It's been just one month since El Diablo Coffee Co.changed hands--the Queen Anne café was purchased in early July by Cloud City Coffee's owner Jill Killen--though you'd be hard-pressed to find any lingering growing pains. Thankfully for the regulars who frequent the Cuban-inspired hangout, El Diablo has retained its unique charm while gaining the best from its new partnership.
El Diablo is a colorful place, literally and figuratively. The walls and tables are covered in hand-painted murals: Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls, tattoo-style swallows, and important messages like "eat more cake," all in a rainbow of vibrant hues. If this place was located in Capitol Hill it would be a hit with the hipsters, but as it sits in upper Queen Anne the clientele skews older, with an equal mix of professionals taking advantage of the free WiFi and families filling the covered patio.
The menu of espresso drinks--there's no drip coffee at El Diablo, though it's been reported new owner Killen plans to change that--is unapologetically Latin-inspired. There are no 20-ounce lattes or blended caramel whatevers. Instead, the menu starts with the café Cubano, a double espresso with caramelized sugar that is the quintessential Cuban coffee. From there, variations include the cortadito (like a cappuccino, with equal parts sugared espresso, milk, and milk foam), the café con leche (their version of a latte), and the café con mocha (made with spiced Ibarra chocolate). There's even a drink called a yanqui, a kind of tongue-in-cheek name for their Americano.
Like most Americans, even well-traveled ones, I've never been to Cuba, so I won't claim to know whether the cortadito served by El Diablo is authentic. It may be about as traditional as Paseo's Cuban roast (that is, not at all), but both the drink and the sandwich are perfection. El Diablo's new espresso is a custom blend from Tony's Coffees--one of the benefits of Killen's takeover--that stands up well to the addition of caramelized sugar. The initial sweetness has a depth of flavor you won't get from any old sugar packet or syrup pump, a kick that quickly dissipates to leave a smoother finish and fuller body than is typical for Latin American coffees. It helps that this powerful burst of sugar and caffeine is served in a glass only slightly larger than a demitasse--anything more would be too much of a good thing.
Sisters El Diablo and Cloud City are far from identical, though they're starting to show similarities. Cloud City's counter now boasts a sign urging customers to try the new Mexican mocha, and El Diablo's pastry case is filled with the sort of goodies--tropical coconut bread, wholesome morning glory muffins, an array of quiches--that frequenters of the Maple Leaf original have come to love. Both locations offer quality without pretense and a distinct community-driven vibe. I know I'm not the only one looking forward to Killen's next move.