Destination Food: Palm Springs’ Chi Chi Is a Hotel Restaurant with a Latin Soul

Chef Tara Lazar mixes vibrant flavors from Mexico to Argentina with feel-good California wellness

Growing up between L.A. and Palm Springs, chef/restaurateur Tara Lazar also spent childhood summers in Cuernavaca, a town about an hour and a half outside of Mexico City. These vastly different regional experiences along with travels to Peru and beyond are the inspiration for Chi Chi, her new poolside restaurant at the Avalon Hotel in Palm Springs, where she’s serving “soulful Latin standards with a dash of cheeky California wellness.”

The fourth of Lazar’s desert dining concepts—she also owns the always-mobbed brunch favorite Cheeky’s, pizza and Italian small plates spot Birba, and a new steakhouse called Mr. Lyons—Chi Chi is a sunny breakfast-to-dinner destination done up with Palm Springs-essential modern decor and bright yellow accents. Designed for dining-room table service and poolside snacking, the menu offers a combination of sharable plates, finger foods, salads, burgers, and sandwiches for lunch while the dinner menu adds skewers (think chili pork belly and pineapple or octopus and chorizo) and goes a bit fancier with main entrees like salmon steamed in a banana leaf and Cochinita Pibil, which comes in deconstructed taco form on a board with blue-corn tortillas, avocado slices, pickled red onion, and lime.

Chorizo and Octopus Skewers
Chorizo and Octopus Skewers

Photograph courtesy of Chi Chi

Small plates include squash blossom queso fundido served with yucca and taro chips and meatballs stacked in a pool of aji mojo sauce and sprinkled with queso fresco. Chicken Tinga Sopes come topped with shredded lettuce, black beans, and crema. The spa-ready Latin Fruit Cart is a colorful combination of cut fruit accompanied by lime and chile salt. The presentations of these dishes are very chic, but Lazar hopes that meals at Chi Chi are relaxed, casual affairs, like those she remembers from Cuernavaca.

“What goes with warm nights and tasty food that lends itself to great conversation and good memories? The idea is, you eat this kind of food paced out: little plates, big plates, shared plates. Order a few, get a few more, see how it goes,” Lazar says.

Salads were also a focus for the menu, and the perfect way for Lazar to combine her Latin American and California influences. Inspired by the salad bars of Argentina’s grandest churrascarias, which feature a myriad of produce options from hearts of palm and avocado to tomatoes and olives, Chi Chi’s salads include the understated Ensalada Verde with green beans, greens, and asparagus as well as the intriguing Yerba Mate Salad dressed with fermented tea, fennel, frise, pepitas, quinoa, and chicharron.

Latin Americans have the most epic salads,” says Lazar, who attempts to follow suit, while also catering to health-conscious guests, by adding traditional grains (a common practice in Latin America) to make her salads more substantial.

“For Chi Chi, we focused on wholesome fats and whole or ancient grains that are satisfying and nourishing: coconut (milk and oil), avocado, hearts of palm, almonds, nut oils,” she adds.

Organic Chi Popsicles
Organic Chi Popsicles

Photograph courtesy of Chi Chi

A array of light desserts rounds out the Chi Chi experience. There’s the powder-sugar-covered Mexican Wedding Cookies, flourless Plant-Based Chocolate Cake, and Panna Cotta with berry compote and spiced walnuts. Paletas, or Organic Chi Pops as they’re called on the menu, are an ideal afternoon sweet treat that won’t weigh you down before you take a dip in the pool.

Breakfast and weekend brunch are also available.

redarrowChi Chi is located at the Avalon Hotel,  415 S Belardo Rd, Palm Springs, 760-320-4117

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