Aiming to bring the homemade taste of Latin America to Austin, Cafe Nena’í opened quietly in mid-February at 1700 Montopolis Drive, north of East Riverside. The cafe is the brainchild of mother-daughter duo Elena Sanguinetti and Gladys Benitez, who hail from Paraguay and Miami, respectively. The menu centers on South American pastries and sandwiches, plus Cuban espresso drinks.
Expect everything from Argentine/Paraguayan alfajores, Venezuelan arepas, to Cuban coffee, all made fresh daily. The empanadas varieties include beef, ham and cheese; chicken; and fried guava and cheese. Satiate a sweet tooth with something from the confituras offerings, such as a slice of guava tart, cookie sandwiches with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut flakes, or a medialuna (an Argentinian croissant). There are also sweet and savory sandwiches — such as Nutella and ham and cheese — and bread specialities from Paraguay, among other offerings. The menu was designed with Benitez’s hometown, Miami, in mind. The city is “a South American melting pot,” according to Benitez.
The coffee program is centered on specialty Cuban espresso drinks such as coffee con leche, cafecito (espresso with sugar), and colada (several shots of espresso with sugar), plus tea drinks like cocido con leche (an infusion of mate and milk). There are also fresh juices. (Tip: Look for off-menu juices too, as the team tests new varieties.)
Cafe Nena'i is the manifestation of Sanguinetti’s dream to open a cafe where she could share her culture and food. Nena'i (pronounced neh-nah-ee) means “little girl” in Guaraní — the indigenous language in Paraguay — and was her childhood nickname. Her daughter, Benitez, a University of Texas graduate, spent her last semester building a business plan and learning about the restaurant business in anticipation of fulfilling her mother’s dream. Now that the cafe is open, Benitez oversees the business side from marketing to social media (including an appetizing Instagram account) while her mother runs the kitchen.
Still refining its hours, Cafe Nena'i is generally open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.