I'd had a couple of requests to check out Tropicafe in Chula Vista, mostly from folks who I really didn't know. So a couple of weeks back, I spoke to a co-worker AF, who lived in Columbia from the age of 8 to 18. He'd been asking me if I knew of anywhere that had Columbian food on the menu...anyplace but Tropical Star. I told him I'd heard of a place in Chula Vista called Tropicafe, but hadn't tried it out.....AF told me he'd check it out and report back. Then I didn't see him for maybe a month or so. when I finally saw him, he told me, "the food is pretty much the real deal, but not everything is great. It's worth a try, just stay away from the Mexican food, which is on the menu because they need to make a living." Asked for a recommendation, I was told, "everyone needs to have the Bandeja Paisa the first time. There's better things on the menu, but that's the national dish."
So there I was, taking the Main Street off ramp in Chula Vista and driving into one of the "garage strip malls"......and right across from Juan's Auto Repair and the Mercedes Engine Exchange was this tiny shop.
The place opens at 930 am, and I'd arrived pretty early. The restaurant is pretty small, maybe five tables....I was thrown off by the chafing dishes when I entered, but it was part of a display advertising their catering business. The drill is simple, I walked to the counter and ordered, which I'm sure is not the way, or maybe the way, since half the folks coming after me sat and ordered when the menu arrived and half just sauntered to the counter like I did. The woman in the kitchen in the back smiled and gave me the "peace sign".
Naturally, since I'm very good at following instructions, I ordered the Baneja Paisa. After having a seat, the young man told me there was a problem in the kitchen and my order would take about 20 minutes. I was asked if I wanted something else. I had nothing really to do, so I told him I'd wait, which turned out rather well for me......
As I sat and checked my text messages and emails folks started filtering in. After about ten minutes, the young man delivered a fragrant cup of soup to my table. He apologized for the wait and said 'please try the Caldo de Costilla".
A nice hot, mildly thick soup, the flavor of beef and cumin really stood out. I later read that this is Beef Rib soup and popular breakfast item. The main starch item being potatoes. It was very hearty soup which I enjoyed.
About five minutes after finishing my bowl of soup, the young man came by and dropped off a little plastic basket telling me, "your food is almost ready, but here's one of our empanadas for you to try......"
The color of the empanadas was almost a bright yellow. The out crust was quite crisp, but there was still some heft to it. The main flavor in the filling was of seasoned potatoes, which was very good. The meat really didn't have much flavor and I believe it was chicken based on that. The Aji/Salsa had a nice kick to it. I'm thinking there was some habanero in it.
Soon enough my plate arrived. The name is derived from the people of the Paisa region of Columbia, thus it is the "Paisa Platter", I'm figuring the folks of this area had historically worked some major manual labor, because the Bandeja Paisa ($10.50), along with being Columbia's National Dish, is a major calorie bomb.
If God were Vegan, I'd have spontaneously combusted on the spot....... The look on my face got laughs from the folks on the other table as I stared down this amalgamation of fat and protein. I turned to them and said, "I'm going to need a nap after this...." Which drew some good natured laughs. As for the food....
The fried egg was nice, but I noticed that they food wasn't salted. I enjoyed the patacones (tostones), basically fried green plantains, very mild and not sweet, but also nice and crunchy. The Aji added a nice punch here. The chorizo reminded me of a spicy Longanisa, it had a nice sweetness, but a little punch as well.
The one item I really enjoyed was the beans, which were seasoned well, with a nice pork flavor and a mild sweetness.
I like that the beans weren't overcooked and went real well with the rice (hiding under the egg). The menu description also mentions an Arepa, which is sort of like a pupusa, but I think I'd have been near death after that. The other table was having a few, so I think I'll save that for next time.
Yes, there will be a next time. Probably some rib soup, arepa, beans and rice. Or maybe some other soup. I really enjoyed the friendly folks working here, if not everything in the Bandeja Paisa.
Wed - Sat 930am - 6pm
Sunday 930am - 5pm