Cuban style steak with sautéed onions, black beans, rice, and yucca; Special of Seared Tuna with Red Beets and Lentils; El Mango Tango
Name: Sylvia Chacon
Occupation: Radio DJ Star 101.3
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Cha Cha Cha
Reviewed Cha Cha Cha: Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I love the atmosphere of this restaurant! It says, “Come in, eat, and have fun!” Although there wasn’t any live music, they do have a pretty nice sound system cranking out Latin flavored tunes — a real Cha Cha Cha beat going on there. My little girl shimmied her shoulders while eating practically the entire time. A great family restaurant! We had so much fun! I think she ate more than usual because she was working up a healthy appetite while dancing in her seat. So much for the proper way of having your napkin placed neatly over your lap and quietly waiting for the meal to arrive with folded hands. In fact, I even caught myself giving her a couple of dance tips. I just might have had more fun than she did — that’s a tough one!
The decor is outstanding. Very colorful. Some of the walls are decorated in fabulous fabrics that shimmer, and there are beads and feathers in various scenes. It almost reminds me of a samba costume or a Carnaval parade. Each scene on the wall is different — there is so much to look at, there is so much to figure out. Not sure I figured out anything! It’s holiday time, so there were plenty of festive lights and ornaments adding to the fun. In fact, I say leave them up all year long — at Cha Cha Cha, anything goes. It was just about to get dark when we arrived, so the waiters lit the candles on the tables. The candles are beautiful, each table had a different colored glass candle. Talk about colorful light, it was romantic and fun at the same time. Great combination, don’t you think?
The food was great. The portions were huge! I had a chicken dish as an appetizer and a chicken dish as my main course. The chicken was tender and juicy. It was interesting to compare the two. Although they were both chicken dishes, they really owned their own title. The Spanish rice was juicy as well. I can’t stand dry rice! I loved the addition of vegetables they throw into it. My jerk chicken was served with white rice, and my Arroz con Pollo was served with Spanish rice. Just like the chicken, the two rice dishes were equally good, yet very different from each other. This is where I appreciate flavors and what you can do just by changing up the spices. FABULOUS!
Name: Miranda Wilson
Occupation: Radio DJ Smooth Jazz KKSF 103.7
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Ninna Restaurant
Reviewed Cha Cha Cha: Thursday, November 23, 2006
Oh, it’s been a while since I visited good old Haight Street! It was one of my favorite haunts in my college years. The crowd and the funky vibe of Cha Cha Cha was kind of a retro experience. It brought me back to the days when I went to a restaurant to hang out and not for the food. Ouch! I visit the Caribbean every year. So after a long hard day, the rhythm of reggae music and the funky jungle decor rejuvenated my spirit! The joint was jumpin’ with the 30-40 something crowd. Tapas are Cha Cha Cha’s specialty.
An efficient waiter brought us the obligatory chips and salsa, and I dug the pitcher of sangria. The calamari was tasty, but the garlic aioli sauce tasted like mayonnaise. We also had jerk chicken with white rice. It’s all about the jerk. Yuck! It reminded me of Worcester sauce. As for the plantains, they were perfect. I even tolerated the black bean with a dollop or two of sour cream. We should have had seafood. I heard a lot about the mussels but mistakenly ordered chicken wings with guava chipotle glaze. Who can overcook chicken wings? Somebody in the kitchen did and slapped some glaze over ‘em. Dessert? Nope.
My stomach sounded like Stars Wars the next morning. There’s got to be a reason all those folks appeared after work on a Thursday evening. One day I’ll return. As soon as my stomach settles down.
Name: Marcus Osborne
Occupation: Radio DJ 98.1 KISS FM
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Nob Hill Cafe
Reviewed Cha Cha Cha: Saturday, November 25, 2006
Cha Cha Cha was kind of a funky hangout joint. On this night, it was packed. Very funny decor and atmosphere. Big cupids were hanging from the ceiling, which seemed appropriate because as I sat at the bar waiting for service, I couldn’t help but notice two couples having full-on makeout sessions! Get a room, folks!
One thing that kind of bugged me was the fact that the bar didn’t sell margaritas! What’s up with that? They only sold beer, wine, and sodas! The service was okay. The waitstaff was friendly enough, but when I walked into Cha Cha Cha, I stood in the front waiting for the hostess for almost ten minutes! I did finally get seated at the bar where I ordered my Caesar Salad and Shrimp with Cream Sauce. And it was very good. I could have gone for more shrimp, but that’s just me being greedy. The Caesar salad was just okay. But after sitting in the lobby where I had to wait an extended period of time, and then having to sit at the bar, and having my server disappear for another ten minutes, I thought to myself, “This had better be great!” And it wasn’t.
