Cazon Tropical

subject: Cazon Tropical
take-out vehicle: styrofoam boxes
cost: $10.33

I've known about Cazon Tropical for a long time, but it had been almost impossible to remember to go there...until yesterday afternoon. Finally reminded, I was soon faced with another challenge: deciding what to get.

After staring at the menu for much longer than I should have, unable to choose one main dish, I decided to order three items from the appetizer list: the pupusas (one pork and cheese, one zucchini and cheese, and one bean and cheese), a pastelitos de carne, and the empanada de plantano.

(It's worth mentioning that it took an incredible amount of willpower to not eat this food on my way home from the restaurant. Its aroma was absolutely incredible. It's probably fortunate that all food doesn't smell that good...if it did, we'd have all died from obesity long, long ago.)

Through a happy stroke of luck, I ate the pupusas in order from least tasty to most. The bean pupusa, which I ate first, seemed to lack any bean flavor, and the combination of the mushy beans and cheese made the pupusa heavier than I would have preferred. The zucchini pupusa, while having no zucchini that I discern, seemed lighter and somehow fresher. Perhaps the zucchini was peeled and grated? If so, its color would have almost matched the cheese's and would explain why I didn't notice it. The last pupusa I ate was the pork pupusa, and it was very good. The pork provided a nice bit of texture against the cheese and the slight doughy-ness of the pupusa, and its meaty flavor came through well.

The pupusas were served with curtido and the house red sauce. The curtido was pretty mild but interesting, and though vastly dissimilar to the Mexican variety at La Michoacana, it definitely provided some much needed contrast to the grease of the pupusas. The red sauce didn't do a whole lot for me, however. It was pretty thin and consisted (I think) of tomatoes, a touch of vinegar, onion, salt, and some other spices, but overall its flavor was pretty weak. I appreciated it the most with the bean pupusa and the pastelitos de carne.

Unlike with the bean pupusa, where it simply added flavor, the red sauce was a nice complement to the pastelito, which was very meaty. Filled with beef and peppers and ever-so-slightly crisp on the outside, it resembled a cross between a beef taco and a donut. I was a fan.

Lastly, I came to the empanada. It was a lot softer than I expected, but it tasted better than I had hoped. Imagine a warm Twinkie made from a deep-fried plantain instead of chemically-tasting cake. The exterior coated with course sugar, and the center filled with a thick milk-based cream, I suspect it was the origin of the wonderful aroma that filled my car on the way home, and it tasted every bit as good.

So how come I kept forgetting about this place? Well, probably because it's buried in Woodbrook Shopping Center, has no illuminated sign, doesn't advertise itself very well (if at all), and no one I know has ever gone there. I'm sure I would have continued to forget if not for one of my favorite local food-finding sites, so I have to say thanks to it.

According to its rating there, Cazon Tropical is one of the top-rated places in Charlottesville. I don't think can agree with that just yet, but considering I only ordered appetizers, it certainly deserves another visit or two. The cazuela cazon looks like an adventure, and I am compelled to try the tacos. Either way, I'll be getting another order of the empanadas de plantanos. Dems sum reel good eatin'.

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