The Escape: Tropical Drinks Cuban Cuisine and Bakery
Garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves spice up this Caribbean hideaway
Pulling off an always-crowded Vermont Avenue and into one of its plazas tucked inward from the tumultuous 110 Freeway ramps and buses screeching and hissing at their stops, you’d never guess how far from the congestion of early evening you’ve traveled.
As soon as you open the glass door to thatched straw, lilting musica Son, and the scent of pastelito dough baking in flaky layers, you realize— you’ve arrived. It’s Cuba and you’re seeing it through the caramel-colored lense of Tropical Drinks Cuban Cuisine and Bakery.
Originally opened in 2009 by Cuban chef Edgar Galindo, the café underwent a renovation and re-opened to show off its charismatic interior two months ago.
At the right of its entrance, a corridor of the café dedicated to pastry cases and flavored coffees reminds you to save an appetite for dessert. Opposite of the bakery beckons a mini-Cuba that seats 45 in Renaissance style, brass-studded leather and wood chairs with lofty wooden tables fit for Morro Castle.
Taking several steps up to a table under the canopy of the “beach hut,” a raised platform railed-in by straw and green foliage at the center of a dining room modeled to look like one of Cuba’s coastal fortresses, you’re left to explore the sights while emptying a bowl of tostones. The lightly salted, crisp, fried green plantain chips arrive and are restocked before you’ve finished reading the menu.
Offered on its pages are specialty platillos— like Arroz con Pollo, Pollo Rancho Luna, and Ropa Vieja— that reflect Cuba’s Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese and Italian influences.
While traditional Cuban meals are not served in courses, being impatient to sample something from the bakery means starting with a savory chorizo-filled empanada, wrapped in just the right kind of buttery crust to contain the mildly sweet juice that drips when it’s cut.
Picadillo, or tomato infused, spiced, ground beef, rolled up in fried papa rellena as well as pimento garnished, creamy croquetas of shredded chicken are served in attractive little pairs that act as tapas while you wait for entrees, which can take 20 minutes to arrive.
Shredded beef simmered in lime and garlic then sautéed with onions until crispy, an entrée called “Vaca Frita,” is accompanied by fried, ripe plantains. The plantains’ sweetness is balanced with a side of Moros y Cristianos. Translated as “Moors (black beans) and Christians (white rice),” the famous, hearty dish refers to the Islamic conquest of Spain and the subsequent influence this had on Cuba.
Finishing with a guava and cream cheese-filled pastelito, a flaky and sugar-crusted pastry, Tropical Drinks Cuban Cuisine and Bakery offers a polished but exciting dining experience— complete with a lesson in Cuba’s rich cultural landscape plus live salsa music on Tuesday and Friday nights.
Tropical Drinks Cuban Cuisine and Bakery
Location: 21730 S. Vermont Avenue, Torrance, 310-320-3654
Prices: Tapas $3 to $6; Cuban sandwiches $5 to $7; entrees $9 to $12; lunch or dinner buffet $12; baked goods $2 to $7
Details: Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Cuban breakfast, 7 to 11 a.m. daily; Buffet lunch and sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; roasted pig buffet from 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays. Credit cards accepted. Lot parking.