Cha Cha Cha was a pretty loud place, perfect for an after-work happy hour, but I wouldn’t take a date there in spite of the two couples making out! This is definitely a place people go to more for the atmosphere than for the food. The loud music makes for a lively evening, but I get the feeling that the music and the crazy colorful decorations are meant to distract you from the food, which is okay but not great.
I loved the fact that we get tootsie rolls instead of the usual after dinner mint! Would I come back? Sure..but I went to Cha, Cha, Cha, alone…I’d have to go back with a group of friends next time.
Occupation: Episcopal Priest
Favorite Restaurant: Cha Cha Cha
Reviewed Cha Cha Cha: Wednesday, January 4, 2006
My mother-in-law has always said (and believe me she came to Cha Cha Cha), “You can never judge a good restaurant by how it looks from the outside.” How right she is. I visited the Cha Cha Cha in the Haight/Ashbury district, and the outside (as well as the inside) of the place is as quirky as the area in which it is situated! However, after stepping inside the restaurant, what we encountered was very welcoming: an inviting, knowledgeable, prompt staff, delicious tapas, and heavenly desserts made for one intoxicating formula. Indeed, I have a mother who came from Cuba and as a boy I would indulge in many of the items found at Cha Cha Cha: jerk chicken, Spanish rice, and plantanos were a regular bill of fare growing up. I never believed I’d find such flavors in the City by the Bay, and thank heaven for establishment. Indeed, the food speaks for itself. You can choose to enjoy a few tapas, either by yourself or with friends. Or you can splurge by having a main meal and the enjoying dessert. Either way, it’s a fulfilling dining experience. While my wife, my mother-in-law, and myself went over the top (we had everything), the tapas alone would have satisfied us. The jerk chicken was spicy but not overly so (again, I’m not crazy about dark chicken, so I wasn’t as pleased with this dish) and the Fried Plantanos Maduros came with a black bean sauce and little bit of sour cream for color and contrast. The plantanos were sweet and exceptional. The sauce in which the Cajan shrimp came in would prick you mildly with its heat but was succulent and very good. And finally, the zucchini was just beyond words! In fact, my wife and I crossed forks over the final pieces because it was so good!
The main courses were very well done too. The Pargo Rojo, a Pacific red snapper steamed in a banana leaf, took us by surprise. At first, we thought the fish was o.k. and seasoned well, but actually a little dry. However, as soon as we noticed the banana dressing intended for this fish, and once we put both in our mouths, we knew this was a dish that was on another level. The fish “flew” in our mouths with wonderful flavors and a sauntering of seasonings with bananas.
The Bistek Encebollado — a “Cuban Style” New York steak marinated in garlic and oregano comes with caramelized onions and rice, black beans, and “yucca con mojo” — was so good I didn’t want to share! The steak was tender, juicy, well-seasoned and delicious. And needless to say, the sangria (share some with an enemy…it’s that good, says the proprietor) washed down everything with great flavor and complemented our meal superbly.
However, it was the dessert that was a wonderful surprise. At our initial viewing, we were disappointed that most of the desserts were either mousse or cheesecake. Sounds like nothing spectacular until it’s brought out and consumed. Unbelievable! The El Tango Mango was tart and pleasant to the palate, the Maui Wowee was rich with hints of raspberries and white chocolate. But it was the flan that was the greatest surprise. Let it be known that I hate flan. All too often flan is either burnt or slimy or burnt and slimy. This caramel flan was so incredibly fresh and so surprisingly good I “got religion” about flan…well, maybe only this flan. It rounded out the experience and took the edge off the bill!
In conclusion, my wife and mother-in-law insist on coming back. In fact, I was threatened on pain of death not only to bring them back but also to bring our friends. Looks like I’ll be a Cha Cha Cha regular for some time.
Occupation: IT Program Manager
Favorite Restaurant: Chow
Reviewed Cha Cha Cha: Sunday, January 8, 2006
Cha Cha Cha showcases the cuisine of the Caribbean and Central and South American cultures with an atmosphere to match. Once you step foot into the restaurant, you feel like you have been transported to the Caribbean where cement floors and block walls provide a muse for local artists to display their cultural heritage in any way, shape or form. There are only a few booths, which are hard to get, and most of the tables can handle only up to four people. The music energizes the room while the heavenly smells from the kitchen awaken your senses. However, it may be a little more difficult to hold conversations when some songs explode throughout the room.
The menu is small, but that’s because they spend more time in perfecting the dishes than providing a great deal of variety. We began with a pitcher of their world-famous sangria. This is the drink of the gods! The flavors of the citrus, apple, and red wine blend so well that you have to remind yourself that it’s wine. Complimentary chips and salsa are provided to help calm your hunger while you focus on ordering one of many great dishes. The chips are crispy and the salsa is fresh. My table ordered ceviche and fried platanos for appetizers. The ceviche was perfectly made. The medley of scallops, shrimp, calamari, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes were nicely blended with a perfect amount of lime juice that did not overcook the seafood. The fried platanos were crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The platanos were sweet and blended nicely with the mashed black beans on the bottom of the plate. The beans also had a nice, chocolate-like flavor that made this Cuban dish one of the best I’ve had.
