Half a century ago, Americana was a comfort. We relished homes that showcased black-and-white snapshots of grandmothers, of fathers newly home from the war, of children playing in mud-capped streams. Today, what substitutes for nostalgia are mass produced trinkets that clog old-time shops and would-be antiquated restaurants.
Café Isabel, however, is a different story. It strikes me as odd that what looks to be a 1950s relic should be tucked between Westminster Mall and Costco. It’s anachronistic to say the least, but where else could such a Café exist and not raise a few eyebrows?
The yellow-tinged walls, I’m happy to say, are filled with genuine artifacts of genuine histories. The family that greets you sweetly at the door is the same one pictured in various photos hanging along walls that are also lined with stacks of mid-century-era suitcases, armoires and kitschy tables. Thankfully, they held off on the checkerboard tablecloth; some restaurants just go too far.
If you’ve had a chance to peruse the menu online, you’ll know that it offers nothing that a home refrigerator wouldn’t—sandwiches, salads, and soups. The bread for my Tuscan Delight ($5.95) was grocery-store quality and noticeably dry; the nondescript meat a cut above lunch meat. However, the accompanying pesto spread was creamy, salty and smooth and I feel more qualified to talk about the latter because I tasted more pesto than anything else.
Oh, and if you give this sandwich a try, ask them to heat it up a bit longer. It’s labeled a “grilled sandwich,” which I disappointingly discovered means “slightly warmed sandwich.”
Between commenting about the timeline of the family photos on the back wall, I sipped a crock full of French onion soup ($4.95). It was tasty, but the onions weren’t really caramelized, so I’m not sure where the flavor was coming from. To boot, the pale broth was weighted down with a soggy crouton and a bland slab of Swiss cheese. I could have done without both.
But I could not have gone without dessert—the source of Café Isabel’s charm. There’s a sprawling bakery menu to choose from, but I wasn’t keen on indulging in a whole pie at two in the afternoon, so I opted for a Cinnamon Roll ($1.95) while my friend coveted a Crumbly Pumpkin Bar ($1.95). His was moist, and just sweet enough to balance the heftiness of the pumpkin. Mine, I’m pleased to say, was what every cinnamon roll should be—a moist spiral of cinnamon- and sugar-dressed dough with a slight cap of creamy frosting.
Banter hummed around us and 50s jazz played above as we headed out the door. We didn’t make it far, though. The owner (I presumed) excitedly ushered us into the parking lot for a cake walk—a game much like hop-scotch, complete with chalk-drawn numbers on asphalt.
Walk around the circle of numbers, she instructed, and stop when you hear the music fade. I did as I was told, landing on Number 12.
We went back into the restaurant and surveyed a buffet butting up against a picture of grandma in the garden. Lining it were an afternoon’s worth of baked goods—bars, pies, cakes and muffins of every size and flavor imaginable—each accompanied by a handwritten number.
We eyed the items carefully, hoping for matching 12. No such luck.
“Nothing for you today. I’m sorry!” The owner lamented. But I did get a consolation prize—a chocolate-vanilla cupcake.
“Is this an everyday thing?” I asked, still puzzled by the nature of the game.
“Nope! We don’t do this very often at all.” And yet it seemed wholly appropriate for Café Isabel.
6050 West 92nd Ave.
Bottom line: Quaint, kitschy and fun. While lunch is run of the mill, come for the exceptional baked goods and high tea.