Buenos Aires easy

Café la Boca

2600 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95864

(916) 973-1150

Your average coffeehouse is not terribly ambitious on the food front. A few pre-wrapped sandwiches may be about as good as it gets. But it’s nice to find a spot that tries to do a bit more—even if it misses a few cues along the way. Café la Boca, a bright spot on Fair Oaks Boulevard with an Argentinean flavor, is making such an effort—and also making such missteps.

The short menu consists of several panini: a Cuban, quattro formaggio, caprese, turkey, roast beef, grilled chicken, and an outlier, the breakfast panini. There’s also Ciao Bella Gelato, some cookies, salads (Greek, Caesar, green, fruit) and something you won’t see on the menu: empanadas. I had read elsewhere about their availability, but there was no hint of their presence on the menu. When we asked, our well-meaning but slightly bumbling server had to check. Indeed, they had beef empanadas available.

The menu is also unclear about the fact that you get a side—green salad, fruit or a bowl of soup—with any sandwich, so ordering was a bit of a “who’s on first” routine, rife with miscommunication and changed orders. We finally narrowed things down to two empanadas for my mom and a Cuban sandwich with a side salad for me.

Things came out quickly—a little too quickly, truth be told. Both the pressed sandwich and the empanadas could have used more time heating up. The empanadas were cold in the middle, and the slightly oily yet flaky crust hadn’t re-crisped. The flavor of the lightly spicy, very savory, finely ground beef filling was nice, however. Another small problem: The empanadas were oddly stuck together, which made me suspect that they went straight from freezer to oven. They were also quite small, while my sandwich was somewhat gargantuan, so we ended up sharing.

I liked my sandwich quite a bit. It was a fairly classic Cuban sandwich (albeit on a nice ciabatta-like flatbread): stuffed with ham and turkey, layered with cheese and pickles, and spread with a piquantly spiced mayonnaise that the menu proclaimed was made in-house. Its problem, like the empanadas’, was insufficient toasting. At the edges, the cheese was melted in a way that enhanced the sandwich as a whole, but in the middle the cold lump of sliced meat was less than ideal. I thought about sending back the second half for more toasting, but at such a casual place it seemed churlish. Still, more time on the sandwich press would add a lot to a tasty combination of ingredients.

The side salad that came along with it was fresh and crisp, combining chopped romaine, cucumbers and green peppers. I liked the thick, tangy vinaigrette as well, which had a savor of oregano. I saw some of the large salads go out to other customers and they, too, looked generous and fresh.

I also had a chance to taste the roast beef panino. The meat in it was your standard deli-case roast beef, tasting cured and processed rather than fresh, but I liked the roasted red peppers and other vegetables inside, and it too was well-pressed on that nice, crunchy bread. I’d like to go back to try the breakfast sandwich, which sounds like a good antidote to the excess of scones in the coffeehouse world. The “Spanish rice soup” that came along as a side with the roast-beef sandwich was unusual and intriguing, tasting pleasantly of Spanish paprika, with brown beans, lots of rice and some red peppers all floating in a tomato-y broth.

Main courses dispensed with, we turned our attention to the desserts. Café la Boca seems like a nice place for lingering. It’s sunny, with two walls of windows and bright framed pictures of Buenos Aires street scenes, as well as a painting that seemed to be the same. Even more like a South American street scene was a table of four guys playing cards in the early afternoon over coffee, adding a leisurely feel to the spot. I followed up lunch with a little of espresso, which was smooth and nicely topped with crema, though its texture was not quite perfectly syrupy.

My mom had a dense and nearly spherical chocolate-chip cookie that looked homemade, though some of the other baked goods clearly were provided by local wholesalers. When I asked where the chocolate-chip cookie came from, I was told that “some lady” bakes them for the café. I don’t know who she is, but she does nice work if you like a cookie with lots of heft and tons of chocolate. In the spirit of the Latin American theme, I ordered the dulce de leche gelato, which was as creamy-sweet and yummy as one might think. Oddly, it was served with just one of those teeny ice cream tasting spoons, but that just made the treat last all the longer.

Café la Boca would make a good stop for those with a fair amount of time for loitering to nurse an espresso or a gelato. Just ask them to make sure the leisurely pace extends to heating any lunch fare you might order.