About Us

Opened in November 2011, and nestled up against the hillside in Alameda Del Prado, Novato Café offers hearty and healthy classic Californian dishes that are very reasonably priced and made only with fresh ingredients.

Brazil born Marx Charles Passos is the owner, head chef and heart of Novato Café. He brings not only 20 years of cooking experience, but a real passion for food, and a love of feeding people. Beginning in the early nineties in basic food prep at the Marin Country Club, Marx worked his way up the ranks while improving his English by enrolling in classes at the College of Marin. His proudest accomplishment of his early cooking career came in 1994 when he reconnected with his roots and was honored with the role of head chef for the Brazilian National Soccer Team while they were in the Bay Area for the World Cup. For ten weeks he cooked six meals a day for the entire 45 person team and crew. Years of long hours, hard work and dedication, gave Marx the skill and the desire to start a catering company, which he did in 2004 with much success. And when the opportunity arose in autumn of 2011, Marx took a leap of faith, called upon the help of niece Lucianna and her husband Vince, and opened his very own Novato Café.

It is this family trio, Marx, Lucianna and Vince that makes Novato Café so unique, so approachable and so enjoyable. Upon walking through the unassuming swinging front door, customers are sure to be greeted by Lucianna’s genuine hello and Vince’s infectious smile. The young couple fills the café with an irresistible sense of family and conviviality.

And then of course, there is the culinary inspiration of Chef Marx, whose enormous dishes are directly proportional to his love for creating and sharing quality food. He shows the utmost integrity when it comes to making good meals. Influenced by Portuguese and Italian style cooking, Marx is a proponent of simplicity. “Food,” he says “should not be complicated.” A peek into his kitchen, which would surely be greeted with a big smile and handshake from the chef, would reveal that all the dishes are made to order. “I’m definitely not a fast food guy,” Marx says. He proudly proclaims to be committed to three simple rules of culinary creation: Fresh Ingredients. Big Portions. Fair Prices. And Novato Café gloriously delivers on all three of these. The dishes are notoriously large, the prices are unbelievably low, and Marx himself insists on produce delivery six day a week.

It is Marx’s love for this free style of cooking, and for feeding friends, family and newcomers alike, that has kept him rooted to Northern California. Though his stint with the Brazilian National Soccer Team gave him a taste of the celebrity chef life Marx puts it simply “I wanted to be in Marin County. And especially in my little Novato.”

The simple and pleasing décor, designed by Lucianna herself, is comfortable, unpretentious and modern. The same can be said of the menu, which (with the addition of a few classic Brazilian dishes) faithfully includes all the American staples – big burgers, BLTs, Eggs Benedict. So what is it that makes us pick one restaurant over another? When we find a spot that we like, what is it that draws us in and compels us to return over and over? Well I there is the obvious answer. The food of course. Good food is an unquestionably important aspect of the dining experience. And in this era of ever-proliferating fast-food chains, cookie-cutter coffee shops, and microwavable meals, it seems increasingly difficult to find a good meal, made with real ingredients, on real equipment, by real people.

But there something unique about Novato Café. Aside from the delectable dishes of course, which really speak for themselves. There is a nearly imperceptible energy that permeates the place, reminiscent perhaps of that funky old diner you used to frequent as a child, or of that little mom n’ pop staple down the street from where you once lived. It is a certain charisma, found in so few places, fueled by the comforting clatter of dishes in the kitchen, the amiable shouts from chef to cook to waiter, the chatter of “the regulars”, ordering “the usual”, sitting at “their” tables, all delighting in easy conversation and a shared meal. There is an undeniable and inexplicable feeling that Novato Café has been here for a long time, and is here to stay.

By: Jen Listug


Marin Scope Newspaper Review on Novato Café, Check it out:

Get ready to get comfortable at Novato Café

Marin Dining

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 4:06 PM PST
Leslie Harlib

I’m fascinated by comfort — and how restaurants will frequently sacrifice comfort for style. There are hundreds of upscale dining establishments where, by the end of the meal, my back hurts because the chairs or benches simply don’t encourage relaxing.

So when I find a restaurant where I can really hunker down, that’s a huge plus for me. The food doesn’t have to be marvelous if the chairs are welcoming. And if the food is comforting too, if there’s goodness to be had for my body inside and out, it’s a winning combination.

The Novato Café (formerly Sam’s Roadhouse), which opened in November 2011, is one of the more comfortable yet unassuming restaurants I’ve enjoyed recently. The Alameda Del Prado-based eatery specializes in breakfast and lunch, with dinner served Thursdays through Saturdays. What appealed to me right away was its seating, built around plump, lipstick-red leatherette booths that have the spunky appeal of a cigarette girl from a 1930s musical.

