PDX Gets a Taqueria: Q&A With Cha Cha Cha’s Javier Hurtado
February 02, 2023

Javier Hurtado, Cha Cha Cha owner, and his wife Danette Papke, who designed their PDX location. (Photos: Christian Aniciete)

You’ll find many of your favorite Cha Cha Cha dishes at the airport, including nachos, tacos, and the carne asada and chile relleno bowl.  

In 2001, Javier Hurtado opened his first restaurant near Portland State University, which he had graduated from just a few years before. Javier had grown up in the food industry in Cuernavaca, Mexico — his father was a butcher, his mother owned her own restaurant, and the family owned a farm. At PSU, however, he studied finance, then spent a few years working as a stockbroker. He realized that making great food wasn’t just his heritage. It was his calling.

Over the last 22 years, Cha! Cha! Cha! has grown from one restaurant to an independently owned chain of taquerias specializing in Mexican food made with local, sustainably sourced ingredients. 

On January 6, Javier opened Cha Cha Cha’s newest location at PDX’s Concourse D. (You can browse the menu online at www.chachachapdx.com.) PDX Next asked Javier for his thoughts on go-to orders, and he shared a pro move for eaters on the run. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

PDX Next: What do you want people to know most about Cha Cha Cha

Javier Hurtado: My mission is to offer tasty, healthy, clean Mexican food. 

We make our guacamole, pico de gallo, rice, and beans here at the airport. All of our stews are made in our Portland commissary. The salsas are made in-house with hand-roasted ingredients. We source our corn tortillas from a Eugene company that uses non-GMO, organic corn, and we have a good relationship with Painted Hills Beef and Carlton Farms Pork.

If I’ve never eaten at Cha Cha Cha, what should my first order be?

I love our birria. We braise Painted Hills beef with chile guajillo and chile pulla — dried chiles that give it a nice flavor and color — plus lots of garlic, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, and tomatoes. You can get a birria bowl or burrito. 

And to drink?

We make all of our own aguas frescas, too, using dried flowers for our hibiscus (jamaica) and fresh fruit for our tamarindo agua fresca. (Quick tip: you can pick up bottles to go from the refrigerated case, along with Cha Cha Cha’s packaged salsas to bring to your destination.)

As soon as we have a full liquor license, we’ll be serving margaritas, cocktails, as well as local beers and ciders. We also serve white, rosé, and red wines made by Parra Wines. Sam Parra is a Mexican American, third-generation winemaker working in the Willamette Valley.

What if I’m stopping by Cha Cha Cha before my morning flight?

Our breakfast burritos are super popular! We have one with machaca (shredded beef) and eggs, and another with eggs, beans and cheese. We can make them into a breakfast bowl, too. 

Why did you want to open a spot at PDX?

I have a couple of friends who work here, and they were like, you have to come here. I had also heard great things about the airport, and how it tries to offer more local cuisine than other airports. I thought it would be nice for people traveling to Portland to find a nice representation of Mexican cuisine at PDX

Cha Cha Cha’s restaurant is located across from gate D5, and open 7 days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Menu: www.chachachapdx.com.