Cha Cha's Tacos and Tequila
110 W. Birch St.
Brea, CA 92821
Happy hour is something that I do not do nearly enough. There are probably a few good reasons for this. My first excuse is that Katie does not get off of work until six, and that is when most happy hours are winding down. I could go with some of my coworkers, but to be truthful, I am not too fond of most of them, and spending more than the eight hours I have already spent with them, makes me a little queasy. Probably the biggest reason I do not get to as many happy hours as I would like to, is because I have not found too many good ones around. That was all about to change when we were recently invited to experience the happy hour at Cha Cha's in Brea.
For those of you that have not been to Brea Downtown, it is a dining, shopping, and entertainment district located at Birch and Brea Boulevard. There are numerous shops, theaters, and some pretty good restaurants located within this three square block area. Some of the standouts around here for me are Bruxie, Merely Sweets. Yard House, and of course Cha Cha's. I had been to Cha Cha's one time before, when I went with my Mom for lunch. You can see that review here.
Cha Cha's comes from a guy that knows a thing or two about the restaurant business, Don Myers. Don opened the El Torito Grill at Fashion Island, he was a Joint Venture Partner at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, and he was a Managing Partner at The Catch in Anaheim. A very impressive resume, and now he also owns Bruno's Trattoria a few doors down from Cha Cha's. I have not been to this Italian restaurant yet, but it is now on my list after seeing how busy they were on this Wednesday night when we walked by.
Now a little bit about why the happy hour at Cha Cha's has got me a little excited. They have happy hour all day and night Sunday through Thursday, so there is no need to rush here after work to try to make it by a certain time. They even feature happy hour on Friday and Saturdays, from 11:30 til 7:30. What are some of the happy hour specials? Glad you asked. They have drink specials starting at $5, appetizer specials, and special pricing on all signature cocktails, selected wines, and draft beers. All of this has gotten the attention of a lot of people. Cha Cha's was voted best happy hour and best margarita by the Orange County Register. With this high praise, I was very excited to see what they had in store for my friend George and I.
When we sat down, the Chips and Salsa were already on the table. Don was positively beaming with pride over the tortilla chips they serve at Cha Cha's. They make them everyday, early in the morning. They were a very solid tortilla chip. I am almost always a red salsa kind of guy, but the green salsa gets my vote on this night. It really popped with flavor. The red was good, but a little more mellow for my taste.
We had been sitting down for less than two minutes, and we already had our first round of drinks sitting in front of us. My good friend George selected the Mango Habanero Margarita. This would have been the drink that I would have ordered, but George was my plus one for this event, so I let him choose first. This cocktail started with Pueblo Viejo 100 percent blue agave, mango, fresh lime juice, and a habanero chili infusion. Not only a good looking beverage, but one that kept my taste buds on their toes. Sweet, and then mildly spicy, this was a very unique drink, and one I would order on my next visit here. My drink of choice was the Cha Cha's Margarita. This refreshing beverage contained Siete Leguas blue agave, Elderflower liqueur, fresh lime, and ruby red grapefruit juice. While writing this, I learned that Eldenfower liqueur comes from Europe, and is actually made with flowers. What I liked about this drink was that it was not crazy sweet, and still had a nice pleasant flavor. Very refreshing.
I'm a real sucker for guacamole, and the Fresh Guacamole ($5.95) at Cha Cha's is not to be missed. Of course they start with fresh Haas avocados, then they add Serrano chile, and fresh lime juice. A simple, but effective guacamole. Too many restaurants complicate their guacamole, and sometimes less is more. I had a hard time sharing this with my companions at my table. Sorry if I took too much guys.
I have been on a real ceviche kick lately, so I was excited to see that Cha Cha's has Shrimp Ceviche ($8.95) on their happy hour menu. The shrimp here is marinated in orange and lime juice, Serrano chile, red onion, and is topped with cubed Haas avocados. I really enjoyed the flavor of this ceviche. The citrus flavors gave this ceviche a real boost. The shrimp was very plentiful in this dish, and you can never go wrong with the avocado that was on top of this. The only thing George and I thought was missing, was the tostada shells, but the chips did a pretty good job of filling in for them.
George made pretty quick work of his mango habanero margarita, and was onto the Fresh Watermelon Margarita before I had even finished half of my first drink. In this margarita they used El Jimador Tequila, fresh watermelon, hibiscus juice, lime, and agave nectar. With all of these ingredients I thought this was going to be overly sweet, but it was mellower than I had expected. Very refreshing.
While George was busy downing drinks, I was getting excited for all of the food that was coming out of the kitchen for us. Up next were the Chicken Flautas ($6.95). No kidding, these were probably some of the best flautas I have had. They were fried perfectly, without being greasy, but what made them great was the fillings inside of them. The were filled with tender chicken, guajillo chile, and Oaxacan cheese. The cheese is what made this for me. The flautas were then topped with a mango habanero salsa, which added some sweetness. Very good appetizer here.
