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Review: Best espresso drinks from lesser-known coffee shops


It’s getting increasingly difficult to keep your eyes open past sundown or to have any energy at all. There are a couple of options to stay energized through the rest of the semester: a Vitamin D supplement, exercise or plenty of sleep to name a few.

However, the most common way to stay awake and alert in the dark winter months is caffeine intake. Instead of driving over to Philz’ or Peets’ like everybody else, here’s an opportunity to check out some of the lesser known coffee shops in Palo Alto to still get a fix.

ZombieRunner: 7/10

Relatively good, cheap and filled with shoes, ZombieRunner doesn’t appear to be a café at first, so if one is hunting for coffee, they may overlook it.

It’s small and quaint, operating out of what seems to be a defunct movie theater. The interior is surprisingly spacious — boasting a large section filled with running apparel and shoes, a small café and a couple of seats — but it also manages to seem warm and cozy.

Zombie Runner’s espresso ($2.50 for a 2.5 oz shot) is strangely sweet, slightly nutty and a little bit sour.

The usual acidity and slight bitterness of espresso is present, but it’s easy to ignore. The small shot packs quite a punch, though, and has quite a caffeine rush.

If you’re the type of person to buy a pair of running shoes and also pick up an espresso, or vice versa, then ZombieRunner, located at 429 California Ave, is probably ideal.

Backyard Brew: 8/10

Tucked away at 444 California Ave., Backyard Brew is a small, cabana-like café that feels more like a workspace. It’s a little bit hard to find, making it seem isolated and private.

There’s no way to directly access it from bustling California Avenue — the entrance is around the back in the alley between a parking garage and the back of the row of businesses.

Backyard Brew also doesn’t have an actual roof. Instead, a series of large tents and a shack roof provide cover, adding a sense of coziness to the unique island vibe.

While it’s a little more isolated and appears smaller than the other cafés, it’s filled with plenty of seating and has free WiFi, making it an ideal space to study or get work done.

However, those seats are nearly always occupied by a mixture of quietly working Stanford students and professionals, so good luck finding a seat. Backyard Brew’s espresso ($2) is noticeably less acidic and sour than ZombieRunner’s.

It has rich, dark overtones with hints of fruit. It’s much more mellow, as it’s a weaker and more gentle taste.

This espresso is more enjoyable to slowly sip and has a delightful thick crema — foamy layer — resting on the surface. The caffeine in the drink takes a little longer to hit, but it’s more enjoyable to get down.

If you’re in a pinch for a slower but more enjoyable caffeine fix, and also want a place to study, then Backyard Brew is the place to go.

Café Venetia: 9/10

While a little more expensive than other coffee shops, Café Venetia is a small, upscale, Italian-inspired café with probably the best espresso in Palo Alto.

It has higher prices, compared to the other shops, in exchange for a more expansive, diverse menu.

Café Venetia’s espresso ($3.50 for a 2.5oz) is delicious.

It’s rich and thick, with a deep chocolate brown color and a slight bitterness.

This espresso isn’t sour like at other places. A thin layer of foam sits on the surface of the espresso and remains present throughout the entire duration of the drink.

While the taste is robust and simple, there are also slight hints of vanilla, deepening the flavor profile of the drink while maintaining the true essence of espresso.

Even if it is a bit more expensive, Café Venetia than the other areas, located at 419 University Ave. in downtown Palo Alto, is one of the best places to get an authentic espresso.

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