Nestled on East Williamsburg’s quiet, warehouse-y Randolph Street, just a block down from Honey’s and Bunker, is the neighborhood’s newest restaurant, Chicha. A surprising oasis, Chicha is one very few restaurants serving Nicaraguan food in Brooklyn, and a first in the Bushwick area.
Chica is the brainchild of wife-husband team Vanessa Palazio and Adam Schneider, who previously opened Little Muenster, a grilled cheese joint with locations in Manhattan and DUMBO. They began developing Chicha years ago out of Palazio’s desire to share the Nicaraguan dishes of her childhood — the Brooklyn native is of Nicaraguan decent, her parents having immigrated here shortly before her birth.
“I grew up eating all of these dishes that my friends weren’t eating and I didn’t realize that,” said Palazio. “I wanted to explore that.”
Explore that they have, and in a very thorough way, from the food to the space.
You first get that tropical vibe from the space — it’s not huge, but with tremendous ceilings and fold-open front windows, it’s spectacularly airy. A massive bar (suitable, considering the size of their rum-centric cocktail menu) lives on the left, tables and half-circle booths live on the right. Pastels and floral prints round things out. Instantly upon walking in I was ready to kick off my shoes and relax, warm sand to dig my toes into the only thing missing.
The dishes are all traditional Nicaraguan, slightly reimagined either by necessity or for fun. The conchas negras, for example: true conchas negras, clams with distinctive black flesh, can’t be found in the U.S., so a bit of squid ink is added in the Chicha take to mimic that color. There’s also lemongrass, some foamy coconut milk, and a slice of fresh jalapeno. It was an ideal bite — briny ocean, creamy, citrus, and spice all playing together — and a great way to start a meal.
Next was the elotitas, the Nicaraguan cousin of Mexico’s more famous elotes. A small pile of tender, delicately sweet grilled baby corn served with herbaceous cilantro aioli, smokey guajillo chili sauce, and grated queso seco. Fresh baby corn treated right is, unsurprisingly, worlds better than what you’ll get out of a can.
Quesillos, which according to Palazio were the inspiration behind Chicha, came next. Quesillos are a popular Nicaraguan street food. They’re a popular street food in a number of Central and South American countries, but each nation has its own variation — in Nicaragua, quesillos are corn tortillas topped with ooey cheese, often served in a slim plastic bag to contain all the cheesy goodness.
Chicha miniaturizes and refines the quesillo. There are four varieties: tipico is simple, corn tortilla and cheese, and simply delicious; pollo desmenuzado, starring surprisingly rich and flavorful roasted chicken; baho-style pork, cooked with sour orange that really comes through; and langosta, seared lobster. I found my lobster to be a touch on the overcooked side, just a little rubbery, but otherwise this quesillo quartet was deeply satisfying.
Finally, the arroz con pollo arancini, another jazzed up dish. Chicha takes the humble chicken and rice, served daily on tables across the world, and refreshes it with an unpretentious update. The arancini were fried perfectly, crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside.
This is all to say nothing of their bar offerings, which are extensive. They offer 13 cocktails, draft or mixed, heavy on rum based offerings, naturally. Also available are a healthy mix of domestic and craft beers, Spanish and South American wines, and some very fine, aged sipping rums.
The menu at Chicha is designed for snacking and sharing, and Chicha itself is designed for lingering over your plates and cocktails. Gather your friends and loved ones, get some cocktails, and share Palazio’s modern take on the Nicaraguan comfort food of her childhood. They’re dishes filled with history and with love, and you will leave happy.
Chicha Cafetin and Cocktails
Comfortable, airy spot serving updated takes on classic Nicaraguan dishes alongside a long, rum-centric cocktail list.
198 Randolph St, Ridgewood (off the Morgan or Jefferson stops on the L train)
Tue-Sun: 5:00 pm – 4:00 am
+1 718 366-2114
Photos by Andrew Tobia