Think Outside Of Your Fast-Food Bubble
By Andy Cheng
Among UC Riverside students, the Inland Empire is notorious for having minimal selections of competent, economically efficient restaurants. Let’s see . . . there’s McDonalds, KFC, Santana’s . . . Problem is, we just don’t know where to look.
Students scarcely wander too far from their watering holes, but enter Rancho Cucamonga and there’s an entire culture of magnificent cuisine. Add Tropica to that list of undiscovered gems in the Inland Empire.
Located right next to Victoria Gardens, Tropica is the newest addition to eateries popping up in the IE. Founded by the beautiful owner Zara Ghomri, the place is new, clean and displays these cute, miniature electronic candles at each table that resemble a semi-fancy diner. The place is dimly lit, the walls plastered with big flat-screen TVs showing New Girl next to Jeremy Lin vs. the Lakers. I don’t go to enough bars to know what distinguishes a bar from a bar restaurant; I just know that this restaurant seamlessly appears as both a bar and a restaurant. Decently spacious with a full bar area and bartender and a multitude of dining tables, Tropica looks similar to a T.G.I. Fridays or Chili’s, but the food is much tastier and the environment less raucous.
Indeed, the mood of Tropica is very much like a bar restaurant, but that doesn’t mean the restaurant serves half-assed burger and fries. No, Tropica’s chef makes the best damn pizzas I’ve ever had (much, much better than California Pizza Kitchen)! We ordered five different pizzas from the extensive menu. The BBQ Chicken Pizza contained very tender shredded chicken breast topped with BBQ sauce, red onions and cheese. Biting into a slice was like a burst of flavor; an orgy in my mouth. The Pesto Chicken Pizza harbored the same chicken breast with tomatoes, artichoke hearts and a creamy pesto sauce, and a slightly peculiar but decorative basil leaf on each slice. The Mediterranean Pizza was more of a vegetarian pizza—mushrooms, tomatoes, green peppers, olives and cheese—and was juicy. The Margherita Pizza was a perfect blend of tomato, olive oil, basil and cheese. The Pepperoni & Mushroom Pizza (which incidentally contained no mushrooms since they ran out; it was just Pepperoni Pizza) was just okay, but was redeemed through its crunchy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside crust and fresh marinara sauce, a facet of every pizza Tropica churned out.
But that’s just the foreplay. While my companions ordered their pizzas, I got a taste of the chef’s real mastery: Chicken Milanese pasta. This combination of a large sautéed chicken filet and spaghetti topped with marinara and creamy asiago sauce was like biting into culinary euphoria. With one of the juiciest pieces of chicken I’ve ever had, this dish is served to be both taste appealing and aesthetically pleasing, like you’re eating at some fancy, expensive diner. Oh, it also comes with two slices of crunchy garlic bread! Also recommended on the menu are the Wings, which come in a number of flavors like buffalo and BBQ.
It’s easy to assume that all of this gourmet-quality food would be worth a pretty penny, but luckily Tuesday was happy hour for pizza, which meant that all pizzas were half off. The five pizzas equaled way less than what we’d expected, and the menu selections are all relatively cheap. Tropica epitomizes the old Confucian proverb, “It tastes better when it’s cheap.”
If you’re thinking craving some good pizzas anytime soon, or just want some quality American cuisine at a great price, Tropica is worthy of your taste buds, and certainly worth the money.
Tropica, 11849 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 481-9500. Sun-Thurs, 11AM-10PM. Fri Sat 11AM-1AM. M, V.