CHA CHA CHA is nestled in a pocket of Los Angeles that makes you feel as if you are adventuring into a Caribbean jungle. You expect Ricardo Montalban to appear in his jungle whites and whack a path to the tiny blue-and-pink restaurant where happy sounds and smells waft through the screens.
You are greeted instead by Mario Tamayo--slight, smiling, street-smart--a gentle man with hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Originally from Colombia, Tamayo is the artist/conceptualizer/menu developer/decorator of Cha Cha Cha. Toribio Prado, his partner and chef, translates culinary ideas into tantalizing tastes that come both from memories of mother's cooking in Michoacan, on Mexico's eastern coast, and his own experiences in kitchens here and there, including that of the Ivy restaurant.
Tamayo visualized Cha Cha Cha long before it existed.The food in New York's Caribbean neighborhoods sparked the idea of bringing a Latin restaurant to Los Angeles. "I'm a great fan of Los Angeles, and I see it as the center of media in the world. I saw that Caribbean cuisine was as yet unexplored and decided to do it myself," Tamayo says.
With his strong art-merchandising sense and plenty of courage, Tamayo chose the east end of Melrose Avenue, hoping to attract the large circle of artists living and working in the downtown and Los Feliz areas. He painted the place in bright Caribbean colors, added whimsical art to the walls and brainstormed with Prado on dishes that would interpret Caribbean cuisine into a modern California genre with, of course, some nouvelle touches thrown in for good measure.