Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea is a Mexican cantina with a frisky vibe. At the heart of its allure are the boldly-flavored dishes and handcrafted drinks.
The menu showcases unique twists on Latin American cuisine, modern takes on everything from wood-oven roasted Jidori chicken spiked with Yucatan spices, to the decadent caldo with a saffron-tomato broth rich in fresh seafood and toasted angel hair pasta.
The Guajillo Braised Short Ribs are a favorite. Joseph Martinez, Cha Cha’s chef de cuisine, slow-simmers the meaty bone-in beef ribs in a made-from-scratch tomato based sauce accented with Guajillo and arbol chilies.
Tender and spiced with a just-right amount of ground cloves, cinnamon and cumin, Martinez uses the tender rib meat in a several dishes, including open faced enchiladas and tacos. Both of these dishes are garnished with crumbled goat cheese, arugula and crisp radishes.
Gratefully Martinez agreed to share his recipe and show the step-by-step procedures for preparing his scrumptious tacos. In the video that we taped, he explained that when he makes the ribs at home, he cooks them in for six hours in a slow cooker, rather than braising them in the oven. Slow and easy. Home-style.
The braising sauce … and the veg and chilies that go into it and make it luscious.
A graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, Martinez started working the line at Cha Cha’s many years ago and in the process worked his way to the top with hard work and culinary creativity. His oh-so-popular Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon along with those irresistible beef ribs became integral to the restaurant’s menu. Learning to trust himself was essential to his professional growth.
He lives in Brea with his wife Michaeleen and their infant son Ezra.
Secret Talent: He is a pen and pencil artist, drawing a wide variety of subjects. He started drawing comics as a child.
Home Pantry: Tortilla chips, Jalapeno Kettle Brand Potato Chips and El Pato hot sauce are always on hand in his house. As well as the ingredients for chilaquiles and enchiladas.
Drink of Choice: hand- crafted Basil Hayden Bourbon. Neat.
Cha Cha’s Guajillo Braised Short Ribs
Yield: about 8
Cook’s notes: The sauce and ribs can be prepared two days ahead and refrigerated.
Sauce “Salsa” (for braising):
1 dried arbol chili, seeds and stem removed
5 dried Guajillo chilies, seeds and stems removed
8 medium tomatoes, cored
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large brown (yellow) onion, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, kosher preferred
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Spices: 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 to 3 pounds thick bone-in beef ribs, excess (but not all) fat trimmed, patted dry
Salt and pepper to taste, kosher salt preferred
About 1 2/3 cups chicken broth
About 8 corn tortillas
Crumbled goat cheese
Radishes, watermelon radishes preferred, cut into julienne strips
Limes, halved or cut into wedges
1. Prepare sauce: Adjust oven rack to 6- to 8-inches below broiler element and preheat broiler. Place tomatoes in a single layer on one side of a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter garlic and onions on opposite side. Broil until lightly browned, about 4 minutes; add chilies on top of onions and return to broiler. Broil until chilies are browned (keep an eye on them to prevent burning). Place in large blender. Add salt, sugar, cilantro, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and water. Blend until smooth.
2. Prepare meat: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large deep ovenproof skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add ribs and deeply brown ribs on both sides. Cautiously add broth (it may splatter) and enough of the pureed sauce to generously cover meat. Cover skillet and place in preheated oven for 3 hours (or put mixture in a slower cooker on low setting for 6 hours). Remove meat from bones, breaking it up. Mix it with some of the sauce that it was cooked in (enough to coat and moisten the meat).
3. Heat tortillas on both sides over a gas burner. Top with meat, arugula, goat cheese and radishes. Garnish plates with limes. Serve. Source: Joseph Martinez, chef de cuisine at Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen
Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, 110 W Birch St #7, Brea, CA 92821 714-255-1040
The finished ribs … yum-oh-lah.
THANKS, as always, to CURT NORRIS for the time and talent he uses to produce quality videos and beautiful photos.
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!
Sweet and Spicy = Delicious piquant-sweet melon.
Use any ripe melon for this delicious dish. I like to serve this as a first course or as part of a showy buffet.
(Make the syrup in advance if you like, and then drizzle on the melon up to 30 minutes before serving.)
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons seeded and minced serrano chili
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 large, ripe cantaloupe
1. In a small saucepan, make a chili syrup by combining the sugar and water over medium-high heat and boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a small bowl and let cool. Stir in the chili, lime juice, mint, and bell peppers.
2. Cut the melons in half and remove the seeds. Cut into wedges or other interesting shapes and arrange attractively on 8 chilled plates. Drizzle about ½ cup of the chili syrup, or to taste, over all the melon. Reserve the remaining chili syrup for another use.