Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen opened its new Irvine location this summer, and owner Don Myers set aside a table for us amidst the bustle of an active opening week.
Latin music fills the open air dining room while old black and white Mexican films project on an inside wall. The renovated IHOP incorporates an outdoor patio featuring a glass fire place, dual sided bar and roll-up shop doors. Modern Pueblo décor spotted with plants and bright yellow chairs add fresh pops of color, much like the garnish on the dishes at Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen.
Traditional appetizers such as the ahi agua chile, shrimp ceviche and empanadas will make you feel like dessert came first. The empanadas melt in your mouth and have the perfect ratio of breading to keep a hint of sweetness. These little pockets of happiness are perfection. The ceviche and agua chile combo are generously portioned and sure to please even picky seafood eaters. Oranges and red onions cut the heat of the serrano chiles, allowing the flavors to unfold as they reach different parts of the palate. Easing into the experience, a must try is the Cha Cha’s Margarita. Their signature cocktail uses elderflower liqueur and grapefruit which gives the drink diversity to be enjoyed with many dishes, complimenting fish especially well.
“We didn’t pose to be different. We wanted a modern twist, fresher. We make fresh chips and guacamole. We have fresh fish, fresh chicken, not frozen. Our sweet and sour is the freshest made. That is what truly makes a great Margarita,” Owner Don Myers said.
Photography by: Kristen Wilcox
Server Mari Jo Garcia, a frequent guest of Cha Cha’s Brea location and now employee at the Irvine location, recommended the Steak Mojo tacos and Watermelon Margarita for an entrée — both turned out to be juicy and delectable. The entrée that truly spirited me away was the carne asada. Cut to supple perfection and served with salty yellow potatoes, this steak is served with a traditional Argentinian chimichurri sauce that is EVERYTHING! Que rico!
While waiting for dessert, a quick look in the dining room shows a glass partitioned, exposed preparation area where you see servers and chefs buzzing around in a laid-back uniform of jeans, black button-ups, and a traditional Latin print blue apron. This level of transparency is rare in food service and upholds Don Myers standards. “Our primary goal is to execute and be prideful. Guests are more knowledgeable now and people cook more. We buy the best quality, prepare and serve properly. We want genuine service from the heart and we’re very proud of that.”
Tres Leche cake and flan, paired with a frozen mojito (worth the brain freeze), really showed the ingenuity of Latin flavors from this cocina. Still in taste bud intoxication from the chimichurri, I bravely stretched the waist of my pants to try the flan, which quickly turned into devouring the whole thing and not sharing with anyone. Flan has always been a favorite of mine and Cha Cha’s does it right. The thick and creamy insides lay frame work for a silky balance so dreamy I can’t decide if the carne or flan is more life changing. The Tres Leche reminded me of mothers days’ pasts, seeing cakes stacked up in the Panaderia. The cake was light and fluffy while holding onto the thick texture the condensed leche provides.
The food may be traditional Latin cuisine, but the atmosphere is upbeat and modern. “This company is very passionate about what they put out. I’m not sure many Irvine restaurants have this liveliness,” server, Mari Jo Garcia said. Until now Irvine didn’t know what it was missing. Donde comen dos, comen tres!