Eatery - Cha Cha's Latin Kitchen (CA)

Cha Cha's Latin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

110 W Birch St, Brea, CA 92820
Pricing - $/$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Mexican, Latin American

The last time I went to Cha Cha's was during OC Restaurant Week back in February, and I admit that I was not too impressed with what I got. A lot of the food seemed on the salty side which surely is not appealing but when you see and hear recent praise from other people, you have to wonder if maybe something had changed. We snagged lunch here after some adventures of making margaritas at the bar (thanks to Ajenda PR for the hook-ups!) and actually quite enjoyed what we got to eat! Luckily with four people at the table, there was plenty to taste.

What I didn't know is that they have nine or more different kinds of salsa made in house. Though the complimentary chips at the beginning of every meal are accompanied by red and green salsas (about which there seems to be a fierce rivalry by Cha Cha regulars), you can actually request some of their other ones to have. Co-owner Peter said that his favorites were the habanero-infused versions of these traditional red and green so we tried both of those; there was definitely a harder kick from these that made us want to have these next time instead of the standard version. We also gave their smoked chipotle and pineapple ones a try - delish too. I'd have to say the smoked chipotle was my favorite purely because of that smoked flavor whereas Duc favored the pineapple due to his undying love for the fruit. Next time you're in, ask what salsas you could have with your chips!

Onto the appetizers! We did not hold back one bit! Guacamole (7.95 - Haas avocado, Serrano chile, fresh lime juice; served with chips & fire roasted tomato & tomatillo salsa), "Wood-Fired" Queso Fundido (7.95 - traditional "cazuela" baked cheeses over roasted potato, poblano peppers), Shrimp Ceviche (11.95 - marinated in fresh orange & lime juices, Serrano chile, red onion, and Haas avocado served with corn chips), and Fresh Manila Clams (9.95 - sauteed with garlic, Spanish chorizo, fresh herbs, and white wine with a touch of butter) were not safe from my mouths. The guacamole was pleasantly chunky with some zip from the Serrano. The queso was absolutely fantastic with chips and that was probably helped by the potato used which is something you don't typically see with such a dish. We enjoyed that the ceviche was not too sour as they sometimes get but because we were so focused on the queso, this didn't get finished. When it doesn't get finished though, I'd advise you don't take it home because it goes bad a bit quickly (it's ceviche after all!). The clam was delish too but that as well as the next dish may have been a tad too salty for my taste. Fresh Seafood "Caldo" (20.95 - Mahi Mahi, shrimp, clams, and squid simmered in saffron-tomato broth with herbs and toasted angel hair) was the non-appetizer order that came out about the same time as the appetizers so I included it in the paneling of pictures. There was certainly plenty of seafood in this dish and the angel hair was a nice touch but ultimately, it was salty and unmanageable wholly. It came with some delicious rolled flour tortillas though!

We had some pretty big entrees to tackle afterward - "Wood-Oven" Carnitas (17.95 - slow braised, marinated pork with achiote onion, fresh salsas, black beans, rice and corn tortillas), Fresh Grilled Salmon (18.95 - chipotle-honey glazed on a bed of roasted potatoes, fresh corn, and pasilla chilis), and Carne Asada (19.95 - grilled, marinated skirt steak with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, poblano peppers and fresh chimichurri). The carnitas were very tender and captured the onion essence well but the best part may have been the slight crisp to the edges as if cooked in an open fire. The salmon struck me as being odd from how sweet the entire glaze was though Duc seemed to take a liking to it. The carne asada was a lovely texture being juicy and charred in the right spots.

We couldn't skip desserts, and we somehow ended up with the same desserts I had last time I was there. The verdict is pretty much the same as before though where I preferred the Flan over their Banana Taquitos. I suppose that's a good sign then that the flan is a delight - when I enjoy it both times. Their flan doesn't cross the threshold of being too sweet but maintains a creamy richness achieved by the sheer amount of amazing vanilla bean in it. The taquitoes are a creative way to approach dessert and to bake bananas somehow but they still came off dry to me with only the ice cream to make it better. All in all though, it was a fairly good meal and pleased everyone dining!

Photography by Duc Duong.