Summary: This tiny restaurant presents great tasting if not totally authentic Ghanaian food and friendly service.
I first came across Tropical Paradise, a Ghanaian restaurant in Berkeley, in the electronic pages of (where else?) the East Bay Express. The review of this relatively new restaurant was quite positive, and as a lover of West African food (some of my first culinary efforts were based on the recipes in the African News Cookbook) I knew I had to try it. In the meantime, my friends Aamani and Victoria (who is married to a Ghanaian) had also heard about the restaurant and were planning on going - so we all decided to go together and bring our husbands and children. That we did early on a Saturday evening in May 2005. We made reservations as we were going to be twelve (plus 3 babies) and they prepared a long table for us.
The little restaurant is conveniently located on University Avenue, near Shattuck. It features a brief menu that includes some of the most traditional Ghanian dishes: chicken and beef chichinga (skewers of meat marinated in mustard, lemon juice, ginger juice and garlic), fufu (yam or plantain dumplings) with your choice of soup, kenkey (fermented corn dumplings) with your choice of stew and kelewele (ginger fried plantains) among others. Entrees come with a side of jollof rice, kelewele and either spinach stew or black-eyed peas, but you can also order some of the items a la carte. Prices range from $5.50 for two skewers of chicken chichinga to $15.50 for the grilled salmon dinner.
With twelve people at the table, we got to order a little bit of everything; the consensus was that all the dishes were good to excellent. The one dissenting voice was Geoffrey, the sole Ghanaian among us, who felt that the dishes were incorrectly spiced, lacked the needed complexity and were almost uniformly disappointing. He did like the jollof rice, however and even he couldn't deny how delicious the friend plantains were.
Of the dishes I tasted, I liked the friend plantains the best. They came as a side to my beef chichinga dinner ($9.50) but you can also order them separately ($6.50 for a fairly large portion). Next time I'll definitely do so as those were the best fried plantains I've ever eaten. They were cooked to a perfect consistency, not too soft, not too firm, sweet but not overwhelmingly so and were just delicious.
We also really enjoyed the chicken chichinga; it was moist and had a new flavor, somewhat acidic, and quite inviting. The children all liked it. We were not so fond of the beef chichinga. The marinade was good, but the beef itself was too tough. Do yourself a favor and go with the chicken.
Mike ordered the peanut soup with plantain fufu. The peanut soup was excellent, with a strong peanut flavor, somewhere between peanut butter and Thai peanut sauce. It's definitely a must for any peanut lover. The dumplings themselves had too mild a flavor to compete with the soup, but they provided substance to it. You definitely should order it.
I ordered their special punch, the name of which I don't remember, but it was a fruit drink spiced with ginger. It was very good, refreshing and with a nice kick. I'd order it again.
People in our party also raved about the spinach and the salmon.
Service was friendly and competent, especially considering that the sole waitress had to deal with all twelve of us (plus the babies) as well as other tables. They were wonderful in setting the table for us, getting us enough high chairs and booster seats and accommodating needs such as getting some food quickly to the table to feed hungry children.
The restaurant itself is pretty small but pleasant. All the tables have a view of the kitchen and of the Nigerian-looking gentleman dressed in Nigerian green working there.
In all, we were all very happy with our experience there and would definitely go back.
2021 University Ave
M-F 11:00am - 11:00pm
Saturday 5:00pm - midnight