Southern California does not come to mind when one thinks of Cuban food. Naturally if one wanted great Cuban food, other than going to Cuba herself, the Miami area would be the obvious place to start.
Years ago, on a trip to Miami to visit family, I had my first taste of Cuban food and immediately fell in love with it. Shortly after, my brother discovered Porto's in Glendale. Since then, traveling to Glendale for Porto's was an event in itself and well worth it, but we grew tired of making the drive through out the years.. The only Cuban restaurant in our area (that I knew of) was Havanas in Downey, which paled in comparison to Portos.
I moved to Orange County for a few years and REALLY missed Cuban food. My husband, daughter and I moved to Downey and to our delighted surprise Tropicana is so much like Portos, and...dare I say, maybe better in certain aspects?!
The pastelitos de carne (meat pies) are so incredibly tasty as well as the chicken empanadas. The filling is much more plentiful in both than at Portos and have a richer flavor. The media noche sandwhich is HUGE compared to Portos. The pork is more tender and juicy. But the overall flavor does go to Portos on the media noche (sorry Tropi) I was pretty bummed that the plantain chips that come with the sandwich were more like crumbs on top of the media noche instead of actual slices of fried plantains. Portos wins that one too.
The deserts all look delicious but I tried the Senorita de dulce de leche (a flakey pastry with dulce de leche). It was pretty good. They have these cute apples dipped in white and milk chocolate and decorated to look like the apple is wearing a tuxedo! The wedding cakes look beautiful but they seem to use fondant as all other wedding cakes (yuck!)
The place itself looks small as you enter through the back but as you pass the cafe part, it opens up nicely to a dining area bustling with people enjoying their food. It seems to always be busy but its not the absolute madhouse that is Portos where you have to wait in Disneyland ride lines (Heaven forbid you forget your wallet) and hover over patrons as they attempt to eat in hopes of scoring their table when they are done. No, at Tropicana you should always find a seat. The parking lot is kind of small but not that bad, although a teeny drive way makes it interesting to get to the parking lot, especially if someone is exiting and you already made the mistake of turning into the driveway. The place is clean, the decor is simple but a delight to look at (vintage Cuba travel posters! I love it!) and not kitschy at all. The staff is friendly and the wait for the food is reasonable.
All in all its a great place for awesome food, fun but not crazy atmosphere, nice salsa music (a wonderful break from the obnoxious reggeton and even more obnoxious mexican banda circus noise that is so rampant in so cal)
Advice: you pay a price for all that flavor in the food, so I suggest you keep some heartburn relief handy!!!
Pros: generous portions
Cons: massive heartburn!