From Tortas to Coffee With La Vaca

The sign La Vaca coffee in bright colorful writing on the sidewalk.

Portland, Ore.’s Güero Tortas launches Latin-themed coffee pop-up as a COVID side project.


In our coffee community, we often hear about the food programs that cafés develop to accompany their coffee, but not the other way around. Güero Tortas is a Mexican sandwich shop in Portland, Ore., run by co-owner Megan Sanchez (she/her/hers), who added a specialty-coffee program to her menu this past December. Housed inside the restaurant, the colorful weekend pop-up is called La Vaca, or “the cow.” The menu features drinks and ingredients that represent the nostalgic flavors of her core team members, many of whom have spent a lot of time in Mexico or are of Latin descent themselves.

“So we inherited with this restaurant a lovely espresso machine. And it sat collecting dust for a long time,” explains Megan when asked why she started La Vaca. The project came to fruition when Megan’s neighbor, friend, and longtime coffee professional Jessie Cubias (she/her/hers) came into the picture. “When Jessie joined our team, there was a lot of interest from her co-workers to learn about it so we could start using it and get some training, and we started scheming and dreaming about a version of coffee service that would be nice for the neighborhood, and things we would like to try and like to drink. … It evolved pretty organically after Jessie joined our team with her eight years of coffee experience.”

La Vaca is a playful coffee pop-up from Güero Tortas. Photo by Thomas Teal.

As mentioned, the menu at La Vaca is filled with items from the team’s backgrounds. Some Latin drinks include the Abuelita Mocha, a mocha with Abuelita-brand chocolate and chile, along with a pumpkin spice latte sweetened with piloncillo—an unrefined whole cane sugar common in Mexico. There are also more traditional sweet treats like Café de Olla (black coffee sweetened with piloncillo and canela), the champurrado (a Mexican hot chocolate blended with maiz), and massive pan dulces (Mexican sweet breads) sourced by longtime suppliers Veracruz Bay Bakery. Thanks to the mind of bar manager Ben Skiba (he/him/his), there are also a few coffee cocktails that fuse espresso with liquor and horchata—an innovative kick to start the morning. At the moment, La Vaca uses Proud Mary exclusively for their Latin American coffee origin offerings.

La Vaca operates on the weekends out of Güero’s takeout window. Photo by Katrina Yentch.

A big financial benefit that has allowed Güero to open a coffee concept is the fact that most of their ingredients (aside from coffee) are items that they already use for their restaurant. They make fresh horchata every day to accompany their tortas, and utilize many of the items from their bar—a component of Güero that has recently relaunched in full swing.

This part of Portland currently has several options for coffee and food, but up until now there was no Mexico-focused coffee program. By opening La Vaca, Güero has had the opportunity to expose their community to even more Latin flavors than what they had on the menu before. “Portland is very big with coffee, and I just wanted to feel like one thing that we already had as a platform was to bring some Mexican coffee to this area,” says Jessie, “and to be able to share the things that a lot of us grew up with, and things that we now know a little more about and share with this community.”

La Vaca serves many ingredients and treats found in Latin America, like these delicious pan dulces. Photo by Katrina Yentch.

COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges, but it has also been an opportunity to think outside of the box, and for businesses to expose their clientele to something that they’re passionate about.

“We’ve been kicking off things that we’ve been wanting to do with the talented people who are in our four walls, and seems like fun and seems like something we could offer the community,” says Megan. “That’s been the motivation for what we’ve been doing here recently.”

La Vaca is open as a takeout window (with outdoor dining options) every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon. You can find them at 200 NE 28th Ave., Portland, Ore., 97232.

About Katrina Yentch 221 Articles
Katrina Yentch (she/her) is a freelance writer and Barista Magazine's Online Editor. When she's not writing, you can find her napping, cooking, and drinking whatever's on drip.