Fernando Madrigal serves up an impressive cooking pedigree along with interesting menu choices (grilled cactus leaf, anyone?) at his Don Fernando’s Mexican Cuisine on Auberry Road.
Don Fernando’s is located in the historic Marshall Station, about three miles from Prather in the foothills northeast of Clovis.
Marshall Station is named for Jimmy and Clara Marshall, who built a wooden structure at the site in the early 1930s. It originally served as a post office and grocery store, and it had two gas pumps.
After early success at the station, the Marshalls replaced the wooden building with a concrete block building. In later years, Marshall Station was a bar and a light-food restaurant.
“It’s been everything,” Madrigal said. Nine years ago, the concrete block building became Don Fernando’s.
“We had to make something out of it for people to come, and we did,” Madrigal said. “We have a lot of loyal customers.”
At Don Fernando’s, the menu features traditional Mexican fare — burritos, chiles rellenos, chimichangas, enchiladas, molotes, quesadillas, sopes, tacos and tostadas. Prices range from $1.95 to $12.95, depending on whether items are on the a la carte menu or served with rice and beans.
Sirloin hamburgers ($6.25 single and $7.95 double size) also are available.
The menu acquires a certain flair when you get to the specialties. They include but aren’t limited to:
▪ Pechuga Don Fernando’s — a tender chicken breast filled with ham, asadero cheese and spinach, topped with sweet peppers.
▪ Lamb Chile Colorado — slowly cooked in a red sauce (Madrigal makes his own sauces) and served with warm tortillas.
▪ Nopal Huizteco — grilled cactus leaf topped with asadero cheese, sauteed sweet peppers and grilled chicken breast or asada beef.
Specialty dishes range from $14.25 to $15.95.
Madrigal’s favorite is one of the seafood entrees — Coco-Chile Shrimp, which features one of his special sauces, coconut milk, chili pepper and herbs.
Another specialty dish is Shrimp al Mojo de Ajo, which comes from the Mexican state of Michoacan. The shrimp is sauteed in garlic and drizzled with one of Madrigal’s sauces.
Seafood entrees are priced between $14.25 and $16.95.
Madrigal is hands-on in the kitchen.
“Oh definitely, I still cook. I don’t think I would know what to do with myself if I wasn’t cooking,” he said.
Born in Mexico, the 60-year-old Madrigal came to Los Angeles when he was 12. He washed dishes in his first restaurant job.
Eventually, he went to work cooking for Erna Kubin-Clanin, who at the time owned a Greek restaurant in Los Angeles. “I learned a lot from Erna. She’s very good in the kitchen,” Madrigal said.
When she moved to the Redwood Inn in Yosemite in the 1970s, Madrigal came, too. They were business partners and co-chefs. “It was very good for me,” he said.
In 1984, Kubin-Clanin opened the now-famous Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant in Oakhurst, and, Madrigal said, he was co-chef there for several years. One weekend, the late Craig Claiborne, food editor and restaurant critic for The New York Times, arrived to write about the cuisine.
At one point, Claiborne stood behind Madrigal in the kitchen, taking notes as he observed. Madrigal said he was nervous but did well.
For more than a decade beginning in 1990, Madrigal operated his own restaurant — Don Fernando’s Southwest Cuisine — in Fresno. He then worked at a couple of other eateries before making the move to Marshall Station.
“I like the foothills and the mountains. It’s one of the reasons I escaped so quickly to Yosemite many years ago,” he said. “Life goes round, and you never know where it will take you.”
Don Fernando’s ambiance features cattle brands of area ranches on the dining room’s wood posts — a throwback to a time before the building was a restaurant.
Madrigal’s wife, Teresa, has added other decorative touches to the room. One of those is a family heirloom — a black stone metate, used for grinding corn for tortillas. It sits on a credenza near the dining room’s brick fireplace. Madrigal’s mother, Maria Luisa, received the metate as a wedding present.
Madrigal runs Don Fernando’s with his partner, Benny Aguirre. Now 37, Aguirre started with Madrigal when he was 17.
Aguirre said opening Don Fernando’s has been a good experience.
“We have super nice people, and they love the food,” he said.
Richard Cain, one of those customers, said: “Don Fernando’s offers Mexican cuisine similar to what is produced from a ‘fine restaurant’ kitchen. Every meal is personally prepared by Fernando and Benny from ingredients that are hand-selected and processed — no Sysco delivery trucks here!”
Cain added that Don Fernando’s enjoys “a loyal and appreciative local following” and that “many more ‘turistas’ are finding this unique place.”
Don Fernando’s at 25527 Auberry Rd. is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday. The telephone number is (559) 855-8825. The website is donfernandosmexicanrestaurant.com.
Dining with Doug appears every other week in the Independent. He can be reached at email@example.com.