Cafe Tropical has been a Silversun hangout for over three decades.
Silver Lake is pretty far along in its gentrification, so it’s hard to imagine a time when the corner of Sunset & Silver Lake was still teeming with drugs and violence. Apparently that was the case when lawyer Jeff Bey first started drinking coffee there in the ’80s. Things have certainly changed at Silversun since Bey bought the purple-hued Cuban fixture in 1990. However, Café Tropical’s commitment to cheap Cuban comfort food has remained the same since 1975.
Café Tropical has a community feel, where locals linger over sugary shots of espresso or write at wooden tables. Che Guevara appears frequently on the walls. Colorful plastered balloons hang from the ceiling. Order at the counter, from an overhead photo menu.
Café Tropical is acclaimed for pressed Cuban sandwiches, which are tastier (and greasier) than any I’ve eaten in Miami. The medianoche ($5.25) is especially impressive (and greasy), sweet yellow bread surrounding browned slices of roast pork and ham, oozing Swiss cheese, pickles and mayo.
Improbably, Café Tropical’s best sandwich contains no pork. The turkey sandwich ($6) appears like the café downgraded from thick slices of fresh-cut turkey to cold cuts. Thankfully, the flavor was still terrific. The sandwich also includes mayo, crisp iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato and mustard.
Cafe Tropical’s always-packed dessert case contains fruit turnovers, chocolate nNpoleons, honey horns and more, but guava and cream cheese pie ($2.25 per slice) is undoubtedly the house specialty. Flaky pastry arrives warm, so the cream cheese slab melts at first bite.
Tropical shakes come in flavors like guanabana, mango or mamey (pictured). They’re made from refrigerated fruit chunks, and probably contain too much milk – a diluting influence – but they’re still a cool foil to hot sandwiches.
Of course flavor is paramount on Food GPS, but it’s still worth noting that Bey is a progressive owner who embraces Silver Lake’s increasingly green ethos. His plates, utensils and cups are all compostable, made from corn and other repurposed produce.
It’s easy to bemoan the lack of interesting eating options in Silver Lake. Then again, I take some places for granted, like Café Tropical.