I finally found the west’s version of Hialeah/Miami Lakes.
It turns out that the majority of Cubans left Echo Park and ended up in two neighboring towns, one named Bell and the other named after a fabric softener.
Downey, as in ¿Le echaste ‘dauni’ a la lavadora?, is in many ways fancier than Bell. And in true Cuban form, no one likes to talk about or admit they live in Bell (even though it has the highest Cuban population of a western city at 2.5 percent), so Downey has become the de facto Havana West. Plus it recently got a Porto’s Bakery, which is the official way Cubans plant a flag – with croquetas and pastelitos de guayaba.
I drove into Downey with the windows down, blasting Celia Cruz’s Quimbara and screaming ¿Qué bolá?, but I never found an asere wearing nothing but a ribbed undershirt and cargo shorts to wave back at me. Instead the houses were perfectly manicured, none with boats or saints enshrined on the lawn. It was all terribly disappointing until I found Tropicana Bakery & Cuban Cafe.
The first thing you’re met with at Tropicana is a line. A line for the cafe, a line for the restaurant and line for the bathroom. The next thing you’re met with is una tremenda bulla, especially if someone is celebrating a birthday. The entire staff comes out to serenade you and they are not afraid to jam out on the tumbadoras and bongoses.
By the time I got to the bakery counter, I ordered a cluster of pasteles finos: Una señorita de azúcar, una panetela borracha y un capuchino (this could also double as an accurate description of my early twenties).
I took my bag of type 2 diabetes home so I could properly eat my señorita the way God intended: without a shirt on and over a sink so that fist glob of custard and powdered sugar doesn’t end up on your clothes and the floor. I took that first bite and it was glorious. Still makes my mouth water typing this right now.
I will definitely be back for more of everything.
If you go: Tropicana Bakery & Cuban Cafe is located at 10218 Paramount Blvd. There’s plenty of street parking on Paramount.
What to have: Pastelitos and pasteles finos are quite delicious. Por los ojos, their cakes are works of art and look pretty amazing. Now that I know where el barrio is at, I’ll have to return for lunch – if I’m lucky to grab a table.