If you squint, you can almost see the bones of 7A, the round-the-clock canteen that doled out comfort eats on Avenue A and East 7th Street for 30 years. The wraparound bar and raised seating is still there, but the old digs have been reborn as a reggaeton fun house, a jumble of pink-leopard tabletops, sea-foam checkered floors, and West Indian glamazons bedecked with big hair and tiny shorts. The Antillean makeover comes courtesy of Paul Salmon and Serge Becker, who do more than bring their Jamaican jerk hit east from the heart of the Village—they improve on the original.
ORDER THIS: The menu pays homage to the space’s diner past with a 7A cheeseburger and a “Jamaican patty melt”—namely, a Gruyère-glued melt lamely pierced with Jamaican-flag toothpicks—but you’re better off sticking to Miss Lily’s greatest hits (head-on hot-pepper shrimp; juicy jerk-rubbed chicken) or one of the island-inspired newbies. Pubby fish-and-chips gets a tropical reboot, served with zippy escovitch vegetables, while the standout jerk ramen plunks soy-marinated ackee fish and jerk-rubbed chicken into a Scotch Bonnet-spiced bowl alongside traditonal pork belly and a soft-boiled egg. The “buss-up shot” tops shredded Trinidadian roti with tender grilled shrimp, tongue-tingling curry vegetable casserole and tamarind chutney.
GOOD FOR: A post-Scotch-bonnet cooldown. Unlike the Houston Street flagship, the Alphabet City outpost boasts a full bar, centered on the kind of sweet, dangerously easy-drinking cocktails usually found in beachside shacks. Along with rummy takes on the classics (New York Sour, Sazerac) there’s the orgeat-tinged Genius of Love, with sweet cachaça and tart passionfruit; the zippy pineapple-cranberry Lily's Punch, jolted with overproof rum; and a frozen dark and stormy, a perk of the slushie machine parked behind the stick.
THE CLINCHER: There’s a beautiful-people vibe, sure, with its runway-to-restaurant downtown patronage and dancehall babes serving Red Stripes, but don’t let that dissuade you. Rather than turn up a gorgeously sloped nose at questions, the attentive crew’s quick to explain what the hell festival and callaloo are (corn-bread fritters and stewed water spinach, respectively), and help you choose which rum variety’s for you (dry, dark, mango). That’s some island hospitality, mon.