Another very good appetizer were the Nachos Cha Cha's ($8.95). Not a big mound of chips, where most of the chips miss a lot of the toppings, these were individual nachos that really impressed our table. The crisp tortilla chips were topped with chicken, black beans, and melted cheese, then served with pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapeno escabeche, which are pickled jalapenos. I really liked these a lot. Very easy to eat, each bite contained all the elements you would want in a nacho, and the flavor was right on point.
Oh, the Cha Cha Fries ($4.95) bring back some horrible memories for me on this night. It has nothing to do with the fries really. Even though I am partial to smaller fries, these larger steak style fries were fried nicely. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, these Yukon Gold potatoes were then tossed with garlic and herbs, and served with a nice smoked chipotle aioli. Why the bad memory of an appetizer I actually liked? Tom, from Tom's Foodie Blog dared me to a chili eating contest. We each had to eat the pepper that was on top of the fires, and the first person to drink, would be declared the loser. I was feeling pretty good, so I took the challenge. The initial heat was not too bad, but after a minute or so, it really started burning my mouth. I knew Tom was not going to give in, so in order to end the agony, I drank about half of my next margarita in about three seconds. You may have won this battle Tom, but I will get you back someday buddy.
If you happened to catch my first review about Cha Cha's, you know that I am completely enamored with the Wood Fired Queso Fundido ($6.95). This traditional dish is baked cheese, served over roasted potatoes, poblano peppers, and chorizo. This is a very rich dish, that is served with corn or flour tortillas. I learned my lesson last time, and only had two tortillas filled with this. It was hard limiting myself, but I still had five more items to try. This is a must get when coming to Cha Cha's though.
I do not often get to have calamari when I am out, because Katie is not fond of it at all. So when this Crisp Calamari ($7.95) hit the table, I made sure to get my fair share of it. This squid was breaded with Mexican spices, and served with a lime-cilantro aioli. The calamari was a little thicker than I am used to, but it was cooked very well, not rubbery, and the breading had a nice flavor. The breading did break away from the calamari a little too easily though. The lime aioli was a very nice dip for this appetizer.
Sorry for the poor picture here, quesadillas are not exactly known for being photogenic. What the Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak Quesadilla ($8.95) lacked in beauty, more than made up for in taste. It was stuffed with Mexican cheeses, poblano chile, white corn, pickled jalapeno, and of course skirt steak. This quesadilla had a wonderful balance. The cheese was evident, but the steak was easily the star of this show. The meat was tender, and the poblano chile gave off just enough heat. A very solid quesadilla, and more than enough for two people to share.
I was not expecting to see clams on the happy hour menu, but these Fresh Manila Clams ($7.95) were a pleasant surprise. They are sauteed in garlic, chorizo, herbs, white wine, and a little bit of butter. Not exactly the largest clams I have ever had, but the sauce went very well with them. I would have liked some bread to sop up the rest of the sauce, but we still had more food on its way out for us.
Fittingly, we ended our night of wonderful food with two kinds of Cha Cha's famous tacos. My favorite of the two was the Mahi Mahi Tacos. These were filled with chipotle cabbage and pico de gallo, and encased by a soft organic corn tortilla. The fish was very fresh and flaky. The taco was dressed very plainly, which allowed each flavor to shine through. The Shrimp Taco was a little more flashy. There were plenty of pretty good sized shrimp in here, along with mango habanero salsa and chipotle cabbage. This taco was just a tad too sweet for me, but my buddy George really liked this taco best.
Needless to say, we were really full after this happy hour event at Cha Cha's in Brea. I walked in here already knowing that I was going to enjoy the food, just based on my first experience here. I was really wondering what George was going to think of the food and drinks at Cha Cha's. He was pretty impressed, and is already planning to take one of his many girlfriends here on a date night. I was pretty impressed with the freshness of all the food here. This is definitely one of my favorite upscale Mexican restaurants, not that the prices are upscale during happy hour. After eating at Cha Cha's, I may have to make more of a point of making it to more happy hours.
I would like to thank everyone at Cha Cha's for their warm hospitality and wonderful service on this night. All of the wait staff seemed very excited to show off their food and drinks. Thanks also to Don Myers, for taking the time to share more about the food that they make here, and it was a real pleasure meeting him. I would also like to thank all of my fellow food bloggers that were here on this night. You guys make these events even better with your great camaraderie. Lastly, I would like to thank one of the best PR people in the business, Jennifer Morris from Ajenda PR. Thanks so much for thinking of us, and we look forward to seeing you again Jennifer.
For more information about Cha Cha's happy hour, or anything else Cha Cha's related, click here: http://www.chachaslatinkitchen.com/