Much credit has to go to a restaurateur who opens a new place in the face of serious traffic disruption. But Cha Cha Chow's brick-and-mortar location, begat by its food truck, is just across South Kingshighway from O'Connell's. Local foodists will know that means a detour coming in from the south to get there, since for now Kingshighway is closed for construction between Shaw and Southwest Avenues.
It's the eastern portion of a building that now also houses Gaslight, a new bar with a built-in recording studio. (Please note this is not the Gaslight Theatre, which remains on Boyle in Midtown, as we always referred to that neighborhood.) The restaurant itself can scarcely be called that; it's a counter where one orders, part of which holds a shelf and a couple of stools. The food can be taken into the bar via the connecting door. It's a dark, quiet room that made me think it would be perfect for a hangover morning.
It's a very small menu, five kinds of tacos, a burger, three sides and pupusas, which are a sort of stuffed fat corn tortilla. These tacos are soft, a little larger than the Mexican street tacos found in Cherokee Street spots. All three I had used flour tortillas, perhaps five inches in diameter or a bit more.
Shredded chicken was very moist and nicely piquant. Described as citrus-marinated, it also had some salsa verde on it, and the tomatillos also surely contributed to the piquancy. Who can fault a taco whose meat is so juicy it dribbles out the downhill end? The fish tacos seemed more to be about the generous serving of crisp red cabbage slaw that rode atop things. Very fresh and crunchy, a little hit of cilantro in there, its chew a little different than that of the couple of fish nuggets they covered. I would have preferred more fish on board myself, but....
And then there was the sweet potato taco. Sweet potatoes are enjoying a quiet renaissance in the greater world of sandwiches. They're appearing in New Orleans in vegetarian poor-boys, for instance. Bravely putting their marshmallowed past behind them, they're bravely going forth to serve the land they love. In this case, they're curried - but this is not the pinch of curry powder that Aunt Margaret used to make a dip for potato chips. This curry is southeast Asian-influenced, spicy but not hot, with some fruity notes, perhaps from some tamarind. That's white cheddar cheese on top, carrying more flavor than Mexican cotija cheese does, and some grilled onion. Good stuff. Outstanding stuff, in fact, a remarkable dish.
Then there was the pupusa. Compared to that sweet potato taco, it's not a sophisticated offering. A disc roughly the size of a saucer arrives wrapped in aluminum foil. Less than half an inch thick, it's basically two patties of fresh masa, the cornmeal mixture from which tamales and tortillas are made, sandwiched together with cheese or cheese and pork, the edges sealed and the whole thing griddled. It's not handsome, certainly. But my goodness, is it tasty. The masa is chewy-crispy-soft, the corn flavor is present, punched up with the traditional lard (nope, not vegetarian, even in the cheese-only option), the cheese slides right in, and the pork is tasty. Outside the average American eating experience, but rather addictive, especially if you're a texture geek. It comes with slaw and a salsa on the side.
The only desserts are ice cream sandwiches custom made by Maggie's Lunch Box in Fenton. Forget the rectangular little slabs of childhood - these are soft cookies with good ice cream and they're not so hard they can't be bitten. (Nor are they so soft they melt before you're done.) I had a chocolate-chili cookie with caramel ice cream, the most exotic of the available options, and it was great - just a nice bit of heat, nothing incendiary, some cinnamon in there, too, I think, and surprisingly tidy to eat.
Drinks from the adjacent bar, non-alcoholic options available at the taco counter. Saturdays, they're offering breakfast tacos, although not breakfast hours. And nice guys to take your order. I have a feeling there may be outside tables to come before cold weather hits again.
4916 Shaw Ave.
Lunch and Dinner Tues.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Tacos, etc.: $4-$9