Customers Gamal Sharaf El Deen and Daniel Daniel Harilla enjoy food and drinks at Picaresca Barra de Cafe coffee shop in Boyle Heights. Photo by Kate Valdez

On South Soto Street, there lies a mini-mall with multiple shops. Through a narrow hallway and past a flower shop, the mini market and a barbershop is a small spot called Picaresca Barra de Cafe. 

The area around the cafe feels cozy with multiple chairs lining the left wall and a mini-table right next to the door. A mirror with writing that reads Con Amor y Rebeldia and art from local kids in the community hangs on the walls. Once inside the shop, the fragrance of espresso and pan hit your nose. The sounds of the espresso machine and the sizzling grill fill the air.  

Drink and food selections featured on Picaresca’s menu blackboard. Photo by Dania Alejandres

A blackboard has a menu with a small food selection and unique drinks such as Matcha de Olla, as well as their signature El Pino Latte  –  a double shot of espresso with rosemary, spices, chamomile syrup and your choice of milk that pays homage to the iconic pine tree in East Los Angeles. 

“I love how unique the flavors are,” said Boyle Heights native Jasmine Cumplido, a regular customer. “The Matcha de Olla combines two of my favorite things in the coffee beverage world.  I also like that it’s a small business and run by a family.”

Thirty-five-year-old co-owner Elisa Hoyos, who was raised in Lincoln Heights, says Café de Olla is their number one seller. “It pays our bills here,” she said. 

All of the syrups used in the specialty coffees are made in-house.  

Thirty-five-year-old Leo Abularach, the other owner, roasts the cafe’s signature coffee in Downtown Los Angeles, sourcing beans from countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico. 

For food, there are burritos, wraps, breakfast sandwiches, and a waffle breakfast sammie. Whittier Bakery supplies the pastries – which include fresh pan dulce, sweet conchas and strawberry pies. The cafe also incorporates other food items from local businesses in its menu and weekend popups.  The unique menu items, service, and atmosphere is what drives customers to keep returning. 

“The staff here is really sweet,” said Boyle Heights resident Gamal Sharaf El Deen. “They’re always kind with a great attitude. I also love the setting. There’s something really charming about it.”

The owners both started working as baristas in college. Abularach developed a passion for the job and went on origin trips to Honduras and Guatemala to visit coffee farms. It was there he decided what he wanted to do. 

The couple started selling their coffee at local farmer’s markets and were planning on opening a coffee shop once they had saved enough money. But then, 2020 hit hard. 

“Because the pandemic came, I was out of work, ” Hoyos said. “Leo was able to find a  job at another coffee shop.” The isolation gave them the time to sit down and plan to open their own shop. The two saved their stimulus money from the pandemic and came across a location on Craigslist with a surprisingly low price. 

Picaresca Barra de Cafe is almost hidden in a Boyle Heights mini mall. Photo by Dania Alejandres

The location was previously a biónico and juice bar. The owner had been at the location for more than a decade and was looking to retire. The space had everything they needed for a coffee shop. 

“It was kind of ready to go so we didn’t have to build anything from scratch, which has saved us a lot of money,” Hoyos said.  After painting and purchasing some additional equipment, they just needed to come up with their branding. 

Drawing inspiration from the Spanish novel “Don Quixote” and the picaresque fiction genre, they named their shop Picaresca Barra de Cafe.  The couple opened the cafe in March 2021 and began selling mid-pandemic. They say their clientele is quite diverse with both younger and older generations, Boyle Heights locals, and those looking for unique coffee spots. 

While Instagram has helped with driving traffic, Hoyos said the cafe’s location still has challenges with visibility. While charming and affordable, their location is not always easy to find. Hoyos said some customers ask her, “How long have you been here? I live around the corner, and I never knew you were here.” 

Hoyos said in the future, the two hope to add another Boyle Heights location. Their goals are to keep engaging with the community and to grow and uplift those around the area by providing quality coffee, food, and products. Customers who frequent the spot say they appreciate the personal touch of the cafe over chain coffee spots. 

“Picaresca also celebrates our culture in a way, with their coffee names and combinations,” said customer Cumplido. “It’s like a nod to our Boyle Heights upbringing.” 

Reporter Kate Valdez contributed to this story.

Picaresca Barra de Cafe

1300 S Soto St #9, Los Angeles


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Dania Alejandres

Dania Alejandres is a rising senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights.

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