Figuring out where to meet a buddy for lunch today. We love to find delicious, fun, inexpensive places. Well, I was reading the L.A. Times "50 Meals Under $5" feature which was linked by Midtown Lunch Los Angeles, and they listed a Tropicana Bakery and Cafe. It looked good (anybody checked it out?) but then I thought that Portos had branched out into the area, and we decided to try the popular veteran.
Great decision. The Downey location is large, with lines on the right side for the bakery (and a separate small line on the extreme right for whole cakes, with employees writing lettering with icing to order as I watched). Around the corner to the left was the line for the cafe. You order your savory treats and these are bagged, then order your sandwiches or salads and are given a number to display where you find a table to sit. Very busy, very fast-moving.
I had to try the potato balls, and these were as good as I hoped -- moist, tasty ground beef surrounded by mashed potatoes, covered with bread crumbs and fried. Crispy, soft, savory, a real winner of a dish. I ordered the medianoche sandwich, which is the same as the cubano but with softer, sweeter bread. I really liked it -- a very satisfying sandwich at under $5 -- and my friend said his cubano was the best sandwich he ever ate. I also had the chicken croquette, really good; the ground beef in puff pastry, really nice pastry and you couldn't really see the ground beef but I could taste it; and a fountain drink. More than I should have eaten for well under $10.
I bought some bakery items to take home: a butter croissant, a pineapple and cheese danish, a lemon moussy thing, a strawberry shortcake thing, and a Cuban sweet bread item covered with powdered sugar. Not hungry enough to sample them yet.
It was a long drive from the westside for me, but well worth it. And there is so much more I haven't sampled yet, though it will be hard not to order these same items again. Portos ownership -- keep an eye out for large vacant westside storefronts, 'cuz I've found a new favorite.