Vacation Vibes

Tropicales Brings a Little Bit of Havana to the Heart of Houston

Latin cuisine, cocktails and coffee are all on the menu at this new cafe in West U.

By Baylea Jones May 7, 2019

Pan con aguacate

Image: Baylea Jones

With a menu of Latin-influenced cuisine, cocktails, and, of course, coffee, newly opened cafe Tropicales (2132 Bissonnet St.) aims for a Caribbean vacation vibe. 

Greenway Coffee owner David Buehrer heads the venture with Carlos Ballon as culinary director, with general manager Jill Bartolome and Kenny Freeman (formerly of Julep) overseeing the bar program.

The team of culinary powerhouses has executed the tropical theme down to every last detail. Natural light pours in through large glass windows creating an inviting atmosphere. Wicker chairs, light wood tables, jade accents, and the sleek stone bar add to the leisurely ambience while leafy green plants like ficuses and ivy recall tranquil rainforests.

Sandwiched between Greenway Plaza and Rice University, Tropicales is sure to attract professionals and students looking for a place to caffeinate, work, or relax. Buehrer envisions Tropicales as a cafe by day and a place to “pregame” with cocktails and light bites. Before a night on the town, fuel up with thick sliced strips of yuca fried to crispy perfection, dusted in tangy tajín, and joined by an acidic chimichurri dipping sauce.

Tropicales serves their full menu all day. Enjoy the breakfast tacos during lunch or a Cuban sandwich with coffee in the morning. Culinary director Carlos Ballon, a native of Peru, has his cultural fingerprints all over the dining menu. Peruvian and other Latin American staples include ceviche, plantains, yuca, nopales, and more.

The menu brims with vibrant dishes like pan con aguacate, Tropicales’s take on avocado toast. Here, handmade tlayuda with blue corn masa replaces the traditional bread base for a lighter alternative. The salmon ceviche, another standout, is refreshing and bright with crunchy house plantain chips balancing the delicate texture of the fish while a succulent marinade fuses the flavors of sweet coconut milk, spicy jalapeño, and tart mango pico de gallo.

The Avocolada, the Baby Moon, and the Powers of Peru

Image: Baylea Jones

Tropicales is accommodating of all diets and dietary restrictions. Many dishes like the Big Bend rice bowl and taquitos de pollo are already vegetarian or gluten-free while the cinnamon and panela oatmeal is vegan. Other items can be made vegetarian or vegan by request.

Turning to drinks, beverage consultant Kenny Freeman wants each cocktail to taste “lovable and adventurous with one main food element to latch onto.” Many drinks are tropical takes on classic cocktails. The avocolada, for example, starts with a piña colada and adds velvety avocado and key lime juice for a smooth, sea-foam finish. The Jade Palace marries matcha, egg white, and hopped grapefruit bitters that leave a pleasant twang on the tongue. The most visually striking cocktail is the Baby Moon, a stark white drink garnished with a popping pink layer of ground, dried hibiscus flowers.

Freeman also says “each drink will surprise you," a claim captivated perfectly in the Powers of Peru cocktail. Pisco, lemon, and agave pairs with fresh-squeezed bell pepper (yes, you read that correctly) for a palatable vegetal flavor that doesn’t overwhelm.

On the cafe side of things, the guava de olla, a creamy concoction of guava cream, almond milk, and matcha tea; the rich and decadent dulce de leche latte; and the café bombón, a layered shot of espresso and condensed packing quite a caffeine kick, are sure to delight.

Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. and a resort-style brunch buffet will be served on Sundays. 

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