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The Dish: Picadillo a la Criolla

The Location: Tropicana Majahual Restaurant, 8638 Flower Ave.,
Silver Spring, (301) 565-2036

The Price: $8.95

The Skinny: The woman at the bar talking on her cell phone—-clearly to some faceless phone operator for a corporate behemoth—-couldn’t take anymore bullshit and finally blurts out to no one in particular, “Sometimes I really fucking hate American culture.” She’s definitely in the right place to lose herself in another world. Tropicana Majahual may sit on Flower Avenue, just south of University Boulevard, but it feels as if it’s been airlifted from a dingy beach in Puerto Rico. A group of regulars are huddled at one end of the bar, ignoring the soccer match overhead in favor of their own private world of inside jokes and macho comfort. A bulky dude sits at the table across from mine, angrily pounding down as many Amstel Lights as he can while waiting on his to-go order. You wait a lot at Tropicana—-for everything. For the menu. For the food. For the check. For the check to be picked up. For the change. I spend some of my time examining the mural that covers almost an entire wall: It’s a beach scene with two kids frolicking in the foreground, horses wandering in the background, and a group of folks (including a shapely woman in a thong) huddled over a red car that has inexplicably stalled at the water line. With its mix of nature, family, sex, and auto maintenance, the artwork seems more mystifying to me than anything on Tropicana’s menu, which melds Cuban, Peruvian, and other Latin cuisines. I order the picadillo a la Criolla, a Cuban Creole dish that’s supposed to come with ground beef, green peppers, onions, raisins, and green olives. Mine arrives with what looks like a pair of raisins in a tomatoey sea of ground beef, corn, peas, and diced carrots. All the complex flavors I had been expecting have been lost in this hash of savory vegetable sweetness. I frankly don’t care. Tropicana adds its own spice to whatever comes out of the kitchen; it also asks—-no, demands—-that you do something that no modern, type-A restaurant would: chill the fuck out. Don’t look at the clock. Don’t worry about your next appointment. Don’t stare down the waitress so she’ll bring your check faster (guilty as charged!). This is easier said than done for some modern, type-A Americans.