Tropical Mexico, 1371 S. East End Ave. (at Grand), Pomona; open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Tropical Mexico opened in 1967, making it almost certainly Pomona’s oldest extant Mexican restaurant, and one of the oldest in the area. It’s located off in the hinterlands in an industrial stretch. You may think you’ve been misdirected until, rounding a bend, suddenly you find a restaurant. Next door is a pallet yard, pallets stacked in towers as if laid in for lean times.
I’d been to Trop Mex, as regulars call it, just once, in 2006, although I’m a fan of Mexico Lindo south of downtown Pomona, until recently owned by the same family. A friend wanted to eat at Trop Mex and three of us joined him.
The parking lot is so expansive, with a circular layout, that one leg of the lot has its own stop sign.
Inside, the layout and feel are different than the more rustic, semi-outdoor experience of my memory. A friend who’s been eating there for decades told me later that indeed, the restaurant used to be “darker, smaller, seedier,” with an open patio and a lot of paintings on velvet. (The classic of dogs playing poker, he assured me, is still on view, a boon for art lovers.)
Today there are two dining rooms. We were in the main one, with a high ceiling, skylight, tiled floors, paintings of Mexican Independence figures and murals.
The menu seems the same as Mexico Lindo’s, with breakfasts, seafood, leaning toward plates rather than a la carte items, and with beer. Chips, warm and fresh, and salsa were delivered to our table.
The friend who invited us got a chicken burrito ($7.15), enchilada style ($2.75), seen above. Our vegan friend didn’t find much on the menu but got two potato tacos, below ($5.84). “Not many choices for a vegan, but they were accommodating,” she said.
A third got a shrimp burrito ($9.90), below. He praised it as “shrimp-tastic,” adding, “They were not stingy with the shrimp.”
Lastly, I got the steak picado plate, which came with rice and beans ($14.76) as well as soup or salad; I got the albondigas soup.
The soup was fine. I have to say, my steak picado was a bit fatty and gristly, the “Mexican” rice was dry and the beans were gluey. I’ve had a much better version of this plate (and for $9.65, or $5.11 cheaper, albeit without soup or salad) at El Patron in Rancho Cucamonga.
The friend who invited us and got the chicken burrito said: “Perfectly delicious, but there are perfectly delicious places closer to my house. What appeals to me is the murals. I wouldn’t come back just for the food, but there’s the ambiance.”
My absent friend, the one who’s been eating here for years, told me something similar. He said he’d give the food a B-minus, but that he has had birthday dinners here regardless because the space can accommodate groups small and large, and there’s just something about the restaurant’s feel and its obscure location that are appealing.
I get it entirely. There’s no place in the valley quite like Trop Mex.