I ordered the Cuban-style steak with sautéed onions, black beans, rice, and yucca as my entrée. The steak was prepared medium-rare and was very juicy and tender. The flavors of the marinade added complexity and flavor to the meat. The sautéed onions were well prepared and kept their texture and structure. The black beans were nicely seasoned and added diversity to the dish. The Spanish rice was moist with a hint of cumin. The boiled yucca was a pleasant surprise. Its texture and flavor is much like a potato, but lighter; and again, added regional diversity to the dish.
For dessert, I ordered the mango angel food cake with raspberry sauce. What an amazing dessert! The presentation was more like a strawberry cheesecake, but the flavor was definitely Caribbean. The top layer was a mango mousse and the bottom layer was angel food. The juxtaposition of the two textures pleased my palate. The raspberry sauce was exactly what the dessert needed to maximize and harmonize the flavors.
After a pitcher of sangria and a few Latin songs, you definitely feel in a festive mood at Cha Cha Cha. The food is definitely authentic, but the service could use some adjusting. I didn’t care for the “seat yourself” process because the orders were not taken in order of seating. This could be frustrating if you arrive early and the latecomers get to order first. However, I would definitely come back on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy the music and sangria!
Occupation: Real Estate Agent
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Firefly
Reviewed Cha Cha Cha: Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Parking in the Haight area can be challenging at times. It took about ten minutes to find a spot and when I did it was very close to the restaurant.
Cha Cha Cha lives up to its name in the activity that you experience when you walk through their doors. The bar area, where I ate dinner, had walls painted red with tons of religious icons decorating the walls and framed mirrors. An assortment of musical instruments, various sized guitars, tambourine, and gourds adorned the shelf behind the bar. There were also carved wood tribal sculptures and masks. Lots of tall plants throughout the restaurant gave a tropical feel. Behind me on a wall of brick, was an exhibition of color photographs by local artist Umi Vaughan, depicting scenes of everyday life in Cuba. The business of the decor and rhythm of the Afro-Cuban beat kept your senses engaged. For the young, it’s a place to hang out and groove. It was at the end of my meal when I realized that I was sitting next to a colleague of mine, Allison K, a rising star at Pacific Union. She eats at Cha Cha Cha regularly and really likes the tapas and fun atmosphere. You could see an eclectic group of diners from all neighborhoods enjoying themselves. It was busy on a Wednesday evening. I wondered what kind of energy more patrons would bring on the weekends. It’s definitely a fun place to be. Festive in the Mardi Gras Spirit.
The woman behind the counter brought me a menu, silverware, and salsa and chips as soon as I was seated. It took me a while to decide what I wanted to order. She came back a few times to see if I was ready. I started with the seared ahi tuna with lentils and red beets. The tuna was nicely prepared, not seared but medium rare, which I prefer; still moist, meaty and flavorful. I love beets. The beets were quartered and nicely dressed in a light vinaigrette that didn’t overpower the flavor of the beets. They were yummy. The lentils had a cumin and lemon flavor that was a nice accent on the plate. Overall a nice combination
My next choices where based on trying out foods that I think my sixteen and eleven-year-old sons might like. The first dish that I ordered was the Spanish rice and black beans with sour cream. Rice and beans are always a good staple food for anyone but particularly for kids. It’s healthy and filling. In the micro biotic world, it’s a perfect protein and a great vegetarian dish, provided no meat products are used in the preparation. I didn’t taste any meat products that I could discern. I liked this particular combination. Spanish rice, with a hint of tomato flavor, sour cream, and green olives made the combination more interesting. I added some of the fire-roasted salsa to jazz it up a bit, but it was still good on its own.
The warm spinach salad with bacon and mushrooms. This was a surprising dish. I usually think of salads as being light. Not this salad. The combination of the warm creamy dressing and hot bacon gave the spinach salad a meaty and hearty texture. It had a rich flavor that made this particular combination more substantial, almost gamey in flavor. It’s unusual to think about salads as being filling, but this one was. I think the kids would like it. They eat leafy greens and like bacon. I certainly liked it and could have it as a meal. The sangria that they served was fruity without being sweet. It was definitely the drink of the night. Most of the diners at the counter had either glasses or pitchers of sangria. I had a glass and really enjoyed it.
A great place to eat considering the quality of the food and price. I don’t like the feel of the Haight at night because of the concentration of homeless that live and hang out there. It’s disturbing to walk by men who clearly have been out in the elements and are on drugs, drunk, or clearly have mental health issues. The invisible people. It’s a sad commentary on our culture. That, however, didn’t impact the success of the restaurant.