Reviews

Chica’s intensely fresh flavors elevate the Strip’s Latin cuisine

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Chica’s scratch-made empanadas, filled with braised beef, plantains, black beans and cheese and topped with spicy pico.
Photo: Peter Harasty

Up until a few months ago, something was missing on the Strip. Now that we have it, we’ll wonder how we’d gone so long without.

That missing link is Chica, the new Latin-inspired destination at the Venetian’s restaurant row. The collaboration between Lorena Garcia and John Kunkel’s 50 Eggs, Inc. restaurant group boasts some of the most spirited cuisine in Las Vegas right now.

The Venezuelan-born Garcia, known for her roles on Top Chef Masters and America’s Next Great Restaurant—and now the first well-known Latina chef on the Strip—draws on her knowledge of Latin American food to unite distinct cuisines from Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and more into one cohesive menu. Those fresh flavors are delivered with precision and passion by executive chef Mike Minor of Border Grill and Truck U Barbeque fame.

You’ll have fallen in love with Chica long before you try the food. With its mural-covered cement walls, exposed Peruvian ceviche bar, wood beam ceilings and lush vegetation, the whimsical dining room transports guests into a tropical atmosphere as Latin dance rhythms play overhead. From wood-carved tables to gold-plated silverware, every detail feels worth exploring.

All of this makes brunch at Chica feel especially celebratory, so a flute of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) is a must before diving into the menu’s sweet and savory fare. Cinnamon and sugar-dusted churros ($15)—filled with espresso crème and garnished with marinated cherries—are one way to start. You could easily fight over who gets the last one. But that won’t be necessary with an order of lemon-ricotta doughnuts ($15). The lightly fried dough balls aren’t overly sugary, though the wild berry compote and white chocolate dulce de leche kick up the sweetness, if you desire.

You might be tempted to play it safe by ordering the Latin breakfast ($14) or the pancetta eggs Benedict ($15), but Chica’s spin on chicken and waffles ($17) is a must for every table. Marinated rotisserie chicken straight from Chica’s traditional Brazilian rodizio sits atop a house-made five-spice waffle, served with Peruvian peppers and agave syrup. The juicy, smoky bird mingling with the bold spiciness of the waffle makes for a memorable combination.

Rooted in the communal experience of sharing and savoring food with friends and family, Chica takes traditional classics and updates them with Garcia’s fresh style. Grilled corn “lollipops”—shareable pieces of corn on the cob served with chile pequin, lime, butter and cotija cheese—are the chef’s take on the popular Mexican street-style dish elote. And the mushroom quesadilla—with Point Reyes bleu cheese, Oaxacan string cheese, jalapeño pesto, pickled onions and pungent huitlacoche—nods to celebrated Mexican ingredients. Garcia also uses the traditional Peruvian method of curing hamachi with leche de tigre for the classic ceviche, served with corn, sweet potato, onion and cilantro.

Chica really flexes its muscle with the Meyer lemon-marinated rotisserie chicken ($26 half, $34 full), slow-roasted and served with a bright Peruvian purple potato salad and a zesty chimichurri—and the braised Venezuelan-style shortrib ($29) with black-eyed peas, herbal epazote oil and pickled onions.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. But don’t be overwhelmed. Chica’s menu is extensive and delicious enough to warrant multiple returns. Whether you have friends in from out of town, a birthday upcoming or you simply need a new place to brunch, Chica’s the kind of place you’ll find yourself making any excuse to visit—and any excuse will do.

Chica Venetian, 702-805-8472. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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