John T. Griffith 5:14 p.m., May 22
A recent, fabulous couple of weeks in Colombia introduced me to another side of Latin American cuisine, and left me craving that wicked, evil, heart-attack-on-a-plate delight, chicharrón.
Never mind that I had ordered it practically every day while I was there, including twice during the same meal, much to my waiter’s amusement - he clearly thought I was crazy.
Luckily for me, this is the age of Google, and a quick search turned up Tropical Star on Balboa Avenue in Linda Vista, mere minutes from my apartment. Tropical Star features dishes from several South American countries, as well as Puerto Rican and Cuban fare.
The appetizer menu has a pretty impressive variety of plates, all inexpensive, but there was no question that we’d order Chicharrón con Arepa ($3.95) to share. Colombian chicharrón include not only the skin, but about an inch or so of pork meat and fat, deep-fried golden brown and crackling. I told you they were evil.
These were satisfyingly crisp, with nicely chewy skin. The accompanying arepa was griddle cooked very well, a thin, crunchy crust gave way to tender, steaming hot insides.
For his entrée, John chose the Tamal Colombiano ($7.95), a mixture of pork, chicken and vegetables, covered with a cornmeal base and wrapped in a banana leaf for steaming.
Moist and savory, with tender pieces of meat, it was pure comfort food. Sides were a tomatoey, spicy seasoned rice and an arepa.
I ordered the national dish of Colombia, Bandeja Paisa ($12.95). It’s a big plate of food, and while it’s not actually a Paisa platter by the strictest definition, it satisfied my appetite just fine.
Slices of well-seasoned beef were fork-tender, with meltingly soft, buttery fried ripe plantains providing a sweet balance. White rice, red beans, more chicharrón, a fried egg, arepa and avocado rounded out the feast. More than enough to take home for tomorrow’s dinner.
Tropical Star is also a market, so you can pick up panela, arequipe, chocolate de mesa, and other necessities while you’re there. Catering is also available.
Balboa Crest Shopping Center
6163 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111
Monday - Saturday - 11am to 9pm
Free lot parking.