The Restaurant. The Family. The Legacy.
At twenty years of age, one is bursting with youth, energy, and vibrant possibilities. After twenty years of service to Los Angeles’ Silverlake community, the beloved Cha Cha Cha continues to provide diners with the energy, culinary excitement and warm family affiliations that began two decades ago with the partnership of Chef Toribio Prado and Mario Tamayo. Previously, Toribio garnered a great deal of attention as opening Chef for the famed Ivy Restaurant on LA’s newly-fashionable Robertson Boulevard, creating the signature house specialties that continue to this day. He also worked as consulting Chef for the opening of West Hollywood’s Hugo’s Restaurant as well as Personal Chef to actress Sophia Loren. His passion, however, found expression in the creation of a new “contemporary Caribbean cuisine,” fashioned upon his many years of work and travel throughout several Caribbean and South American nations – travels that eventually found him landing in the United States. Almost immediately upon opening the first Cha Cha Cha, LA Times food critic Ruth Reichl arrived with rave reviews of this new fusion of ethnic cuisines – and, almost instantly, a family dynasty of restaurateurs was born. The James Beard Foundation honored Toribio with a personal invitation to cook at the New York City home of Mr. Beard, in the estimation of many chefs, the highest honor that one can achieve in a culinary career. The evening featured Jamaican curries, Serrano chilies, Lobster moles, and the Caribbean spices that were new, exotic, and dangerous – the early forays of a culinary pioneer.
From the very beginning, Cha Cha Cha was a family affair. Relatives by the dozen staffed every position, from line cooks to managers to servers to coffee station attendants. Together, the family created not only a successful business, but also a fervent sense of devotion to their community. Prado and Tamayo began expanding their successful empire in the late 1980’s, eventually including Cha Cha Cha locations in Long Beach, Encino and San Francisco, as well as the critically acclaimed Cava in Los Angeles and West Hollywood’s Confete. In 2003, three relatives purchased the remaining, family-owned location of Cha Cha Cha in L.A.’s bohemian Silverlake area – Prado’s own nephews, brothers Javier, Jorge and Miguel Anaya. All three worked through the ranks of the Cha Cha Cha staff, most beginning early in their teenage years, progressing to management and financial positions following college and management training programs with outside companies such as The Ritz Carlton Hotel and California Pizza Kitchen. “Cha Cha Cha has always been in the business of creating memories,” state the brothers. “When a guest walks through our doors, they are no longer simply considered a customer. They have become a part of our family. It’s the reason why, twenty years later, so many continue to arrive regularly…for that feeling of comfort, of recognition, of smiles and happy memories. It is why Cha Cha Cha has survived and succeeded. It is why we all still here and we still love what we do for a living.”
The original Cha Cha Cha celebrated its twenty year anniversary in the summer of 2006. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was on hand for the celebration, personally presenting the Anaya and Prado families with a commendation from the City of Los Angeles. Earlier that day, the Los Angeles City Council presented the families with a commendation, officially declaring it “Cha Cha Cha Day in Los Angeles.”
In twenty years, many menu items have become cult favorites, appearing in movies, television programs, and cooking shows around the world. The Jamaican Jerk Chicken ($15.50) is the most ordered, most famous, and most sought after recipe. Created by Prado at the restaurant’s inception, the recipe remains a secret to all but a select, trusted few! Cha Cha Cha specializes in an extensive selection of small plate tapas, the sharing foods that create the ever present party of Cha Cha Cha, including Jerk Pork ($6.95); Guava and Goat Cheese Quesadilla ($5.25); and Crispy Shrimp Cakes ($7.50). A selection of salads, pastas, and entrees is included; however, the special occasion groups will always request the house made Paellas. Made to order, the menu favorite includes a classic Valenciana, a saffron mélange of shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and fish ($18.50 / $36.00). The specialty cocktails create the party, and Cha Cha Cha sets itself apart with creative juices – The Classic Margarita employs only freshly squeezed lime juice (and no sour mix); The Mojito is muddled to order using only fresh lime juice and mint; and the house made Sangria is infamous – a fruit and brandy infused favorite. A pitcher of Sangria is likely to be seen on most table tops, the very center of the party!
In giving back to their own community, the Anaya and Prado families are involved with a wide ranging group of charitable organizations, ranging from HOLA – and inner city children’s art and education outreach; to the Los Angeles Mission and The Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation – to name but three. Cha Cha Cha is valued throughout LA’s charity world, renown for volunteering their staffs and food at charitable and political events throughout the city and state.
Family continues to be the driving force behind the twenty year success of Cha Cha Cha. However, ‘family’ now includes not only cousins, brothers and uncles, but also the ‘family members’ that arrive each week, most ordering the same favorite dishes that have become more than simply dinner choices, but familiar moments in their lives.