It’s always seemed to me that the most promising and exciting Mexican food in Southern California is made in the famed food trucks that never seem to make it to Claremont, with the exception of Harwood Halloween 2011, when Pomona was so terrified of a campus-wide alcohol poisoning plague that they brought in a professional Mexican taco truck. (They also brought in a crepe truck. They ran out of crepe batter just as I reached the front of the line—can you imagine a more horrifying experience? I was so distraught I frantically asked them for some Nutella, literally “a plate with some Nutella on it,” and the crepe-maker guy simultaneously refused and gave me one of those looks of pity normally reserved for puppies in distress.)
Unfortunately, at some budget meeting last semester, some competent individual realized that drunk college students do not require gourmet Nutella crepes to slow down alcohol poisoning, and, alas, Harwood Halloween 2012 only served up bad french fries and grilled cheese this year.
That leaves Claremont residents with Mexican restaurants, and, considering that over a third of Los Angeles is Mexican, that’s not something to whine about. But I’ve always felt—and this may sound a little blasphemous—that authentic Mexican food plateaus at some point around “this tortilla is really fresh” and “these beans have a nice texture.” Because that level of authenticity is reasonably abundant, it’s not something to get excited about, at least not necessarily to the extent of scouring L.A. neighborhoods searching for the best burrito. Normally my judging wildcard for Mexican spots is salsa: If there is a good number of spicy, fresh salsas at a restaurant, I’m generally a fan.
Tropical Mexico, located 10 minutes from campus in Pomona, reminded me of a second wildcard: ceviche. If you’re one of the uninitiated, ceviche is essentially raw fish marinated (or “cooked”) in citrus juice. Ceviche is one of Latin America’s greatest creations, and, unlike burritos, it definitely can reach a “wow” level. This is most true with Peruvian ceviche—and, to an extent, Bolivian ceviche—but Mexican ceviche can still be pretty good. And Tropical Mexico has ceviche served on a tostada for four dollars. Even if it’s not the best ceviche I’ve had, it’s probably the cheapest.
Tropical Mexico also has everything else you need in a good Mexican spot: free chips, cheap tacos ($1 on Tuesdays), high-quality ingredients, a lot of carbs, and even spicy salsa. It also has a friendly staff, so friendly that they have a startling 4.5-star rating on Yelp. Is it actually worthy of all 4.5 stars? It might as well be: The tortillas were fresh, and the beans had a nice texture.
Tropical Mexico. 1371 SE End Ave. Pomona, CA 91766. (909) 623-7573.