Tuesday, February 2, 2010

One, Two, CHA CHA CHA!: There's a new Tequila in Town.

When I hear "Let's go to the taqueria", I visualize a utilitarian taco bar with the usual run-of-the-mill tacos and burritos and a crusty bottle of Tapatio on the side.

Or maybe a cart with a door in the side and a wooden table out front.

So when I got invited to CHA Taqueria & Bar in the Northwest District for the Portland debut of a new tequila, I was a little puzzled.

Shoulda remembered this was Portland, and things are not always what they seem.

CHA Taqueria & Bar is what you might call a "way upscale" taqueria, and an even more way upscale bar. Not only is this place turning out some great food, but it has a marvel of a bar that's stocked with about as many tequilas as you can imagine.

There's no mistaking the focus on this place. When you walk in you see the giant wall of tequilas behind the bar---which usually has crowds of people belly up to it---and your mind is inexorably drawn to it. Pretty soon, your body follows.

The restaurant is open and spacious and welcoming. Since I was there for a tequila tasting, I can't speak to what comes off the menu, but I can testify that the various and sundry apps that came out of the kitchen were delicious---freshly made ceviche was a standout, but the chicken in salsa verde was pretty close behind it. I was told the owner is a fanatic about quality, and insists on sourcing organic meats and produce; that insistence on quality is abundantly evident. I'll definitely be back to CHA for the food.

And tequila head that I am, I'll HAVE to come back for the tequilas. So many beautiful bottles...

I was there to sample Antiguo, a new brand of tequila from the venerable firm of Herradura.

For those of you who go down to Mexico, Antiguo Reposado is well known; it's one of the most popular tequilas in the country...which is saying something, because it has been available to the public only since 1995. They've been making it since 1924, but Antiguo was made exclusively for the Herradura family and guests at their hacienda and not released commercially until 1995, in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of Herradura.

Antiguo is now available in the U.S. market, and it's already taking off. It's a softer, silkier style of tequila that's on the floral side, and I expect the American market will love it---both for its gentle style and its attractive price.

The Blanco is fresh and clean and bright, with a pure agave character and just a hint of pepper and anise.

The Reposado is more mellow and rounded, with barely a hint of color, a slight citric note, and a smooth texture and lingering delicate flavor.

The Anejo, with just a bit of aging, shows very little wood---it's a great tequila for those who like a little more body and development but don't want overwhelming vanilla-caramel tones.

You can find all three at CHA.

So if you're looking for fresh, sustainably grown Mexican food and a dazzling array of tequilas, go to CHA Taqueria & Bar on NW 21st. You can hang at the bar, sample some great food, and try a choose-your-own tequila flight. It's a heck of deal...and I can promise you'll have a wealth of tequilas to choose from.

You might say hello to the guy standing next to you too. It might be me.

CHA is located at

And you can find them on the web at www.chaportland.com

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