Glen Osmond is home to an eclectic mix of eateries from fast food giants McDonalds, KFC, Wok in a Box and Subway, contrasted by a range of more gourmet options – a cosy, little bakery cum breakfast café whose name I can’t for the life of me recall, Kublai Khan - a Mongolian BBQ restaurant that has caught my eye several times, two Chinese restaurants - Rice and Pagoda, a fish and chippie called Fisherman's Basket, Akropolis - a Yiros chop shop, The Ark at the Arkaba - notorious for serving up pub meals with a contemporary Aussie “twist”, Sabatini – a Greek Café and of course Cha Chi’s Mexican Cantina. Cha Chi’s has never failed to pique me curiosity every single day on my way home from the city and finally after months of contemplation and wonder I made it over.
More often than not themed restaurants and clichéd stereotypes come across as over-kill elements that kill my dining experience, period. Be it Balinese maître’ds with the ten inch golden fingernails welcoming you to an Indonesian restaurant or an overweight belly dancing dodging tables set close together and cluttered precariously with mezze platters to create an Arabian Nights feel in the twenty first century it all seems a little corny – been there, done that, give me something new, or simply cut to the chase and surprise my palate with something divine, put the effort on the plate rather in the circus routine. Adelaide however is an exception to this personal grudge. Why, you may ask? I simply put it down to the fact that the city has so little diversity to offer by way of brazen colour, showmanship, vivacity and quirky eccentricities. Thus local architecture, music, drama and the food scene lacks a zesty, bing, bang, boom attitude – barren of global pizzazz missing the treacle effect of the silly and overdone that plagues cosmopolitan capital cities the world over.
Walking in to Cha Chi’s you are immediately enveloped by the loud, festive ambience – brightly hued woven ponchos spread over the walls and screens with more than a dozen mixed sombreros – embellished and otherwise thrown in for good measure with heavy handed gay abandon. Ironically, the aesthetically carefree and vivacious atmosphere is hard at work while the lack of music – vibrant Latina beats or otherwise is sorely missed – a dimension that would definitely enhance the décor and illuminate that sense of it being a ‘Cantina’.
All set for a red hot night, I was on the edge of my seat excitedly anticipating my Margarita. Turns out we were advised not to bother ordering by the pitcher and instead opt by the glass for more value for money (the glass sizes play a big part here I believe) – Oh Australia!
The strawberry Margarita is halfway decent as is the lime at $AU 7 each. Having arrived at 8.30 and with last orders for the night being processed (the place shuts hop by 9.30 which means a night with the amigos must commence early and wrap up soon, or be shifted elsewhere relatively pre-maturely) we opted for a four way platter (complete scam since this sufficed for two, or I just have an incredibly mean appetite –not a question, but perhaps it is a fact).
First things first I said hola to four slabs of baby back ribs each containing four 3 inch ribs of questionable prior cooking since they were slightly dried out. The loaded potato skins had been boiled and simply finished in the oven resulting in squeezy, mashed potato texture that is not customary after having bit into the golden-brown crunchy skin crust – not what I was expecting. The quesadillas were deep fried and stuffed with a thin layer of tasteless, incognito cheese that made guessing what and where it was from an unsolved mystery.
Mini chimichunga cigar rolls feigning deep-fried spring roll pastry filled with chicken were tasty but somewhat out of place in its role as a Mexican ‘food’ on the platter. Somehow with all the chaos and incoherencies of the platter, it came into its own context along with the other could-be, would-be should-be treats reminiscent of something a la Mexican. The platter came with a bowl of runny, sloppy over chopped watered-down salsa (I could make better with my eyes closed) and an Aussie mixed green garden salad with a dollop of sour cream and olives.
All in all, Cha Chi’s serves up food that is vaguely Mexican, yet lacks the tell-tale punchy, robust flavours that belong to the dusty arid, region south of the border.
Monday and Tuesday nights are all you can eat nachos, burritos, and enchiladas – although rumour has it the service can be torturous.