Cha Cha Cha
1801 Haight St
(between Shrader St & Stanyan St)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Its simple to stimulate your taste buds and activate your dance beat, dine at Cha Cha Cha. As festive as its name suggest, Cha Cha Cha serves flavorful food that represents flavors from Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Its not a surprise that customers would over look their mile long wait list. The triple crown offerings of delicious well-priced tapas, high-energy atmosphere, and perky sangria creates a loyal following.
Located in the colorful Haight district, one step into the restaurant will transfer patrons to a Latin infused eatery. Don’t be overwhelmed by the long wait, instead salsa your way to the bar and order a pitcher of sangria, a Spanish wine punch flavored with fruits, at their minuscule bar.
Reminiscent of a rock concert, the noise level makes intimate conversation impossible. Despite a raucous environment, the urban looking kind wait staff will meet your needs. Adorned altars devoted to saint gods of Santeria provide a sense of funky charm that matches wells with exotic dishes. Despite the loud noise, patrons can hear the clanging of pots and pans as chefs busily cook delights in their open kitchen.
Patrons are welcomed by a basket of bread and tortilla chips. Bypassing the entrée options, I dive into the strongly suggested tapas to enhance the festive spirit. Meant to be shared, tapas have been known as the “Spanish dim sum.” Fried till golden brown, the fried calamari (l-$6.75,d-$8) pairs well with the creamy garlic aioli.
Tender black mussels (l-$6.75,d-$8.75) steamed in a saffron broth with onions for crunch moistens the palate. For a tangy citrus surprise, the ceviche (poached assorted seafood, in spicy lime vinaigrette served over a bed of mixed greens,l-$7.25,d-$8.75) cools the palate. Served in a iron skillet, the under seasoned Cajun shrimp (l-$7.25,d-$9) bathes in spicy milky cream sauce great for dipping in bread.
Mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and sherry make a great subtle vegetable starter (l-$6,d-$7.75). Skip the house spring mix salad (greens served with coconut vinaigrette dressing-l-$4.75,d-$6), it lacks unique appeal and is merely an assembly of indgredients.
For an inventive contrast of sweat and savory, caramelized fried plantans (sweet tropical banana,l-$6.25,d-$7.50) pairs great with buttery black beans chilled by dallops of sour cream. With a crispy carmalized skin and soft inside, the fried new potatoes (l-$5.25,d-$6.75) receives a flavor boost with the chile aioli. Served with a slight shower of coconut flakes, the caramel flan ($5.75)
Owner Leon Pak, credits the success of his restaurant with hard work and a food critique that leading to a reversal of fortunes. In 1953, Pak, of Chinese decent, immigrated to Cuba by himself to assist with his grandfather’s Cuban restaurant.
As an observant entrepreneur landing on American shores, Pak decided to open a Cuban restaurant in San Francisco since he saw too many competition in the Chinese restaurant industry. Lacking business the first two years, a food critic in 1985 awarded Cha Cha Cha with a five star food review and catapulted his restaurant to instant success.
Pak acknowledges that listening to customers is a key to a restauranteur’s success such as reducing the level of spiciness in certain dishes. Cha Cha Cha clearly sets the mood for great night out of town.
Disneyland does not sell amusement park tickets, instead them sell family experience. Cha Cha Cha does the same. They don’t just sell food, they give customers a festive dining experience.
For a few hours, diners get a glimpse of the fast pace and raucous environment of a hip environment attracting stars such as Santana. Their menu is simple and their food is in range. This means that their tapas include ingredients that are familiar to us. Calamari, beans, potatoes. The exotic touch comes from the sauces and decor.