Restaurant Review #105: Cha Cha Chicken, Santa Monica

Jerk chicken enchiladas with fried plantains, rice, and beans

Normally I don't like chicken enchiladas (the chicken takes up space where there could be cheese, after all) but I like enchiladas, and wanted to try some kind of jerk chicken without actually having to eat a plate of chicken. Jerk chicken enchiladas were the obvious choice.

My vegetarian friend got the jerk veggie burrito, but wasn't too excited about it. I, however, was quite excited about my enchiladas. They were on the small side, but with the rice, beans, and plantains, I still had leftovers. The nice thing about the smaller portion than you get at Mexican restaurants was that I didn't feel heavy and stuffed. The jerk flavor seems to largely be found in the enchilada sauce, which is a tasty, sweet, and slightly tangy sauce. The accompanying rice and beans didn't taste like much, and for some reason were cooked together (maybe it's a Carribean thing). The fried plantains are good, as all fried plantains are, but I wish they would have given me more than two small pieces--it's not the raw ingredients or the preparation are pricey, after all.

I had a canteloupe agua fresca to drink--yum! It was much sweeter and much less watery than the aguas frescas I am accustomed to, which are more like fruit-flavored water. This was more like a full-blown fruit juice. I loved the flavor and the tiny bits of canteloupe letting me know that there was actual fruit in my drink, but I actually would have liked it to be a little less sweet and more watery, since I don't care for fruit juice. But still--canteloupe!!! It's one of my favorite flavors (especially for gelato), and you hardly ever see it. All drinks are served in disposable plastic cups--you know, the kind you used to drink out of in college. If you want to drink the free water, you only get a tiny cup. Panera does that too, and I abhor the practice.

Cha Cha Chicken is one of the only restaurants that has patio seating only

Cha Cha's setup is a little confusing if you're a first-timer. When you walk in, head to your right to order at the counter. If you don't see a menu, look around on the counter for some laminated, brightly colored pages. They'll bring your food to your table. The tables are all outside and pretty effectively separated from the noise of Ocean Avenue by brightly colored oil drums with large plants growing out of them. Umbrellas, more plants, and brightly colored decor create a festive, tropical atmosphere. My only complaint was that the umbrella didn't block out the sun very well, so I had to shade my eyes with my hand the whole time, even though I was wearing sunglasses.

They have a tiny lot (4 spaces or so) but at this time of year, 2 hour parking meters on Ocean are plentiful. In tourist season though, you might have a hard time parking here.

Overall, the food was good and cheap, and I would go back. I'm not sure I have any better grasp on what Carribean food is than I did before I went, though. Surely it's about more than jerk chicken? Maybe I should try that Royal Carribean place on Broadway. Has anyone been?

Total cost: $10 (and I had a small box of leftovers, but I wasn't very hungry)

By the way, if any of you are canteloupe fans like me, you can get a canteloupe drink at Lollicup and sometimes at Tapioca Express. I haven't tried either yet, but I believe the one at Tapioca Express uses fresh canteloupe. Also, Rose Market sells a canteloupe and something (rosewater?) ice cream, but the other flavor takes away from the canteloupe flavor.

Cha Cha Chicken
1906 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90405


Melanie said...

This place? I've been there, and it was one of the best meals of my life. I was having lunch with a co-worker, and we stopped in on a whim. The waitress - from Jamaica - was doing double duty as the chef. They use her family recipes, and it shows. She was able to recommend some utterly fantastic dishes based on what we liked, and we had the sense that she really loves food and her job. Come to think of it, I don't know why I haven't been back!

Foodie Universe said...

Yes, that's it! Now that you've vouched for it, I have to go.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

hi amy, i've been to ccchicken once and actually enjoyed the food quite a bit. it was my first tasting of 'caribbean' food and got my money's worth. I went with the coconut fried chicken which wasn't the best fried chicken i've had, but liked the fact that there was something interesting like coconut mixed up in there. i like the 'ghetto outdoor' experience of sitting out on ocean blvd. it's one of those places that end up being a great dining spot depending on the ppl you're with - like cafe brazil on venice. i've actually been thinking about going back here to try something different.

Jamaican Food Fan said...


If you're still intereseted in finding out more about caribbean food beside Jerk Chicken I can recommend the following dishes:-

Curried Goat
Rice 'n' Peas
Escoveitched Fish
Fried Dumplings

In addition, many islands have their own special dishes. Ackee and Saltfish, Festival and Bammy are a few special foods from Jamaica.