This story was published originally in The Bee on Jan. 21, 2015.
Quesadillas are like Mexican comfort food. When you are hungry, nothing seems to satisfy like a warm, crispy tortilla, oozing stringing cheese.
Miguel and Mikayla Reyes know all about simple goodness. As owners of a cozy Visalia restaurant, Quesadilla Gorilla, the young married couple specialize in creating one-of-a-kind quesadillas using fresh produce, savory meats and homemade salsas.
"We wanted to create something original, something that was honest and that people would appreciate, " says Miguel Reyes. "We have taken a simple concept and given it our own twist."
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Oddly enough, the Reyeses didn't set out to make quesadillas. Miguel Reyes was a partner in a pizza joint called Pi Hole, a precursor to Quesadilla Gorilla at 302 W. Main St. But the competition among other Main Street restaurants was tough, and the restaurant didn't make it. He liked the space, which is next to the Fox Theatre, so he searched for new ideas to stay in business. A friend suggested a build-your-own-quesadilla restaurant, and they ran with it.
Miguel and Mikayla had fond memories of the soft and cheesy treat, so they borrowed a few family recipes, created a few of their own and Quesadilla Gorilla was born.
For more than a year now, Quesadilla Gorilla has been wowing its customers with its gourmet quesadillas. Unlike other restaurants that offer just a few quesadilla options, Quesadilla Gorilla gives you endless combinations, including a few creative specials.
On the build-your-own menu, you have a choice of several meats, including chile verde, bacon, cilantro lime chicken, and shredded beef. Then you can add a blend of white cheese that includes jack, mozzarella and provolone, or California cheddar. You also get three filling choices: fajita veggies, Spanish rice, red onions, habaneros, cilantro, jalapenos and pico de gallo.
To tie it all together, you get to choose two homemade salsas. Miguel and Mikayla are particularly proud of their seven salsas that range from mild to "feeling it tomorrow" hot. A customer favorite is the California Gold, a flavor-packed concoction of smoked red chilies and garlic. The flavorful cilantro cream, another customer favorite, was a challenge for Miguel to perfect.
"That took some to get it get the right balance of flavors, but I am happy with how it turned out, " he says.
If you want to double the items in your quesadilla, you can "Kong" it, and to triple the ingredients you can "King Kong" your order. And if that isn't enough, Miguel and Mikayla created specialty quesadillas that they rotate on the menu. For example, they have created a chili cheese dog and red onion quesadilla and a tuna melt quesadilla with chipotle cheddar.
"I know it sounds weird, but it was really good, " says Mikayla. "It was so good I had it three days in a row."
They also have something for those wanting something sweet: a tortilla with Nutella and bananas, dusted with powdered sugar and Mexican chocolate. The perfectly warmed tortilla combined with the sweet-tasting hazelnut spread and bananas is a light but filling dessert.
As Quesadilla Gorilla's clientele grows, Miguel and Mikayla want to continue experimenting with new flavors and textures. Recently, Miguel stuffed a fresh pasilla chili with creamy goat cheese, then added white cheese, Spanish rice, and whole black beans.
"I really like the pasilla because it has a really nice mild flavor and it combines well with the goat cheese, " says Miguel. "It was also something that I found here locally, and we are trying to use as many local ingredients as we can."
Frequent customer Andrei Tsvirinko of Visalia comes often for the chile verde quesadilla.
"The meat is so tender, and it isn't too spicy, " Tsvirinko says. "I come in here almost every day to see what they have come up with. And chances are it is going to pretty good."