Coffee Shop

Zocalo Coffee House

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Zocalo is a large, 16-year-old coffee shop in San Leandro, one of the quite appealing little cities in the East Bay just south of Oakland. The shop feels very welcoming with a friendly, smiling staff and a mix of families and laptop junkies like myself on a weekday afternoon. Ye olde local art on the walls and a mix of hanging curtains and dark-amber lighting fixtures give the cavernous open room a touch of personality.

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Plenty of places to sit, and there are outlets to be found against the walls and free Wi-Fi. They have pretty much every type of seating you could want including a children’s play area in back.

There’s a small selection of baked goods, but that doesn’t mean an uninteresting one. I had a bacon-scallion scone, which bore a lot of resemblance to a cheddar biscuit both texturally and in flavor.

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It was very fluffy, and much like a quiche, the fillings travelled to the bottom of the scone except for the thick layer of cheddar, bacon, and scallions sprinkled on top. That made for a good mix of ingredients without feeling too heavy. There was a lot of cheese throughout the treat.

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Martha & Bros. Coffee

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My first Noe Valley stroll was undertaken with one purpose: try Martha & Bros., a small San Francisco coffee roasting chain that’s been going strong since 1987. Run by a family with roots steeped in Nicaraguan coffee, it seemed like a safe bet for a coffee house with personality.

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And it was! The original location provided a nice contrast to the clinical feel you can sometimes encounter in the area’s larger local chains. Most of the people in the store during the couple of hours I spent there were either regulars or members of the family. Ultimately, it felt more like I was welcomed into someone’s living room rather than their showroom, which is sometimes the feeling this coffee lover needs. There is free Wi-Fi, plenty of outlets inside, and a few outdoor tables with shade, though I should note that many of the inside tables are a little small if you need to spread out.

In addition to the twenty or so different roasts of coffee available by the bag, the display case and long counter overflowed with prepacked sandwiches and salads and an impressive range of baked goods from seven-layer bars to rugelach. My coffee of the day was Martha’s Blend, a dark roast that I found attractive in coloring and clarity.

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It smelled and tasted great, with a striking shiny gleam and traces of smoke. The person who served my coffee was worried I didn’t like it when I asked which blend it was, which means that their customer service is top-notch. Martha & Bros. wants to please their patrons rather than simply deign to inform them about their coffee prowess.

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Kefa Coffee

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This place has a cult of appreciators for their breakfast sandwiches, which is why my visiting NC foodie friends insisted we check it out. It’s open only for breakfast and lunch and is located right off the fork between 29th and 23rd leading into Alameda.

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It is a simple fact of life that egg-and-cheeses are heaven on earth, and Kefa’s workers know how to offer them proper tribute. They take their preparations seriously, which results in a longer wait than you might expect for an egg-and-cheese. English muffins are toasted to a deep crisp, and the cheese is broiled to the point that it gets a plasticine outer shell. Note: that is not a complaint. True egg-and-cheeses bear both those marks of quality.

I went for the basic egg, bacon, and cheese.

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Top marks for the English muffin’s burnt edges, the cheese’s flavor and texture, and the sheer volume of egg, but my bacon was definitely burnt. As someone who microwaves her bacon because she hates it undercooked, that’s saying something. The bacon was rather salty as well.

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