At the center of the historic Ladd’s addition, in Southeast Portland, Palio Dessert and Espresso House strives for an Old World (European) feel. When I walked in, the café was quiet, with classical music playing softly in the background. There were a couple people in the back room staring at their laptops. I asked the barista two questions: First, what kind of espresso did Palio’s serve? and 2) What was Palio’s best drink? His answers: Stumptown espresso; and a “Mexican mocha”, with cinnamon, nutmeg and ground up chilies. I wasn’t in the mood for straight Stumptown espresso and the mocha sounded a little rich for first thing in the morning, so I opted for a latte instead.
I settled in at a table by the window in the front room, near the coffee bar. For working, the back room would probably have been better (quieter, at least), but I was hoping to get a sense of who came into the café. My small latte ($2.95) was ready quickly and was very well made. The foam on top was silky and dense, and the sweetness of the milk softened the coffee’s tanginess.
After writing for a while and sending out some emails, I decided I’d better try the Mexican mocha. It sounded too interesting to pass up and I didn’t think I could properly review the café without a tasting the house specialty. I ordered a small, and at $3.25, I expected it to be good. The barista offered me whipped cream but I declined. When I got the mocha, the first thing I noticed was the brownish-orange powder dusting the foam on top of the mocha. I leaned over the drink and inhaled deeply.
Cinnamon was the dominant aroma, but you could also smell the chocolate and coffee. I took a sip, which actually turned out to be a slurp because the foam was so thick. A slight tingling feeling began to spread onto my tongue as the chili powder reached it. Drinking a little deeper, I reached the coffee below. It was not too sweet, and the complex combination of espresso, milk, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and chili powder mixed together so that there was not one dominant flavor. It was certainly unique, and tasty too, but it was almost too rich for my tastes, especially since I had just finished off a latte. With whipped cream, it would have been way too heavy. Of course, it might be good idea to limit myself to just one. . .
If someone were to ask me, I would say that Palio was a good find. It has good lattes, a nice setting and it seems to be a place where the Ladd's neighborhood gets together. If you ever need a late night coffee fix, the café is open until 11pm, seven days a week. The prices are a little higher than some other cafés, but considering its location, I’m not surprised. Palio is aiming to be more upscale than some, and in this it succeeds.
Address: 1996 SE Ladd Ave, Portland OR 97214 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-11pm
Saturday and Sunday 8am-11pm
Free Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommend it? Yes