Colorful graffiti, the word “OPEN” in neon lights, and Latin music greet visitors to Cha Cha Chicken, giving off a beach vibe like you’d expect to find in Cuba.
But then the patio heaters remind you that you’re still in Los Angeles, where even in April, it’s necessary to enlist the help of artificial heat from time to time.
“Caribbean Cuisine with Latin Fusion” is the basic principle at play here, and if you want to know what that means, take a number. Really, that’s how you order here, by taking a number when you walk in. You can also bring your own drinks – the whole BYOB thing goes over really well here. Over at the counter, orders are placed half in English, half in Spanish and Team Vice Golf starts the evening out with Chips & Black Bean Dip along with some Chicken Croquetts.
One menu item that really stands out is the signature dish, “Cha Cha Chicken”: dark rice with beans, sassy sweet plantains and oven-braised chicken that comes in your choice of “mild”, “salsa”, or “spicy”.
But there are also flavor explosions in the form of bowls, sandwiches, and wraps, available in all kinds of variations with chicken, turkey, beef, or vegetarian options. The dishes are enriched and perfected with sides – especially “Dirty Rice” (Cajun-style chicken and rice), “Spicy Cuban Fries” (fried potatoes with ham, hearty cheese, and jalapeños), and “Plantains” (cooked bananas), which are so good that we stop talking to enjoy them.
The plastic tables and the chairs are bright and colorful, and the overall impression is vibrant and dynamic. Fruit patterns can be seen on some of the tables, others are decorated in wild color patterns, but it all seems like it belongs there. The patrons can best be described as young and energetic. The entire neighborhood is a really lively one, no doubt thanks in no small part to the excellent food. The main drag here is lined with a number of clubs and bars, where lots of folks head after starting the evening off with a big meal at Cha Cha Chicken.
In no time, our table and the neighboring one are combined into one big table – people are curious, and they want to know what’s driven us to Los Angeles and how we’ve stumbled upon this little Cuban restaurant of all places. “A tip from a friend,” is our reply, and even people at the neighboring table nod in agreement, going on to say that they’d actually recommend this place to anyone spending a few days in L.A.
So it’s no wonder that the following evening we’re right back at the same place, running into familiar faces. One thing is clear: Cha Cha Chicken is more than just an inside tip – it’s become an L.A. institution!
What: Cha Cha Chicken
Where: 1906 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405 USA
When: Usually from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.