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Gillian Graham

Gillian Graham is a staff writer for the Portland Press Herald. When she’s not digging up stories about York County, she’s out combing flea markets and yard sales for vintage Pyrex or taking photos of her cats.

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Posted: June 12, 2017

Mix it up with an empanada at Quiero Cafe

Written by: Gillian Graham
Quiero Cafe opened last month in Saco's Pepperell Square. Staff photos by Gillian Graham

Quiero Cafe opened last month in Saco’s Pepperell Square.
Staff photos by Gillian Graham

After what seemed like the hundredth off-key rendition of a classic rock song from the construction crew working below my home office, I knew I needed to escape.

Since it was almost lunchtime and I was in desperate need of coffee, I headed to a new cafe in Saco I’ve heard locals raving about. Quiero Cafe brings something new to northern York County: South American street food.

Quiero Cafe (translation: I want coffee) is run by husband-and-wife team Carlos Guzman and Alejandra Herrara and features Latin cuisine from Colombia and Chile. It opened last month in a storefront in Pepperell Square that had been empty for quite a while. It’s right behind Rapid Ray’s and around the corner from Main Street, right in the heart of downtown.

On the sunny day I visited, the front door was propped open and Latin music was playing, creating a welcoming feel I appreciated. With wood floors, exposed brick walls and bright pops of turquoise, the cafe has the beautiful mix of old and modern I’ve come to appreciate in many new businesses that have opened in the downtown and mill districts of Saco and Biddeford in the past few years. The showpiece of the cafe is, without a doubt, the gleaming vintage copper espresso machine that sits on the front counter.

Empandas are $3 each.

Empandas are $3 each.

The cafe serves eight types of empanadas ($3 each), including vegetarian options and a sweet cheese and guava empanada. I had checked out the menu online and knew I wanted to try the empanadas, but I was still having trouble making up my mind. They all sounded good.

Herrara suggested her favorites – pino and tomate – and I went with those, along with a cold brew coffee. The cafe serves an excellent Colombian house roast crafted by Maine Coast Roast of Biddeford. The pino empanada was filled with ground beef, onions, olives, raisins and egg. The tomate was stuffed with tomato, spinach, cheese, corn and basil. They were served with a small side of fresh salsa. The empanada dough was flaky and the fillings flavorful and well-balanced. I loved both equally.

The menu also includes chicken or pork tamales ($4.50 each), sweet corn arepa ($4.50) and quesadillas with various fillings ($4 to $6.50). Dessert options include flan and tres leches.

Quiero Cafe serves made-to-order smoothies (the menu includes seven options), tropical juices and limeades flavored with mango, mint, pineapple or coconut. Hot drinks includes Americano, campesino, cappucinno, arequipe, latte and cafe con leche.

While I ate, I sat at a table in the front window, fully intending to catch up on emails, but instead found myself watching a bustling Pepperell Square and listening to the soft music playing as I enjoyed my lunch. It was a good reminder to get out of the house and away from that email for a while.


WHERE: 8 Pepperell Square, Saco, 494-7267; Quiero Cafe Maine on Facebook
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday
WAIT: Less than 10 minutes
PARKING: On street or at nearby Saco Transportation Center

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