If the Fresno restaurant scene had a theme song this week, it would be David Bowie singing “Ch-ch-changes.” There are so many new restaurants to tell you about, but don’t mourn their predecessors just yet. You’ll find some familiar faces behind the counters if you visit.
Mexican restaurant Fajita Fiesta is officially no longer with us. The little restaurant that’s been downtown for 25 years, along with the Shaw Avenue location and the Cedar and Nees restaurant, are gone. But the family who created the yummy Mexican food is not.
About a month ago they opened Papi’s Mex Grill Express at the former Fajita Fiesta at Van Ness Avenue and Divisadero Street. They changed the sign and freshened up the restaurant with a paint job and some new tile.
If the name Papi’s sounds familiar, it’s because the family has also run Papi’s Mex Grill at Champlain Drive and Shepherd Avenue for nearly two years.
Owner Raul Gutierrez and his family have seen the changes happening downtown in recent years – developers building new lofts and young people moving in – and decided to adapt their restaurant.
“We’re looking for an opportunity to serve that clientele,” he says. “They have a different ideal for eating than the older concept.”
So instead of a leisurely lunch and a waiter or waitress taking your order, now it’s more of a quick-service place where you order at the counter. Diners can be done with lunch in 20 minutes, or 10 if you’re in a rush, he says – adding that you’re welcome to take your time, too.
The menu has changed. In the build-your-own meal style of ordering that Chipotle has done so well, customers at Papi’s pick a meat option – chicken, beef, pork, seafood, etc. – and then decide how they want it. It could be as tacos, in a burrito bowl, a quesadilla, torta (sandwich) or on a salad.
Papi’s has an option for people who want a little bit of everything too: “discada.” It’s pork, chicken, beef and sausage seasoned with tomatoes and roasted peppers. It’s a dish that is popular in northern Mexico, Gutierrez says, and his brother, who still lives there, gave him the recipe.
Other options on the menu include a chile relleno burrito that’s popular at the north Fresno Papi’s.
If you’re wondering who Papi is, by the way, keep wondering. It’s no one in particular. The family just wanted a name no one else had.
Papi’s Mex Grill Express is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends.
And if you’re curious about what happened to the other Fajita Fiesta locations, let me catch you up. The one on Shaw Avenue is now Guri’s GrubHouse, a farm-to-fork gastropub that you can read about on the Bee’s website. Gutierrez still owns the building, but he said the family decided to stop running such a large restaurant – more than double the size of Papi’s – given Fresno’s economy and the overhead expenses of running such a large space.
The Fajita Fiesta that was once at Cedar and Nees avenues closed after 10 years in 2009 and later became Mateo’s. Earlier this year, Uncle’s Bar & Grill opened in the space, but there’s now an eviction notice on the door and the phone is disconnected.
Locally owned Grilled Chz has a new location open in northeast Fresno. It’s at 7059 N. Cedar Ave., in the same shopping center as John’s Incredible Pizza. Technically, this is a move, since the owners closed the original location at Willow and Nees a while ago, opting for a more high-profile location.
But let’s focus on the melted gooey goodness that is grilled cheese. This restaurant has the same menu as the Grilled Chz on west Shaw. Customers can build their own grilled cheese with six cheeses to choose from and add-ins as wacky as potato sticks, fig paste and peanut butter. It also serves tomato soup, chili and french fries.
One sandwich got attention in the AAA magazine “Via” recently: the “molten extravaganza” of double-cream French Brie, bacon, sliced almonds and homemade fig paste.
Grilled cheese restaurants are popular in other cities, but owner Juan C. Ortega says two things set Grilled Chz apart. The first is the eight flavored butters, including almond butter, cilantro-lime, horseradish and a parsley-garlic that makes sandwiches taste like they’re made with garlic bread, he says.
The other is the “inside out” option where cheddar, pepper jack and Parmesan is melted on the grill and the bread is smooshed into it, resulting in a crunchy, cheesy crust on the outside.
Details: http://www.grilledchz.com/ or (559) 325-8249.
Frankie’s 568 has closed. This was the Tower District restaurant next to Bourbon & Taps that the owners of three DiCicco’s restaurants opened in honor of the family patriarch.
Joanna Vitucci Lopez says the lease was up and the experiment is over.
“There was a lot of factors,” she says. “Sharing a building with someone was not something I was used to do doing and we have three other restaurants.”
If you’re a fan of Frankie’s food or just liked their staff, fear not. The menu and the same workers will be at the DiCicco’s at 2221 W. Shaw Ave.
A replacement for Frankie’s is already in the works. A name hasn’t been chosen yet, but I’ll fill you in as soon as details are confirmed.
The newest Jamba Juice is now open in Fresno It’s in the Marketplace at El Paseo, the new shopping center near Herndon Avenue and Highway 99.