Teresa LaVelle speaks fluent, flowing English with a Cantonese accent. She runs the front-of-house while her husband Daniel LaVelle runs the kitchen at Caffé Latté. They have owned the American breakfast, lunch, and coffee spot since 2004. In the Pocket-Greenhaven area, it has been a community-building force for 27 years.
“In midtown there are more business people,” Teresa LaVelle said. “But here, obviously, there are a lot of families. And a lot of retirees. They want to hang out and talk. See some people and meet some friends.”
At the southern tip of the Pocket, a neighborhood made by the curving, oak tree-lined Sacramento River southwest of Sacramento, Caffé Latté competes with corporate venues like the IHOP on the other side of Interstate 5, the 24-hour Shari’s restaurant in the nearby Lakecrest Village shopping center, and the Starbucks that popped up in their own parking lot in 2013, at the corner of Pocket Road and Greenhaven Drive.
Daniel chimes in, “We have better coffee. There has only been a few times I’ve been in an airport or something, and I’ve had to drink Starbucks.”
“We’re not set up here like a coffee shop with loud music,” Theresa said. “Daniel doesn’t like wifi here because people would come here and work on their computers. Groups meet here five days a week with different purposes. A church group, a Nextdoor gathering, or just 10 to 15 older men. They talk about anything going on in the Pocket area.”
There’s a long, low bar adjacent to the kitchen with unoccupied chairs. The rest of the coffee shop is teeming with people sitting together at tables. Teresa serves Emeryville’s McClaughlin Coffee from the espresso machine and air pots to facilitate morning conversation. A small espresso runs just $1.75.
Daniel’s most popular breakfast item is the potato platter, priced at $9.95. It is a generous mound of steaming potato cubes smothered in cheddar cheese. The bacon, mushrooms, onion and bell pepper are a savory pairing with the Arby’s-curly-fry-like flavor of the potatoes.
And then there is the chicken fried rice for later in the day, a multicultural anomaly on the menu: Teresa moved to the United States from Hong Kong just over 40 years ago.
And Pocket-Greenhaven is a diverse area, believed originally to have been settled by the Miwok Native American tribe. After the Gold Rush came Portuguese immigrants, and later an influx of Japanese after World War I.
Situated just a stone’s throw away from what is today’s intersection at Florin Road and Riverside Boulevard, north of Caffé Latté in the Pocket, was the aptly-named Upper Lisbon School. A look at class photos from the 1930s reveals Portuguese and Japanese names and faces.
There are two Japanese restaurants near the intersection: Edokko and Banzai Sushi.
Edokko was called Edokko II when there were a couple of the restaurants in Sacramento, but now there is just one Edokko. Despite being owned by folks of Chinese decent, the menu is as Japanese as any in Sacramento. It lists fried rice as chahan, kids meals as okosama sets, and ginger pork stir fry as pork shoga yaki. There is also a well-stocked news rack with Japanese magazines and the Burlingame-based Bay Spo Japanese-language newspaper.
Anything off the a la carte portion of the menu gets you a bowl or rice, a simple salad, miso soup that is sweeter than that served in Japan, and tsukemono.
This writer’s favorite dish is the pork shoga yaki, less greasy than that served in the city of Osaka, and twice the amount for the same price. For $10.95 it is a heaping plate of thinly sliced pork with a ginger kick that is refreshing on a hot afternoon. It is served without a fork; even kids in the Pocket area tend to wield chopsticks with skill.
On the other side of Florin Road, next to Le Croissant Factory, is another Japanese spot that opened its doors more recently, in 2006, called Banzai Sushi. Though the raw fish at Banzai does not rival Akebono’s on Freeport Boulevard, which is related to both Edokko and Banzai by ownership history, its happy hour is a pretty big deal. From 3:30 to 6 p.m. there is an extensive low-priced menu to be enjoyed. You can get a hand roll filled with spicy salmon for $4.50, sesame chicken for $5.50, and a Japanese beer for $3.50. There are 26 dishes in all to try, about half of which include sushi.
On most visits to the spot, there were multiple generations of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese-Americans dining together at the tables that surround the sushi bar, enjoying spirited conversation like those folks on the other end of the Pocket at Caffé Latté.
And what is the secret to getting so many visitors to gather repeatedly at these spots in this area annexed by the City of Sacramento in 1959?
“Good question,” Daniel LaVelle said. “You’re going to have to be creative with that. A good neighborhood?”