Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Tropical Smoothie Cafe might be best described as Jamba Juice with food, but that also might be a bit reductive. First off it might be reductive because Jamba Juice also has food, albeit less than Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and secondly because Tropical Smoothie has a huge food menu, much larger than Jamba Juice’s.

Also, this unassuming brand has much less notoriety than Jamba Juice, but Tropical Smoothie Cafe is ubiquitous in Northern Virginia. The restaurant franchise, which goes by Tropical Smoothie, has 29 locations in Northern Virginia, and another few if you include locations in Maryland and West Virginia in the count.

And, upon dining at the Falls Church location on a weekday afternoon, I found that there is a contingency of young folks (read: trendsetters) who know about this brand. It reminds me of Jamba Juice a decade ago, except that it’s much less pretentious and the customer base is much more diverse. I like diversity.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe also has a diverse menu, and most of the options on the menu can be made vegan. All of the menu can be made vegetarian. Every location of the franchise serves Beyond Meat chicken, which warms my heart and fills my belly. Most of what the eatery offers in the way of food are handhelds, a recent industry buzzword which I abhor but is fitting in this case.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s food menu is separate into the following categories: Tacos, Flatbreads, Wraps, Sandwiches, Salads, All Day Breakfast and Kids Food.

The restaurant also offers seasonal specialty menu items. Currently they’ve got a trio called the Luau Sliders, the Hawaiian BBQ Pork Slider, the Caribbean Jerk Slider and the Sweet Sriracha Chicken Slider, all of which are served on a Hawaiian-style bun. To make them vegan, the Hawaiian BBQ Pork Slider and the Sweet Sriracha Chicken Slider would have to be stripped down so much that it wouldn’t really be worth it.

Out of the trio, the Caribbean Jerk Chicken Slider, with jerk sauce and a house-made pineapple and mango salsa, is the tastiest. It’s similar to the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wrap ($6.99), but the house-made salsa sets it apart and contrasts well with the spicy bite of the jerk sauce.

Speaking of the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wrap, Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s jerk sauce is one of the most authentic-tasting attempts at emulating the popular Caribbean seasoning/sauce I’ve ever tasted. The wrap itself, with Southwestern rice with corn, black beans and asparagus, red onions and low-fat mozzarella, has enough protein to satisfy those vegans/vegetarians who prefer not to eat meat substitutes.

There’s also the Hummus Veggie ($6.99), which comes with pepper jack, Southwestern rice with corn, black beans and asparagus, red onions, romaine lettuce, tomatoes and a light Southwest ranch dressing in a garlic herb tortilla, for those who are looking for a vegan/vegetarian dish without the meat substitute.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s smoothie menu has over 30 options, not including their specialty menu items. Currently, they’re offering the Cucumber Mojito Smoothie and Watermelon Mojito Smoothie to go along with the aforementioned Luau Sliders. The Watermelon Mojito Smoothie is good, but a little too light for my tastes.

The Pomegranate Plunge ($5.29) from Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s Superfoods menu, with pomegranate, banana, strawberries and cranberries, is more up my alley. It’s sweet and hearty with a touch of sour. I guess the only real complaint about this place is that it doesn’t have vegan options for their Indulgent (read: dessert) smoothies, but it might just be a matter of time considering that they serve Beyond Meat.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which has been around for nearly 20 years, went on a mission of expanding their franchise at a clip – one new store opening every 6-7 days – as a celebration of their 10th anniversary in 2007.

That might explain why the franchise has so many locations in Northern Virginia. It’s been a while since that rapid growth period. Hopefully the adage “If you build it, [they] will come,” from “Field of Dreams” is true, because this restaurant deserves it.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe | 6110 Arlington Blvd. | Falls Church | tropicalsmoothiecafe.com