Postal Cafe cranks out comfort food in a converted gas station.
Tucked away on the east shore of Washoe Lake, Postal Cafe is a local hub for scuttlebutt and from-scratch comfort food for the tight-knit community of Washoe Valley. Housed in a converted gas station that once sat along Virginia Street in Reno before getting transported to Washoe Valley in 1971, the building became a post office and video rental shop before turning into a diner in 2005.
Current owner and trained pastry chef Bella Benitez purchased the pint-sized Postal Cafe in 2013 after returning to Reno from Portland, where she attended culinary school.
“Someone told me they knew of a cute little café in Washoe Valley that was for sale. So I came by one morning to eat and meet the owner, and I fell in love with it,” Benitez recalls.
Benitez embraced the cafe’s existing menu of made-to-order scrambles, burgers, and sandwiches. The much-loved home fries served with most breakfast entrées are a mix of sweet and russet potatoes cooked with onions and ample seasoning. Flaky biscuits are smothered in freshly made sausage gravy, and whole turkey breasts are roasted to perfection for the turkey, brie, and cranberry sandwich. It’s unfussy, nostalgic food with a like-your-meemaw-made-it feeling.
But it’s the ever-changing pastry case where Benitez really shines. Mini cheesecakes, pecan bars, apple bread pudding, ham-and-Swiss turnovers, crumb cake with cinnamon streusel, fudgy brownies, and seven-layer bars are just some of the sweet treats Benitez makes to honor her first culinary love: baking.
“If a customer says they miss a certain flavor of turnover or cookie, I’ll make that, but it’s usually what I’m in the mood for or inspired to make,” Benitez says. “Personally, I think we have the best chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. Our chocolate chip cookies are mostly made out of chocolate chips! And for our peanut butter cookies, I put a little bit of sea salt to balance the sweetness.”
Diners also can take home a carton of eggs from chickens raised in the valley. For years, customers snatched up jars of Benitez’s mother’s homemade kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage that’s a staple in Korean cuisine, though changes in health department permitting have put that on hold for now.
During the summer months, Postal Cafe gets diners from all over the country stopping by on their road trips or headed to the lake. The awning, which once covered the gas pumps, now covers a patio dotted with tables — the location of special barbecue days when locals follow the smoky wafts of slow-cooking tri-tip or ribs to their usual hangout.
“People love the small community feel to it. Anytime there is anything happening in the valley, people come to the café to find out if we heard about so-and-so or what happened,” Benitez says with a laugh. “As an owner, I’m just trying to do the best I can for my community here in Washoe Valley and also for my employees.”
For details, visit Postalcafenv.com.
Claire McArthur loves a trendy brunch joint as much as the rest, but she’s ever grateful that places such as Postal Cafe continue to stick to their roots with comforting classics. You can currently find her having a religious experience with a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy (and a chocolate chip cookie, if she’s being honest).