in the restaurant, as well as with Huang herself. In one of my many conversations with her, she told me that cooking has always been her passion. She learned how to cook at her hometown culinary school, and traveled to many places as a child, absorbing their culinary cultures and cooking techniques. That is why Ja Moy is a fusion restaurant, combining elements of different culinary traditions. Ranging from various bite-sized portions of Cantonese dim sum and Char siu to the soft and flavorful stir-fry Hunan beef with cumin, Ja Moy’s menu gives you a tour of southern China. 

Mongolian beef, a dish that consists of sliced beef paired with scallions and mixed vegetables, is among the best-selling dishes in the restaurant. Its most notable trait is the tenderized slices of beef simmered together in a sweet and savory sauce, paired perfectly with white rice. Although Huang said it makes her sad that diners have to wait a while for this particular dish, she is also humbled by those willing to endure the wait. It is one way to show respect and appreciation for what the chef is doing. To me, eating this dish while being surrounded by the inertia of it all is like a reminder to be present and savor the food that has been thoughtfully prepared by the chef, rather than simply chewing and swallowing it before hustling to my next destination.

The name Ja Moy means “to have a meal” in Huang’s hometown in the Hainan province. To have a meal is a communal act at the center of Chinese culture, as foods serve as a conduit for developing relationships, cementing partnerships and bringing families together. A meal is not merely a culinary event in our world. The occasion provides an opportunity for meaningful interaction, and whether Huang realizes it or not, her difficulty in hiring staff has turned her restaurant into a place that epitomizes the best parts of Chinese culture. And most importantly, it makes me feel significant because I am not just one of a million faces in New York City — I am Jay, that regular customer who likes to order Sichuan-style dry-fried mala chicken wings that are way too spicy for him to handle. 

Contact Jay Sophalkalyan at [email protected]