Carmen's Cha Cha Cha Mexican Restaurant - Where Good Only Gets Better
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
I was honored with an invite to join a family birthday dinner for my friend, Carol, recently and was doubly pleased to learn that it would be held at Carmen's Cha Cha Cha Mexican Restaurant in Hagatna. I didn't realize until that night how much I miss eating good Mexican food. Although I'd been meaning to return since my April 2001 review, I can honestly say the only person who has suffered from this absence is me - and I am glad to tell you that the suffering is over!
Positioned directly across the street from the Hagatna Cathedral, Carmen's occupies the ground floor of a two-story building that has glass window walls on two sides so that diners can view the goings on outside (if they wish). The atmosphere is lively, with Mexican music filling the background and brightly-hued walls contrasting with native art pieces, including paintings, sombreros, fiery red habaneras, and other authentic atmosphere enhancers. The real action, though, is all in the food that's served at Carmen's.
The first thing to hit the table once our group was settled down (including Carol's adorable baby daughter, Jasmine) was Carmen's signature tortilla chips ($3.50) that are made fresh daily. The chips are red, yellow, and dark blue, and once you start dipping them in one or both of the two sauces (the mild one combines fresh bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro, while the other is a zesty red pepper salsa), it is next to impossible to stop eating them.
Carmen's menu is straightforward, with Botanas (appetizers); Lite Fare (salads and tostadas); A La Carte items; Platos Especiales (Carne Asada Plate - $12.50); Platos (there are four, I selected Plate 2 which has two soft shell tacos); and two Vegetarian entrees, a Vegetarian Burrito ($7.50) and the Lorenza ($7). Our server, Celeste, was really on top of things, re-filling our Iced Tea glasses and managing the table so that nothing was left empty or in the way. She was assisted by another server, James, and both diligently catered to our group.
For my taco plate I asked for one beef and one chicken taco. These are BIG tacos, and come with Mexican rice and beans, mild salsa, guacamole and sour cream. (The Chicken Taco Plate is $9 and the Steak Plate is $9.50). I guess my plate cost $9.25. The homemade soft flour tortillas are thick with brown grill marks coloring their otherwise white surfaces. They were both packed with their respective meats. The meats had been marinated, grilled, and cut into small cubes to extend the flavors. I remember them being terrific the first time, and I marveled that they were even better! They were both so good I couldn't tell you which one I liked better. The Mexican rice was light and fluffy and seemed fresher than what I've had at other restaurants. The beans were good and topped with melting, shredded Monterey Jack.
Two in our party selected the vegetarian choices with one ordering the Vegetarian Burrito; a flour tortilla filled with beans, Mexican rice, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream and salsa and the other ordering the Lorenza; a flour tortilla served open faced and topped with Mexican rice, beans, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, and either a hot or mild salsa. The sheer size of these dishes is amazing and would certainly fill the tummies of just about any diner. They seemed pleased with their entrees, eating as much as they possibly could.
The Carne Asada Plate has charbroiled steak prepared "Sonora" style, and is served with Mexican rice and beans. Three flour tortillas accompany this dish and you add as much succulent beef as you want, then top it with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. This is one of Carmen's most popular dishes enjoyed by hearty diners. Although I didn't have any of this one, I could tell from it's aroma that the beef was as flavorful and juicy as the beef in my taco, only there was more of it!
The final entree was a pair of Cheese & Onion Enchiladas ($8.50). The Chicken Enchilada Plate is $9 and the Steak plate is $9.50. I was able to sample some of the Cheese Enchilada and I found it to taste as good as it looked (the enchilada sauce had the right blend of spices.) Carmen's Cha Cha Cha has a family of popular Margaritas, and can be made with mango, bananas, strawberries, or the traditional version with lime. Domestic and imported beers are also available.
Carmen's is owned by Carmen Leyva, who has been pioneering her brand of Mexican cuisine on Guam for over 8 years. Carmen does a lot of catering for parties and events. In fact, you can order specialty items not on the menu in advance of your arrival. Among these are such Mexican delights as Chile Relleno, Fajitas, Chicken Mole, Pescado or Mariscos a Gusto, Tamales, Sopa de Albondigas, and Carnitas. Just call 472-7823 to order these. Carmen's Cha Cha Cha is open Monday to Saturday from 10am - 9pm, which makes it a great place to go for late lunch meetings.
I am pleased to continue recommending Carmen's Cha Cha Cha as a destination for satisfying any and all cravings for good Mexican food.