San Franciscans pounce whenever the Hello Kitty food truck makes a rare seasonal appearance, so it’s news that the Bay Area just greeted a Hello Kitty Mini Cafe. That cafe opened to multi-hour lines of passionate fans on June 22 as the expressionless cat got out of the bag in San Jose.
Unless you’re a zealous fan of this endearing Japanese cartoon character, though, there’s really no reason to go to the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe.
But a lot of you are humongous Hello Kitty fans, and it’s a tremendous novelty to have only the third Hello Kitty Cafe in the U.S. for an open-ended pop-up run on Santana Row, the upscale San Jose shopping district about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Throngs of Hello Kitty fans will make this Hajj, and may then have to stand in line for their Sanrio-slathered cakes, cookies, cold drinks, and coffee. Although the five-hour wait times of Grand Opening weekend have died down, but could remain at Bi-Rite Ice Cream-caliber lengths on weekends.
The cafe itself is shockingly tiny, with no internal seating, and only six to eight customers can fit at a time. You can’t see the menu until you’re almost inside, so you’ll have to decide what you want very quickly within a claustrophobic, hurry-up-and-get-out ambience.
But there’s plenty of nice, shaded seating in a courtyard out front, even during peak crowd times. Hello Kitty Cafe staff are exceedingly cheerful, especially for people who are slammed their whole shift.
The big payoff is your squee americano, cafe mocha, or cappuccino topped with perfectly executed Hello Kitty latte art. It might be a little watery, but a strawberry mint lemonade was exceptional. Even better are the strawberry dream and frozen mocha chip smoothies. They’re essentially milkshakes.)
Overall, the menu is a little more expansive than the Hello Kitty Food Truck, but as with the truck, this food is clearly not prepared on-site. All those macarons, cookies, and one-serving cakes are prepackaged and not of high culinary quality. But it’s Sanrio — so the packaging and presentation are off-the-charts cute.
The adorable foodstuffs look like they will make perfect gifts! They won’t. Items with fondant or soft frosting immediately begin to degrade in the San Jose heat. If you carry around your pastry box for a few hours shopping, you will likely discover its contents destroyed.
Prices are on par with posh San Francisco cafes, though it’s just a very limited menu of beverages and pastries.
But the Hello Kitty Mini Cafe cannot be evaluated on any normal restaurant metric. You go for the Kitty kred, and this itty-bitty space delivers joy way beyond its tiny operational capacities. Weekend visits still involve long lines, so remember to wear you red bow of courage.
Hello Kitty Mini Cafe, 3055 Olin Ave., #1010, San Jose, sanrio.com/pages/hellokittycafe