Fresh tastes, huge plates make the meal
A big menu adds up to much more than the tiny bill at Cha! Cha! Cha!
Three pizza joints and one Subway later, the Pearl District finally got a taqueria. Judging by the noontime and evening crowds, the neighborhood is thrilled by the recent arrival of Cha! Cha! Cha!
The cheery, exclamatory sign over the door beckons hungry Pearl denizens into the small, narrow space painted bright maize. Simple tables perch wherever there's room Ñ in front of the massive windows, near the door, lining the hall that leads back to the busy kitchen.
Cha! Cha! Cha!'s setup (orders are taken at the counter) and style (a front door that never seems to close properly) are no-frills, but the restaurant is neat and clean, and service is gracious.
The menu is a mile long, offering about a dozen tacos, 15 burritos, quesadillas, nachos and tostadas, as well as tortas (French bread sandwiches) and a pair of specialty plates. Rock-bottom prices and a multitude of menu choices will tempt you to mix and match, but be warned that everything is doled out in heaping portions.
So-called 'Dinner Plates' actually are served all day and are well worth investigating. The Cha plate is a light stew of ground beef (or, if you prefer, one of the meat fillings used in the tacos and burritos), carrots, fat raisins, olives, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. Slow-cooked and fragrant, it is dolled up with pinto beans, rice, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole and corn tortillas for a paltry $5.50.
Entrees categorized as 'Los Fritos' are similarly piled high with house-made pico de gallo, creamy guacamole and crisp shards of lettuce. Shredded chicken cooked in a fiery chipotle sauce forms the base for all those yummy toppings in the Tinga tostada, again a screaming bargain for $3.75.
The brilliant shrimp tostada skips the traditional condiments. Instead, plump diced prawns are mixed with avocado pieces, onions and tomatoes, forming a sort of soupy salad over a brittle fried tortilla. Taquitos are cigar-sized, fried tortillas stuffed either with mashed potatoes or savory shredded beef, finished with a liberal sprinkling of cotija cheese.
Tacos and burritos are made with the standard Mexican fillings: pollo (hunks of seasoned chicken), asada (steak strips), lengua (slow-cooked cow's tongue), pastor (marinated strips of pork), fish and so on. But the standouts are Cha! Cha! Cha! originals. Machaca is an excellent union of subtly spiced shredded beef and scrambled eggs. The same heady mixture used for the Cha plate also can be had in a taco or burrito, as can the chicken or steak fajita number, in which sautŽed vegetables complement the meat stuffing.
All tacos are a la carte, so you'll have to order rice and beans on the side; the half-rice/half-beans side for $2.50 is the way to go if you're trying to craft your own taco plate.
No alcohol is served, but an imported apple soda or Jarritos makes a great stand-in for Pacifico beer to balance the spicy salsa or Tinga tostada. And sweet, cinnamon-dusted rice pudding is the lone dessert, but it's the only one you need.
A second Cha! Cha! Cha! is situated by Portland State University, and a Northeast Broadway outlet is on the way. Owing to the fresh preparations, homemade condiments and penny-wise prices, both current spots are beloved by their respective clienteles. Because really, what's not to like?