• The Castillos family of restaurateurs opens a Tower District restaurant featuring their father’s recipes.
• Pita Pit celebrates five years and celebrity chef Tyler Florence chats with the maker of local Enzo olive oil.
• Crab Cakes hosts cognac and brandy tasting.
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Family affair at Castillos
Food and family go hand in hand at the newly opened Castillos Mexican Food in the Tower District.
The restaurant opened this month at 568 E. Olive Ave. in the space once occupied by Frankie’s 568 and Cafe Rousseau.
Every worker at Castillos is part of the family, whether it’s one of the three sisters running it or one of the nieces mashing up avocados into guacamole.
Sisters Margarita, Celia and Angelica and their father, Kino Castillo, own the restaurant. The recipes come from Kino and are the same ones used when the sisters were kids, growing up in the back of other family-owned restaurants sorting beans.
The restaurant serves traditional Mexican food, with a huge menu with lots of combination plates. Breakfast is served all day.
The chile verde is the No. 1 seller here, and the shrimp fajitas are popular, too.
“Nobody makes rellenos like my dad,” says Margarita Castillo.
They use canned peppers that are pre-cooked because they’re tender and easier to eat, she says.
A few nontraditional items are on the menu, too, such as Mexican pizza, with refried beans and meat sandwiched between two flour tortillas, drizzled in enchilada sauce and smothered in cheese.
The dish can be made vegetarian. Castillos is vegetarian-friendly and there’s no lard in the refried beans, Castillo notes.
“The vegetarians, they don’t have to worry so much about ordering here,” she says. “My husband is a vegetarian so I know what they’re looking for.”
Castillos serves alcohol, but uses the liquor license of the business next door, Bourbon & Taps. Customers can order Mexican beers, margaritas and micheladas from their table after 5 p.m., though they must pay separately. This arrangement also means that people trying out the whiskey or bourbon or other drinks at Bourbon & Taps can now add munchies to their evening.
The Castillo family has had its hands in many restaurants over the years. Multiple generations of the extended family have run 32 — yes, 32 — restaurants under names such as Castillo’s, Kino’s, El Quetzel, Papa Gallo’s, El Sombrero and Mamasita’s.
It all started with grandfather Juan Castillo, who lost his arm in a car accident. He had trouble finding work afterward, so the family got together $300, which he used to open a milkshake shop. He then started opening other restaurants and various children and family members took them over.
One restaurant with the Castillo name was just down the street, in what is now the Million Elephant Cafe & Bar at Olive Avenue and Fulton Street, until it closed in the late 1990s.
“I just kept trying to talk my dad into coming back to Tower,” Margarita Castillo says.
She did, and so far the Tower has welcomed them with open arms. Even though the neighborhood has several other Mexican restaurants — Cuca’s Restaurant and Bobby Salazar’s Taqueria in the heart of the Tower and El Cochinito Contento just down the street — Castillos is getting a lot of attention.
Castillo says she can’t imagine her and her family doing anything but running a restaurant.
“It’s just second nature to us,” she says. “We grew up in this business. I love it. My sisters love it.”
Castillos is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and is testing out brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, see the restaurant’s Facebook page under the name Castillos Mexican Restaurant.
The owners of the Pita Pit at the southwest corner of Willow and Herndon avenues are celebrating five years running the restaurant. It’s actually been around for eight years total, but when Alma Santillan and Mario Esquivel took it over the restaurant wasn’t breaking even.
Fast forward a few years and sales are up 25% with the top sellers including chicken Caesar wraps and lamb and beef gyros.
The married couple, immigrants from Mexico, turned the business around over the last few years. Their 16-year-old son also works in the restaurant.
The couple hopes to eventually open another Pita Pit, perhaps in Visalia or Bakersfield in the long term.
The entire experience has been a bit of a dream come true, Santillan says: “It was a challenge but if you’ve been persistent in what you want and what you believe, it can happen.”
Olive oil chat
Tyler Florence, celebrity chef and host of several Food Network shows, had an interesting podcast recently with Vincent Ricchiuti of Enzo Olive Oil and P-R Farms in the Valley. You may know Ricchiuti and his family as the people behind Enzo’s Table (formerly Bella Frutta), the store at 1959 N. Willow Ave. in Clovis that hosts food trucks on the weekends.
Their chat covered how olive oil is made, the best way to work with it (heat it up slowly), how to tell if it has gone bad (a dirty diaper smell) and efforts against mislabeling of extra-virgin olive oil.
You can listen to the entire podcast at the Tyler Florence Test Kitchen site.
Passover at Whole Foods
Whole Foods is boosting its selection of kosher foods for Passover to include all-natural, gluten-free and dairy-free options.
In addition to more traditional foods it sells at Whole Foods, Kedem Food Products is adding several new items to the shelves, including biodynamic grape juice, a chocolate-frosted Passover doughnut, gluten-free brownie and blondie crunch, gluten-free chocolate cookies, Gefen apple crisps and hot pepper Zeta olive oil.
Brandy and cognac tasting
Crab Cakes Restaurant in Oakhurst has been holding liquor and beer tastings at Roman’s Bar, which sits above the restaurant. The next one features brandy and cognac for $15 at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 31. The tastings are led by Shane Marrone, head bartender and a certified mixologist, who talks about the drink and its history as he pours. Each tasting features four or five half-ounce to 1-ounce pours and is paired with food.
After the brandy and cognac tasting, Roman’s Bar will host a cigar and cognac pairing for an additional $20.
Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling (559) 641-7667.