Cha Cha Cha Tapas Restaurant and Bar in the Haight and Mission

23Jun09

Cha Cha Cha on Haight

With so many restaurants of all types literally on every city block, I try to make it a point to not frequent the same places too often because there is just so much to try! Yet for whatever reason, I always find myself at Cha Cha Cha on a fairly regular basis, whether it’s with a group of friends over a few pitchers of sangria or a first date…over a few pitchers of sangria. It’s one of those restaurants that everyone knows about, from locals to visitors, and it’s the restaurant that I have been to more times than any other in San Francisco.

Cha Cha Cha, for the uninitiated few, is a Latin and Caribbean inspired tapas restaurant and bar. They serve an assortment of dishes that are meant to be shared and enjoyed, preferably with their famous (their words, not mine) sangria. I have personally tried every single thing on their tapas menu, and most of them I am a big fan of. I love eating tapas, and it’s one of the best ways to enjoy food with friends, even moreso when you accompany the dishes with a few pitchers of sangria! With over a dozen tapas dishes to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong but here are my thoughts on some of the items that I have been lucky enough to enjoy many times.

Fried New Potatoes – $6.75
I don’t know what makes these potatoes “new” but they are seasoned and fried to perfect outer crispiness, and served with a spicy and tangy chile aioli sauce that goes perfect with them.

Yelp.com

Sauteed Mushrooms – $7.75
You either love mushrooms or you don’t. If you do, these are great. It’s a simple dish with whole mushrooms sauteed in sherry, garlic, & olive oil.

Black Mussels – $8.75
The mussels are steamed in saffron broth with garlic, tomatoes, & onions. It’s a very flavorful dish (I love the tomatoes!) and the broth makes a great dipping sauce for the bread. They actually serve it with a bowl full of mussels, so you don’t have to worry about getting stiffed.

Cajun Shrimp – $9.00
This is a very good dish, but mainly for the spicy cream sauce which is full of flavor and goes best as a dipping sauce for the bread. Yes there’s shrimp, but it’s just plain shrimp which happens to be good because it’s covered in the sauce. They also give shady servings of shrimp, usually just a few, and it’s been like this for as long as I have been going here but everyone always orders it because the sauce is that good! A couple times I tried ordering just a bowl of the sauce but they wouldn’t let me, and even said I’d still have to pay full price for the dish. Really!?

Spanish Rice and Black Beans – $6.25
A nice accompanying side dish to have, and it’s topped with sour cream. it’s fairly standard and sometimes necessary to order as something to go with everything else, but I prefer just ordering the fried potatoes which will usually suffice. But if you’re one of those people who absolutely needs rice and/or breans, it’s a good dish, but nothing to write home about.

Fried Calamari – $8.00
I would say this is the most popular dish because everyone orders it, sometimes multiple plates. People love calamari, and what’s not to love? However, the calamari here is just standard compared to others I have tried. It’s lightly battered and they actually serve it with a solid amount of tentacles to please people such as myself who love them more than the rings, but overall it is fairly bland and under-seasoned. Luckily it’s served with a lemon garlic aioli sauce that compliments the calamari well and provides a nice boost of flavor. Despite this, I order the calamari every time. It’s an easy crowd pleaser.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken – $8.25
A perfect dish to share between two people, but not a good choice if you’re with a group. It’s a big serving of tender moist chicken and rice and it has a bit of heat to it. It’s baked with peppers, raisins, garlic, and tomatoes.

Grilled Marinated Chicken Wings – $7.00
This is the best bang for your buck because you get a lot of big wings, which is why I frequently order it. The wings are moist and delicious, glazed with guava-chipotle sauce that’s spicy and sweet.

With all this food, you’re going to need something to wash it down with. At Cha Cha Cha, you can order their famous sangria by the glass, half-pitcher, or full pitcher. Take my advice and just forget that they serve it by the glass and half-pitcher. A full pitcher is $21.00 but the pitchers are big and they pour many glasses. A pitcher shared by two will keep you from driving home after dinner, so plan accordingly. The sangria is good, and I know many people who come here just for the sangria, but it’s not the best I’ve had. It is good though, and a must-order. It’s filled with fresh fruit, including apples and oranges, and part of the fun includes eating the alcohol-soaked fruit after the pitcher is finished to give yourself that extra push over the edge.

Cha Cha Cha is a popular restaurant every night of the week, so plan ahead if you decide to go there. They have two locations, one in the Haight and one in the Mission. The Haight location is the original one, and it’s fairly small. They have a bunch of small tables really close to each other, and walking around is an accident waiting to happen. They also don’t take reservations at that location, so the wait on busy nights can sometimes be up to an hour long. But fear not! If you really want to eat there and have some time to kill, I suggest you walk a couple blocks up Haight and step into Gold Cane Bar, one of my favorite cheap watering holes. How cheap? You can order a round of 5 Crown and Cokes for $20. Just make sure you’re still able to walk back to Cha Cha Cha in time!

At their other location in the Mission, you can make group reservations. This restaurant is also much larger, having many tables and booths, as well as a fully stocked bar right in the middle so it’s a better choice if you’re going with a big group of friends. Proximity to many other bars in the immediate vicinity make this location a great place to start your evening with tapas and sangria before doing some real damage to your liver.

There are many great tapas restaurants in San Francisco, some are better than Cha Cha Cha and some are not, but they have managed to position themselves as everyone’s default tapas restaurant. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as the food is delicious, the service is fast and friendly, and most importantly, the sangria never runs out.

Photos courtesy of Yelp.com

Cha Cha Cha
Haight
1801 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 386-7670

Mission
2327 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 824-1502
http://ww.cha3.com

Also check out:
Lolo Tapas and Wine Bar in the Mission
Double Dutch Bar in the Mission
The Front Porch in the Mission
The Legend of the Bacon Hot Dog Cart

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8 Responses to “Cha Cha Cha Tapas Restaurant and Bar in the Haight and Mission”

  1. You write great reviews. I appreciate the fact that you can be very enthusiastic of a place and still recognize that not everything they do is excellent. That shouldn’t stop you from returning to a place you love–many factors can add up counting a place among your favorites–frequently it’s not JUST about the food. I usually go to Ramblas for tapas…will have to get back to Cha Cha Cha. Beautiful photo of the sangria.

  2. Thanks! I’m actually very easily pleased so I find it hard to find faults in places, I just try to focus on what I do like. I completely agree with you, sometimes it really isn’t just about the food. In most cases it’s about the people you are with, and that can make any restaurant enjoyable as long as you’re with good company. Cha Cha Cha is great for that, the atmosphere is always lively and there never seems to be an end to the sangria. I love Ramblas, too! The food is great but it can get pricey real fast!

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