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Spotlight on NYC’s Taco Mahal: Bite-Sized Taqueria Making a Big Impression



Proving that you don’t have to be the biggest to make a massive impression, one little Indo-Mex hotspot is making a huge impression on the streets of Manhattan.


Born out of a love for tacos and a passion for hospitality, reincarnation and reimagination are two words that best describe the concept behind Taco Mahal, an east meets west fusion eatery that began with a big dream in a tiny space. By mixing a hint of Indian spice with a dash of authentic Mexican flare, Taco Mahal puts a spin on traditional Indian curries and turns them into bite-sized tacos.


Daughter of an Indian father and a Latin mother, Dannikka Josan, owner and creator of Taco Mahal, has always considered herself a “fusion” of cultures. Born and raised in NYC, Danikka’s passion for the hospitality business started when she was very young, watching her dad interact with customers at his little magazine shop, a West Village fixture for 35 years. Inspired by her father, she learned that “to be a success in the food industry, you have to provide excellent customer service,” Danikkah offered,“and when you genuinely love what you do, it comes naturally.”


And Danikkah does love what she does. “The food business isn’t easy, Danikkah shared, “it can be very hard at times, so you have to give it all you’ve got every single day and never let obstacles get in your way.”


Spending her college years in Texas, Danikkah developed an appetite for Mexican cuisine.

“The food in Texas was unlike anything they have back in (New York) city.” Danikkah recalled. Armed with a business degree, she returned to NYC and, with her father’s blessing and encouragement, Danikkah decided to turn the family’s magazine shop into a funky little restaurant serving Indo-Mexican fusion.


Mix ‘n Matchable Roti Tacos


“My mother is Pueto Rican and my father is from India, so I grew up eating fusion food,” Danikkah shared, “so I had the idea to make Indian-inspired tacos. But I wanted to make smaller, easy to eat versions so customers could try different varieties.”


From this tiny spot, big ideas began to grow. Danikkah took the 200 square-foot space, and reimagined, refurbished, and re-everything-ed it, turning it into an unconventional eatery that delivers the flavors of India, the zest of Latin America, and the same friendly service offered by her dad on this same spot for decades.


Danikkah had the insight to realize that no matter what size it is, opening a taqueria in this always buzzing centrally located spot in the heart of NY’s historic West Village would be a huge success. Because there was initially only enough room for 10 seats at the counter, Danikkah expanded the restaurant’s footprint to the outside space, creating a larger dining area. So in 2020, when the rest of the food industry was scrambling to set up outdoor dining areas, Danikkah was already prepared.



“During lockdown,” Danikkah recalled fondly, “it was just me and my dad in the kitchen. I was cooking Tandoori, preparing the meat, and even making naan using a very long mit.”

“Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and do what’s necessary.” Having just recently lost her beloved mother, quarantine was one more hurdle that this young restaurateur had to overcome. But she was able to not only survive during lockdown, “We actually began to thrive!”


“So, I decided to open a second location in Hell’s Kitchen on 9th Ave.”


Danikkah decided to open a second Taco Mahal location in Hell’s Kitchen, a trendy area of Midtown West that’s currently experiencing rapid (re)development. Still holding onto its rough-and-tumble character, this neighborhood next to NY’s theater district is undergoing tremendous gentrification as a result of its proximity to Midtown's many office buildings. So, the “location, location, location” couldn't have been more perfect.


“But then lockdown happened.”


Unable to get anyone to work on the expansion of the existing West Village spot or the new Hell’s Kitchen location, Danikkah had to hit the pause button on some areas of the projects. But when the rest of the food world was in a tizzy, Danikkah refused to let it stop her. So she put on her oven mitts and got to work.


Eventually, Danikkah was able to expand the 7th Ave. spot to 600 square-feet, complete with a full prep kitchen and more seating and open the 9th Ave location.


Danikkah attributes a huge part of her restaurant’s success then and now to her delivery operation.


“A large part of our business is delivery,” Danikkah offered, “and I don’t think we’d be here today without it!”


“We were using (a 3rd party delivery platform) for our catering side of the business, but It was just becoming too overwhelming running the catering side of the business and the other side because I was having a hard time finding staff,” she added.


“But ever since we started using Sauce, we’ve been able to up our catering game without worrying about the labor situation. Sauce sets it all up for you and handles everything,” she continued, “They make it so much easier. It’s like having a silent partner!”



Secret’s In the Sauce


Taking the finest spices of India and blending them with the zesty flavors of Latin America, Taco Mahal offers everything from Chicken Tikka Masala to Chana Saag, and Biryani to Basmati. Wrapping freshly baked roti and naan up into deliciously portable, deliverable, and sustainable tacos, Taco Mahal offers vegan, vegetarian, and meat dishes that speak perfectly to the casual, eco-concerned, and health-conscious vibe that is New York City in 2023.


And though Taco Mahal’s menu is also on the small side, it reaps of culinary excitement. Customers are given a choice between naan and roti breads along with a choice of fillings including favorites like Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Kebabs, Chicken Curry, and the Veggie of the Day. Any selection can be served in a bowl, wrapped in freshly baked bread, or as an entree.


When asked what the restaurant's most popular menu items were, Dankkah was quick to answer.


“Our signature dish is the Chicken Tikka Masala Taco.”


Danikkah explained, “the roti and naan bread both act as a tortilla. But the rotis are small— like street tacos— and the naan is double in size—like a burrito.”


"But the secret is in the sauce,” Danikkah admitted. “There are so many different spices that go into our dishes—that’s what makes our menu so delicious.”



The spice isn’t just in the food. The interior of the 7th Ave. location features an art installation by a local artist, Eduardo Lariou. A collage of images that represent both India and Latin America helps create the restaurant’s funky vibe the moment you walk in.


Though the business has been growing by leaps and bounds in just a few short years, Taco Mahal remains family-centered to its core. And Danikkah's father is still helping her live out her dream.


Danikkah reported proudly that her "dad works here all the time. He helps me because he knows that I'm working day and night.”


“My dad’s my biggest supporter,” she continued, “he loves to tell everybody that his daughter has a restaurant in the city! I love him for that. He's awesome."


"We're so proud that we're still here in this location after so many years," Danikkah added. “And we just want to keep growing our family business.”



Since gaining massive notoriety when 12 million viewers watched a customer devouring a cheesy chicken stuffed taco on Instagram, Taco Mahal has been featured in dozens of stories on news outlets from the local ABC affiliate to online publications raving about the little taqueria that’s taking the city’s food scene by a storm.


But while business is booming, this native New Yorker knows you can never rest on your laurels. “The city has dealt with tremendous struggles over the years, from 911 (I was in 6th grade and watched the plane hit from my classroom window across the river) to Hurricane Sandy, then the pandemic,” she recalled. So when the city recently became engulfed in orange smoke as a result of Canadian wildfires, it reminded Danikkah that you just never know what’s around the next corner.


When asked to share one piece of advice for others getting into the restaurant business, Danikkah offered, “The last few years haven’t been easy but they were a great learning experience. It takes a lot of work, so you just have to buckle up because you never know when you’ll have to put your mitts back on!”



Naan-ma se!


Two Locations


653 Ninth Avenue

Between 45th and 46th

646-490-5782


73 Seventh Avenue South

New York, NY 10014

646-719-1553


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By Eileen Strauss

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