Booths, which ring the front room, are augmented by ample-size tables and red leatherette-padded chairs. Big windows plus tall mirrors bounce light throughout.

The café is owned by a trio of Brazilians: Vince Araujo (who handles customer service and front of the house), chef Marx Charles Passos and Lucianna Quieroz. While their menu emphasizes American classics with a few California touches, a couple of dishes from Brazil add piquancy and the opportunity for a more interesting meal than is typical of an unassuming eatery like this.

Chef Passos likes to feed people. This is is clear from the huge portions of food. Thick three-egg omelets come in classic styles, e.g., cheese and Denver, and more combinations. The Novato omelet teams Portuguese sausage with onions and Jack cheese ($9.95); the Baja has a Mexican flair, with mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro and green onions, topped with avocado and sour cream ($11.95).

Breakfast and lunch are interchangeable; both menus are available all day. Standards like pancakes, waffles and assorted eggs Benedict are augmented by a Monte Cristo sandwich ($10): three decks of Texas toast, dipped in egg batter, layered with turkey, ham and Swiss cheese, then topped with powdered sugar). Other choices: chicken-fried steak and eggs ($10.95) and Joe’s Special ($11.95) of ground beef, onions, spinach and scrambled eggs.

Certain sandwiches taste good anytime. This is certainly true of Passos’ Reuben ($9.95), exceptionally tangy rye bread layered with plenty of juicy corned beef, hot sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Put an egg on this for an over-the-top breakfast.

I enjoyed a luncheon entrée of Ipanema steak ($11), a good-size thin-pounded plank of steak, seared quickly and smothered in caramelized onion. It was topped with a fried egg over medium (perfectly cooked as I requested, so the yolk became a warm yellow gravy for the beef), and came with sides of fluffy golden rice and rich black beans, french fries and a mixed green salad rife with frisee and other spiky lettuces. The plate was as much about contrast of textures as it was about earthy flavors.

Chicken salad ($9), house-made, had the bright, fresh taste I associate with good 1950s American cooking. The tender breast meat was mixed with just the right amount of mayonnaise and celery for crunch and character, then served on a huge salad with those textured greens, tomatoes, red onions, black olives, cucumber and hard-boiled eggs. It was big enough to serve two.

The lunch menu includes a familiar roster of hot and cold sandwiches, three-quarter-pound cheeseburgers with a variety of toppings and seven types of meal-size salads. There are a few entrees available as well, such as pastas, and an intriguing dish I intend to return for: sautéed salmon chunks ($14) with fresh tomatoes, green onions, mushrooms, garlic, butter, and white wine sauce.

The dinner menu expands on several of the luncheon sandwiches and specials to include chicken parmigiana or marsala, veal cutlets prepared three ways, calamari steak, sautéed seafood medley, grilled salmon filet and two types of steak, to name a few items. Nothing is over $18.

For dessert, available all day, you’ll find from-scratch chocolate layer cake and Mexican-style flan, made in-house. I fell for the 3-inch thick coconut cream pie, made by a local baker and rich with pure coconut custard plus a dense, pure whipped cream layer. Pies like this are almost impossible to find in Marin, and worth a trip to the Novato Café just for coffee and a slab.

Service was friendly, quick and low-key, as you’d expect in a classic diner-style restaurant.

For this new business, plans are in the works. Araujo told me that over time more Brazilian dishes will be added to the menu, along with live music and outdoor patio dining, next to a tall three-tiered fountain, as spring arrives.

Overall I was surprised and pleased by the Novato Café. The food was good, filling, well-prepared and served with care. And I was so comfortable, the combination made for a delightful outing.

The Novato Café is at 271 Alameda del Prado, Novato, in front of the Econo Lodge Hotel, 382-6196,novatocafe.com. Open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner Thursday to Saturday 5-10 p.m. Closed Mondays. Free parking on site.

Novato Café’s Lucianna Queiroz takes an order from Nick Piry , a fourth-grader at Our Lady of Loretto School in Novato. He’s accompanied by his grandparents, Bob (left) and Pat Valentino.

The Ipanema steak, a good-size thin-pounded plank steak smothered in caramelized onion with egg, is served with a side of rice, black beans, french fries and salad. Chef Max Charles Passos expects to expand the menu to offer more Brazilian dishes in the near future.

Coconut cream pie is served at the Novato Cafe.