Carry-out service. Accessible for wheelchairs. No credit cards accepted. Open Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, 2 to 9 p.m.

We looked around at the empty tables, at the combo setting up their sound equipment and realized that even though the restaurant offered meals 24 hours a day, the action probably didn't get started until after the last show atthe movie theater next door.

We moved back out to the street, onto Flower Avenue where it crosses Piney Branch Road in Takoma Park. Thsi is an old commercial area, filled with a jumble of stores and shopping centers, pretty much unchanged since they were built back in the 1930s and 40s.

Several little restaurants and carryout places were scattered around the area. We picked out the Tropicana, which advertised itself as Cuban-Italian. It was a luck choice.

The small eating area with its orange walls and its tables covered with red and white oil cloth was spartan but clean. The six of us were quickly given our menus, written mostly in Spanish but with English translations.

The Tropicana must be the only place in town where you can get a pizza burger with an order of fried plantain. Or lasagna with black beans and rice on the side. Or where you can knock back a glass of papaya juice with your ham and cheese sandwich.

Everything is ala cart but so inexpensive (the highest price was $3.95 for shrimp creole) that you can afford to experiment with the side dishes.

The kids were timid about the Cuban items, but when they saw the empanada I ordered, they all wanted bites. This small pastry with a spicy meat filling is made on the premises, like all of Tropicana's creations, and was a crowd pleaser.

My husband began with Cuban minestrone soup, 75 cents, made with vegetables and noodles and - here's the difference - chicken livers. He wasn't used to meeting up with chicken livers in that setting, but the rest of the soup was fine.

He then had carne con papas, $2.95, a Cuban style stew with chunks of beef, vegetables and what we think was plantain in a light tomato sauce - very good. I had ropa vieja, $2.95, which was shredded flank steak in a sauce like the one on the stew. There was a huge amount of meat.

The third adult with us had pollo enchilada, $3.25, the best dish of the evening. The dish consists of big pieces of boneless chicken served up in a spicy sauce full of herbs. Like the other entrees, it came with white rice you can mix with black beans served on the side.

One child ordered steak and onions. The meat looked badly overcooked to me, But our daughter liked it. Her only disappointment was that we were in the wrong place for soy sauce, and what she said when we offered her black beans need not be repeated.

Our other child had spaghetti with tomato sauce and one giant meatball perched in the middle of it. She also had a garden salad which she rapidly devoured, having removed every trace of onion.

The third younster with us had lasagna, $2.60, which was rich with cheese, but should have been hotter. Otherwise, it surpassed the lasagna offered in many higher priced Italian restaurants.

We could not resist trying an order of yuca roots, 60 cents. The flavor was fine, a cross between potato and turnip, and the roots had been boiled or steamed with onions. But the texture was leaden, like wet lumps of kapok. We attributed this more to the yuca than to the cooking method.

The desserts all cost 65 cents and include things like fresh papaya with cream cheese and guava shells filled with cheese. We had flan, a beautiful, smooth rendition fof this classis custard dessert served with caramel sauce.

No alcoholic beverages are served, but you can get pina coladas without the rum, tropical milkshakes made with mangos or plantain, or Spanish cider. We finished the meal with already sweetened, thick espresso coffee served in dollhouse-sized cups.

The bill for adults and two children, including tip was $20.50.

Carry-out service. Accessible for wheelchairs. No credit cards accepted. Open Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, 2 to 9 p.m.