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Cacique Espresso Catering, University Park
Farley Elliott

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This Underground South LA Coffee Bar Serves on the Front Porch of a Victorian Mansion

Cacique Espresso is showing up for students and locals

There’s been a renaissance of sorts in the street food genre across Los Angeles lately, with barbecue operators and South LA driveway teams pushing their product on social media to anyone willing to do a little investigating. That’s not the business model of Cacique Espresso through, a new outfit popping up from the front porch of a gorgeous University Park Victorian mansion. Their plan is to capture the neighborhood, one latte at a time.

Owner Enrique Flores does have an Instagram account for the pop-up, of course, but it’s less about sliding into the DMs with a pre-order than it is showcasing the friends and locals who stop by for a drink. There’s also nothing hidden about Cacique’s location — if anything, it’s hard to miss atop the big, wrapping patio of a blue Victorian home along Hoover Street near USC.

The building is actually the standalone location of MOSAIC Student Communities, a college outreach arm aimed at helping University of Southern California students sort out their housing needs. The first floor is open offices for the program, and there are students living on property as well. That is to say, Cacique isn’t hiding anything.

Flores’s big, golden espresso machine is another shining point for the out-in-the-open operation. The rig dates to the 1960s, a sort of hand-hammered golden showpiece that secretly hides some very modern internal parts. That’s all the setup Cacique relies on, besides a burr grinder, some tea containers, organic beans from Chiapas, Mexico, and a small table laid over with a colorful blanket. One can see the whole “underground” setup from the sidewalk, and that’s exactly the point.

The only time Flores and partner Joselin Garay have had trouble with anyone, including the police or the health department, is during a short run popping up in Elysian Park. A passerby complained about the small generator being used to run the machine and quickly tipped off the appropriate resources to get the rig shut down. No more coffee for the park, so Cacique moved to its new digs several miles south.

Now things are going well enough that Flores hopes to expand into a permanent structure on the property later this year. It’s just off the parking lot, a flat pad that could soon hold a small stand, with a roof and plugs and everything needed to move from the porch to the big house, so to speak. Outside tables under the palm trees would only complete the look.

For now though, its up off the stairs, near the street but set back, comfortably, against one of LA’s most beautiful underground food backdrops. The folks who work inside are more than happy to have Cacique as part of the mosaic of their property, and Flores and Garay appreciate the room to work.

Soon enough students will be trickling back in for the fall semester at USC, and they’ll hopefully come to appreciate what Cacique Espresso is up to as well. Maybe a few will become regulars, part of the underground coffee company’s friendly fabric, and show up on the Instagram feed. After all, it’s not like anyone here is trying to hide.

Cacique Espresso keeps hours Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The address is 2703 S. Hoover, Los Angeles, CA.

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