David Buehrer wants Houstonians to feel like they can get away from it all without leaving town. That’s the driving force behind Tropicales Café Y Comida, which will open on Sunday, May 5 at 2132 Bissonnet St. Buehrer, owner of Greenway Coffee Company, partnered with Steve and Hilary Ybarra on the concept.
“I wanted to lean into their heritage,” Buehrer tells CultureMap, referencing both the Ybarras’ Latin American roots and the Peruvian background of chef Carlos Ballon. “The idea is for this café to feel like a Gulf Coast vacation with a heavy Latin influence.”
That’s achieved first in the restaurant’s look, courtesy of Michael Hsu with bright, blonde woods and green palms, accented by bronze metal mesh and darker brown wooden chairs. Upon entry, the coffee bar sits inviting to the left, with a huge wall board announcing options such as the flat white, iced coffee and espresso.
The bar unfolds from the coffee area, glass jars of cinnamon sticks and plantains sitting invitingly on its jade-green top. Cozy seating inside and out make for an inviting space to while away a morning or afternoon. The whole place could easily exist as a fast-casual concept at an island resort.
A little Miami
Buehrer says he wants guests to feel like they’ve wandered in 1980s Miami, laced with touches of 1950s Havana and 1920s El Floridita. That’s reflected in the menu, which brings together familiar comforts with a little Latin kick. For instance, the Pan Con Aguacate is Tropicales’ take on avocado toast.
“Avocado toast is rampant in the café scene,” laughs Buehrer. “But it’s usually on this thick, heavy bread – it’s like it’s glutenous in a gluten-free world. So we put our own twist on it, and it’s inherently gluten-free.”
Tropicales swaps out the bread for a blue corn tlayuda, a traditional dish of Oaxaca, topped with refried beans, fresh avocado, crumbly cotija cheese, a house-made seed mix and mango pico de gallo. The beachy dish marries sweet mango mingling with the rich, savory creaminess of the black beans and avocado. Also look for the salmon ceviche, which features a crunch of red onion and sassy jalapeños in it.
“We want to be an environmental café,” says Beuhrer. “When you’re here, you should feel all the elements come together to evoke somewhere else. We use a lot of fruit in our dishes, we’re using yucca instead of potatoes in our breakfast options.”
Shaking it up with cocktails
Those fresh flavors extend into the cocktail program, overseen by Kenny Freeman. His craft list includes contemporary selections inspired both by classics like the daiquiri and mojito, as well as flavors that captured Freeman’s imagination.
“I wanted to do something with avocado,” he says. “Since we have avocados aplenty here. The same with bell peppers.”
The Avocolada, Freeman’s embodiment of how to make avocado the base of a drink, is a cooling concoction of coconut and tequila and lime, running around the savoriness of the avocado. Freeman’s using both coconut cream and coconut rum, as well as a key lime blend in the drink. The pureed avocado gives it a creamy texture. Freeman’s even garnished it with grated avocado pit.
But the list’s real standout is the Powers of Peru, a zippy, savory little libation of bell pepper juice and pisco, blended with lemon and agave, then topped with Cava. It’s the kind of cocktail that should pair well with the sizzling fajitas.
Freeman’s also crafted a wine list that incorporates offerings from South America and Spain and a craft beer selection chosen for its quality as much for its funky, vacation-evoking labels.
Tropicales serves all of its menu items all day long. Cocktail service begins at 10 am, with a happy hour from 4 to 6 pm, Monday through Friday where drinkers can opt for $3 Modelos, or $5 house red, white and sparkling wines, as well as margaritas and Old Fashioneds.
Buehrer says reaction from the soft opening has been positive. He thinks the location, which he calls “one of the most iconic corners in Houston,” will prove advantageous, with easy access to the Museum District, Rice Village, Greenway Plaza, and Upper Kirby. There’s also ample parking.
Tropicales; 2132 Bissonnet St.; Monday through Thursday from 7 am to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday from 7 am to 11 pm; Sunday from 7 am to 3 pm.