Mexican-Inspired Contemporary Cafe Opening in Riverbank CA

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In the age of drive-thru and hand-holding, sitting down for a quiet cup of coffee or a sweet treat can seem like a luxury.

But it’s exactly that kind of personal, homemade touch — like drinking your latte from a real mug instead of a paper cup — that makes Riverbank’s new Palo Santo Cafe special. Open on Super Bowl weekend, the contemporary Mexican cafe offers more than just a caffeine fix.

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Alma Pineda of Oakdale and her daughter Elisaa Pineda, 3, enjoy a cup of caramel steamed milk at the Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, California on February 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

The cafe, in the O’Brien’s Market mall on Oakdale and Patterson roads, serves an ever-changing array of homemade pastries and specialty coffee drinks. Everything, down to the whipped cream, is homemade. The cafe’s kitchen prepares fresh delicacies daily, often throughout the day. And since their debut earlier this month, they’ve sold out steadily.

“We always want to give the community something homemade, something handmade. It’s the kind of goodness you can’t get out of a box or a bag,” said owner Nayeli Vazquez, who opened the shop with her husband, Christian.

The Vazquezes brought this attention to detail to the look and feel of the cafe. The space, formerly a mail depot, has been completely renovated over the past year. Everything from wooden trays with the Palo Santo logo to custom handmade mugs (commissioned from artisans in Puebla in the style of Talavera pottery) have been made to make people feel welcome. Each has the exact size for their specific drinks, from cortado to espresso to cubano.

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Specialty coffee drinks are served at Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

The Vazquezes have a lot of experience in feeding people. Nayeli’s family owned Taqueria Los Compadres in Riverbank since 1996, and Christian grew up in his family’s bakery in Mexico City. Nayeli’s family is also a co-owner of Modesto’s Taqueria Mis Compadres on Sylvain Avenue.

The new cafe is right next to Los Compadres, his parents’ Riverbank restaurant, in the same mall. Nayeli fondly remembers roaming her dining room as a child, as well as the frozen yogurt shop next door. She would help her parents in the restaurant, then get a frozen treat.

These good memories have also shaped his menu. But instead of frozen yogurt, the cafe makes its own ice cream — and offers about a dozen varieties and sorbets every day. They also serve a wide assortment of pastries and baked goods daily. In addition to some more traditional items like cookies and cupcakes, the cafe offers Mexican treats including flan (cream caramel), pay de elote (corn pie), mantecadas (muffins by the pound), and budin (bread pudding).

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Offerrings at the Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, California on February 23, 2021.

The menu also includes a variety of gluten-free and keto items, and Nayeli said these items for those with special dietary needs will be daily staples available.

The cafe currently only offers specialty drinks and baked goods, but in March it plans to start rolling out the full menu. The Vazquezes will prepare their own dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including sweet and savory pancakes, salads, sandwiches, soups, ceviche, sopes and much more.

The couple recently hired 10 more employees to help start their full menu. About half a dozen family members, including Christian’s mother and sister, who run the bakery, help round out the staff of about 25 employees.

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Specialty coffee drinks are served at Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

And then there is the name of the cafe, which translates from Spanish as “sacred wood”. Santo palo is a type of tree native to Latin America revered for its cleansing properties and is burned much like sage. Nayeli said they burn santo palo every day in the cafe.

“It’s a place where you can walk in and maybe you’re not having the best day, but as soon as you walk out you feel refreshed and ready to go,” Nayeli said. “Maybe you have a wonderful day and feel even better when you go out. That’s why we chose the Palo Santo Cafe.

Palo Santo Cafe, 6333 Oakdale Road, Suite 1, Riverbank, is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 209-502-7213 or visit www.facebook.com/palosantocafe209.

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Itzel Felix, 4, and his mother Gloria Castro check out the window display at the Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

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Palo Santo Cafe owner Nayeli Vazquez talks to customers at her new Riverbank restaurant in Riverbank, California on February 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

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Freshly hand dipped chocolate strawberries are made at the Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, Calif. on Feb. 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

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Granola at the Palo Santo Cafe in Riverbank, California on February 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

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Christian and Nayeli Vazquez, husband and wife owners of Palo Santo Cafe, at their new cafe in Riverbank, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2021. Marijke Rowland [email protected]

This story was originally published February 24, 2022 06:00.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new commercial, restaurant and retail developments. She has worked with The Modesto Bee since 1997 and covers a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. His Business Beat column airs several times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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