Words by Elaine Wu
If there’s anything Adriana and Aaron Porter want you to do when you step into Tal Palo, their modern Mexican cafe in downtown Los Altos, it’s to slow down. This is not a grab and go joint and they won’t serve you your coffee in a paper cup. There is no rush when you come here. Stay a while. Sit. Enjoy.
They understand that a proposition like this can be a hard sell in the Bay Area, home of Silicon Valley and all of its fast-moving, tech-loving parts. But that’s what makes this cafe different. Their focus is on family and community. “I feel like I always need to be in a rush for other people,” Adriana says. “I’m learning to just be present.”
Aaron echoes that sentiment. “It doesn’t occur to people that they can come in and have a seat. I tell them that I can take their order and then bring it to them. Then, we can talk about having something to eat.”
Both East Bay natives, the couple met while Adriana was working at her mother’s Mexican restaurant in Oakland, and Aaron owned and operated the specialty bar next door. But when they started a family, they decided to move to Guadalajara. “I had this dream of living in Mexico one day so I told Aaron, ‘What if we just did it?’” Adriana recounts. “I was done working crazy hours and I wanted to spend time raising our children and living in a culture where family is number one. The Bay Area lifestyle doesn’t always feel that way. In Mexico, family is everything.”
After three years, they relocated to the Peninsula and settled in Palo Alto so their three children could benefit from the area’s reputable schools. Their desire to share with their new community some of the Mexican culture they loved inspired them to open Tal Palo. Having their own small business also helped them maintain their own schedules so they could still be full-time parents. “I wanted to model Tal Palo after our favorite cafes in Guadalajara, which have great chilaquiles, good beverages and not a laundry list of items,” she says. “If we limit the menu, we can focus on doing what we do well.”
Tal Palo is an informal space on weekdays that is both welcoming and communal, much like the modern cafes in Mexico. On weekends, Tal Palo becomes a space for private parties or special pop-up dinners and brunches. “When I worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in the past, the attention to detail is what made you feel special,” Adriana recalls. “I wanted to combine that with the feeling of being taken care of so you can just let go.”
That thoughtful approach is immediately evident, aided by Aaron’s background in construction and interior design. The skylight in the middle of the room cascades warmth onto bright white walls. Both the hand-poured cement floor tiles and the wood used at the counter are artisan-made in Mexico, along with the items for sale in their small onsite boutique. And on a sunny day, the patio in the back with its whimsical, doodle-style mural designed by Mexican artist Rocca Luis Cesar, will make you feel like you’re in Guadalajara. “We wanted, by design, for people to feel like they are a guest in our home,” shares Aaron.
That meticulous attention is also reflected in the dishes the couple make and serve. Their limited rotating menu usually includes a fresh seasonal salad and a different chilaquiles dish every day. “If we don’t have something on the menu they want, we can try to figure something out for them,” notes Aaron. The coffees, herbal teas and beers are ones they’d serve to family and friends. As Adriana explains, “In Mexican culture, this is what it’s like: family, food and beautiful, simple, handmade things.”
So if you have a hard time categorizing Tal Palo, that’s exactly what the Porters want. “I hate labels,” Adriana declares. “We’re not just a ‘Mexican place’ or a ‘farm-to-table cafe.’ What we are is home.”