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LA’s First-Ever Modern Oaxacan Coffee Bar Opens in Montebello

Eater logo Eater 7/28/2021 Matthew Kang
a plate of food on a table: Iced coffee drink at Cafe Santo. © Juan Renteria Iced coffee drink at Cafe Santo.

Last weekend at the soon-to-debut Blvd Market in Montebello, Cafe Santo was the outdoor food hall’s first vendor to fully open, serving Oaxacan-inspired drinks and memelas in an outfitted container to an excited queue of coffee fans. Founded by Pilar Casteñeda and Marlon Gonzalez, the once-roaming coffee stand, a fixture at places like the Silver Lake and South Gate farmers markets, has opened with sleek, minimal design meant to signal a more contemporary Oaxacan coffee experience.

While traditional Mexican and Oaxacan design and color schemes are more familiar to Angelenos, Castañeda and Gonzalez want to bring a more modern, artful look to Eastside coffee culture. Casteñeda, whose family hails from Jalisco and Veracruz but has roots in Oaxaca, grew up in Boyle Heights and moved to Montebello when she was ten. Gonzalez moved from Oaxaca to Los Angeles ten years ago, and together they both bring a chic sensibility while representing Latinos in the specialty coffee space. They brought on Oaxaca-based artists Mariana Rodriguez (Costra con Limón) and Juan Renteria (el Creativo) to add to the visual and artistic style of the brand. This more updated visual style isn’t unfamiliar for coffee drinkers in Mexico, from Ensenada and Tijuana in Baja California to Mexico City.

“I feel like there isn’t much representation in the coffee industry. We really wanted to show that Latinos can make good coffee with a really fresh look. There’s a new wave of artists that need to get attention from the U.S., and so that’s what we want to do. We want to bring an experience, not just serve coffee,” says Castañeda.

The most popular drink at Cafe Santo is the Oaxacan mocha, which uses chocolate sourced from Rito & Reigna Negra Chocolate in Oaxaca, incorporating ground almonds and cinnamon to flavor the espresso shots with steamed milk. Gonzalez brings about seven years of coffee experience to Cafe Santo, starting at Fred 62 in Los Feliz and then learning the craft at Habitat in Glassell Park. Since 2016, the duo has been serving at events, festivals, and farmers markets, saving up and eventually using their earnings to build out Cafe Santo’s first permanent space in Montebello. The cafe roasts coffee in Downtown LA through Post Era, sourcing beans from Oaxaca as well as other Latin American producers.

Other drinks include a matcha latte, vanilla, dirty chai, and cold brew, to go along with more familiar cappuccinos and drip coffee. A hot chocolate uses the cafe’s trademark Oaxacan chocolate while Gonzalez also prepares a choco-shot, a literal shot of 100 percent cacao for the true chocolate fans out there.

As for food, they’re starting with traditional Oaxacan memelas, fried masa slathered with asiento then covered with black beans and dressed with queso and salsa. Eventually they plan to add other typical morning coffee fare like avocado toast, eggs, and salads. With the name Cafe Santo, which means holy coffee, the idea is to denote how set apart their product is, with all the hands and effort that goes into producing it. With a strong opening here in Montebello, the goal is to eventually have Cafe Santo work as a sort of exchange with baristas from Oaxaca. The long term dream is to expand to the cafe to a location in Oaxaca.

Blvd Market opens to the public on August 21, with Cafe Santo as the vanguard spot that’s already serving from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., then 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.

a tall building: Cafe Santo in Montebello. © Cafe Santo Cafe Santo in Montebello.
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