The Tower District is buzzing with curiosity about two new restaurants opening across Olive Avenue from each other.
The scoop: El Patio, a Mexican restaurant with a twist is taking over the former Meze House Mediterranean Grill spot at 552 E. Olive Ave. Across the street, a Venezuelan restaurant will open in the former doughnut and Chinese food restaurant at 601 E. Olive Ave.
First, El Patio. Technically, the full name is El Patio Muy Bueno Mexican Food. It’s pronounced El PAH-tio (the word means the same thing in Spanish and English) though the owners realize plenty of people will pronounce it the Spanglish way.
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This restaurant opened Monday.
El Patio is run by the same family that owns downtown businesses Jalisco Jewelers, Los Panchos Mexican Restaurant and Passions Boutique.
They’ll serve favorites like burritos, tacos and tortas. But also some Mexican recipes that you don’t find very often at restaurants, says owner Benjamin Torralva.
“We’re creating a different twist on recipes that are 100, 200 years old, maybe recipes grandma used to cook, but mom forgot,” he says.
For example, chef Christian Torres makes a mole recipe from 500 years ago, he says.
Also on the menu is carne en su jugo, which is a stew-like dish of beef cooked in its juices with bacon and pinto beans and eaten with tortillas.
“The painters had it. They flipped,” Torralva says.
The restaurant will be open from 8 a.m. until past dinner time, which means it will serve breakfast, too.
The most eye-catching thing about this restaurant is what they’ve done with the patio. It’s full of color.
There are bright, colorful tablecloths and papel picado – those festive colored little flags – lines the patio ceiling.
Torralva says the restaurant will use patio space behind a fence that Meze House often didn’t, allowing it to seat more customers outside.
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Across the street will be something you don’t find very often in Fresno: Venezuelan food.
The people behind La Arepa are cleaning up the building at and hope to open by the end of April.
The restaurant will serve Venezuelan fast food, including arepes and empanadas.
The restaurant is named after an arepa, a dish that features dough made from a corn-based flour, similar to a Mexican gordita, says Veronica Perozo Luna, the cook behind this restaurant.
It can be stuffed with shredded beef and cheese, chicken and avocado, or tuna, for example, she says.
The empanadas will be fried, unlike Argentine empanadas, which are baked, she says. They can be filled with shredded beef, chicken or potato, cheese and spinach.
Some options will be vegetarian. Neighborhood people have been already been asking her for meatless options, she says.
Both Luna and her husband Jesus are from Venezuela. She has been cooking since she was 10 years old, learning from both her parents. Her mother sold food from a cart when Luna was a child.