Its move to East State Boulevard was a rather quiet one, which made sense given its existence had been rather quiet since it opened a decade ago.
The new Tropic Chicken has changed more than its location over the years, too. The delicious roasted chicken that in its early days was the linchpin of the eatery, which was hidden in the corner of a shopping center along Taylor Street just west of Broadway, is nowhere to be found now. The sign now states it features “Dominican food and taqueria,” but it is far more of the latter.
Yes, there is still a cafeteria-style service case where customers can choose stewed meats and beans and different styles of rice to create a hot plate, and that is still a good choice any day of the week. But now tacos, gorditas, pambazos, burritos and the like are front and center on the menu with the three measly Dominican selections buried on the back page.
Most of the Mexican dishes were favorable. The tacos – I tried an al pastor marinated pork, a carne asada, a chicken and a ground beef – were all nicely made with double tortillas, fresh cilantro and onions, and were nicely garnished with cucumber slices, a cooked onion and a cooked jalapeño in addition to limes.
I would not opt for ground beef again, however, as it just wasn't flavorful enough and didn't provide enough texture in a traditional taco form. The chicken was easily the star. Tropic Chicken knows how to cook it right, and I loved finding bits of celery that showed me it was slow cooked the right way.
The gorditas – meat sandwiched between two fried masa patties with cheese, lettuce and sour cream – were even better as the masa was perfectly cooked and brought a lot more corn flavor than the regular corn tortillas.
The enchiladas meal had three corn tortillas with stewed chicken inside – the same tasty stewed chicken in that cafeteria case – and was topped with a standard old-school red sauce, lettuce, onions and a drizzle of sour cream.
The chicken was rather scant and I think I would have much rather had two enchiladas that were stuffed better instead of the three I got. The raw onions were the only truly poor part of the dish as they were quite strong and somewhat abrasive on the palate. The rice and beans on the side were pretty mundane.
My supreme combo ground beef-chorizo was a total failure. It had french fries instead of rice, which is odd, but I knew that going in. What I didn't know was that the menu-promised refried beans or sour cream would be left out of it. There were a few avocados and tomatoes at least – but not near enough – and the meat was nice, but it was way more lettuce than anything
I was also disappointed by the eltoes – Mexican street corn. The big cob looked great with mayonnaise, spices, cheese and crema, but it was so overcooked it had zero texture and it also had zero flavor. I took two bites and was done with it.
The same two-bite result happened with the only Dominican offering I tried, a cheese empanada. It arrived sitting in a pool of grease on wax paper in a little basket; it was shiny from all the grease and it reeked of old oil. I did try it only to discover it tasted as bad as it smelled.
Even the water was bad during this visit as the folks at Tropic Chicken didn't seem to think adding ice to it was a good idea, so it was quite tepid. The service during all of my visits was questionable as the food took a very long time to be served. I will give them credit for providing tableside service, however, as most taquerias require you to order from a counter.
The inside of Tropic Chicken was also well done so it had a rather new, clean look that was a big improvement over what the former location looked like. I also think the location is a bonus because there is no real competition when it comes to that kind of fare.
I would return, but I would stick to the tacos or the hot bar because venturing deeper into the menu only left me wishing I hadn't.
Restaurant: Tropic Chicken
Address: 3307 E. State Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Empanada ($1.50), burrito supreme ($9.95), enchiladas ($8.99), tacos ($2), gorditas ($7.95 for 2)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five