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Cha Cha Chicken: A Trip to the Caribbean:

With the weather becoming more beach-appropriate as we head into summer, outdoor dining venues seem more inviting. One such eatery, located right at the beach, is Cha Cha Chicken.

This place looks unassuming, like a brightly painted fast-food stand, on the corner of Pico and Ocean Avenue. Customers order from a counter and either pick up take-out orders or seat themselves at tables in the semi-enclosed counter area or on the outside patio, where their food will be brought to them within about ten minutes. But instead of fast food, this is warm, spicy Caribbean cuisine, a mix of Cuban, Mexican, and Jamaican.

Chicken is indeed at the center of Cha Cha’s cooking. The Cha Cha Chicken entrée is an oven-roasted chicken served in a Jamaican-style “jerk” sauce. (“Jerk,” an appellation derived from a Quechua word for “dried meat,” is a sauce made with scotch bonnet chiles, garlic, allspice, and other spices.). There’s nothing dry however, about Cha Cha’s jerk chicken, although the sauce can be ordered mild or hot. Like most of the entrees it comes with “dirty” rice, so-called because it’s mixed with seasonings that make the white rice look dark, and black beans, which are prevalent in Caribbean cookery.

There are jerked chicken wings (simply described as “hot”), and cocoanut fried chicken, covered with crisped cocoanut flakes and a mango sauce. The jerk chicken enchiladas are served in a jerk sauce enhanced with pineapple and mango, along with shredded cabbage, rice and black beans. There’s also a jerk chicken tostada, a chinese chicken salad “with a caribbean twist,” and a chicken wrap on lavash bread.

This writer-customer’s favorite is ropa nueva, a concoction of shredded chicken in a spicy, reddish sauce redolent of chiles and garlic, served atop assorted veggies, rice and beans. Ropa nueva (“new clothes”) is the non-red meat alternative to the traditional caribbean ropa vieja (“old clothes”), which is the same dish only made with beef. Similar to these is guizo de Ppuerco, a pork stew served in the same tantalizing red sauce.

Sandwiches are available, notably a Cuban sandwich known as mulato cubano, made with (what else?) chicken, as well as cheese and pickles.

The Sunday brunch menu offers the Mexican specialty chilaquiles, a mix of tortilla chips, eggs, cheese, and a tomatillo (green tomato) salsa. You can also get “eggs a la jerk,” and inevitably, chicken hash!

If you want something other than chicken, there’s salmon negril, a salmon filet in a dark tangy curry sauce, and black pepper shrimp.

These tasty and spicy, (but not scorching unless you want it that way), entrees can be washed down with Jamaican sodas like “Ting,” or fruit juices and “agues frescas” or fruit-aides.

Try an order of ropa vieja or nueva with a Jamaican ginger beer. The combination of this food, the ginger beer, the lively Jamaican or salsa music played on the P.A. system, the improbable patio mural of a nudist colony, and a nice warm beach-going day will make you feel like you’re at an inclusive resort on the North Coast of Jamaica. But it will only cost you about ten to fifteen dollars—and you can always get take-out to visit the Caribbean on cloudy rainy days.

Cha Cha Chicken, 1906 Ocean Avenue, 310.581.1684, www.chachachicken.com.


LYNNE BRONSTEIN

Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com

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