Bethany Clough

Here are 10 restaurant openings you may have missed

A ranchero taco with braised pork belly and a Pitman Farms fried egg on top at Taste Kitchen in the Sunnyside area of Fresno on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018
A ranchero taco with braised pork belly and a Pitman Farms fried egg on top at Taste Kitchen in the Sunnyside area of Fresno on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018

Looking for a new place to eat out?

A quirky mix of new restaurants has opened in Fresno in recent months, many getting overlooked during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

They range from a waffle shop with a secret menu to a beer-centric restaurant with dozens of taps. Two are food trucks that now have sit-down restaurants and a few are names you’ll recognize doing a twist on their typical restaurant.

Now that they’ve worked out the kinks of opening a new restaurant, it’s a good time to visit.

Waffles deluxe

Waffle Shop Country Kitchen serves waffles, including chicken and waffles. The restaurant also has a secret menu. Waffle Shop

The No. 1 seller at the new Waffle Shop Country Cooking isn’t on the menu.

It’s chicken and waffles, with the chicken piled up and speared on a knife stabbed into the waffle.

The new location of this restaurant is at 6640 N. Blackstone Ave., south of Herndon Avenue and next to Imperial Garden Restaurant. Waffle Shop used to have another Blackstone location near Gettysburg Avenue, but that closed when its lease was up a while back.

There is another Waffle Shop at 4025 W Figarden Drive. It got so busy on weekends they were turning people away and realized another location was needed.

At the new place, there are a few other things on the secret menu, like waffles with M&Ms or strawberry shortcake waffles for the kids. Just ask, if you’re curious.

The other interesting thing about this place: It’s the epitome of a down-home breakfast spot with chatty workers.

They’ll wish you luck on your lottery Scratchers and talk with graveyard-shift workers about their jobs when they come in for a post-work meal.

It’s part of the job, server Dianna Ortega said.

“It’s like an a.m. bartender,” she said. “It’s the same thing, only it’s coffee and bacon.”

Instagrammable ramen

Young people are taking pictures with the mural at newly opened Ichiban Ramen & Poki. Painted by Sak Singharath, the mural features Naruto, an anime character from a Japanese manga series. Bethany Clough

Fresno’s newest ramen restaurant is also a poke place. Ichiban Ramen & Poki opened in January next to Starbucks at 1041 E. Shaw Avenue and First Street.

It’s run by the same people as the other two Ramen Ichiban restaurants in town.

One thing that makes this one different is the giant mural of anime characters. Naruto and his friends come from a Japanese manga (comics) series.

The mural is ideal for Instagrammers and young people are already photographing themselves with it.

Unlike the other Ichiban restaurants, the new Ichiban also serves poke – the Hawaiian-inspired dish made with bite-size pieces of raw tuna or other fish. The owners wanted an option for those 100-degree days in Fresno when a hot bowl of soup isn’t that appealing.

Mostly though, this is a ramen place. What’s popular? The tonkotsu bowl, which comes with pork, a boiled egg, ramen noodles, and more. The chicken ramen also is popular, along with a Pismo Beach ramen that includes all kinds of seafood.

Pork belly tacos

A ranchero taco with braised pork belly and a Pitman Farms fried egg on top at Taste Kitchen in the Sunnyside area of Fresno on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 CRAIG KOHLRUSS

Taste Kitchen began selling its non-GMO pork belly and free-range chicken tacos at its new restaurant in November. Previously, all business was done from its bright blue truck parked at Vineyard Farmers Market and other locations.

Now owner Martin Franco has a bright blue restaurant at 6015 E. Kings Canyon Road, in the same shopping center as the Sunnyside Gb3.

Ingredients are local and organic. Owner and chef Martin Franco said he is “always trying to push the envelope on what can be served in a tortilla.”

Last week, Taste Kitchen got a delivery of locally grown cabbage and arugula microgreens that Franco is experimenting with.

A non-taco favorite? The street fries. Picture a big ol’ plate of french fries piled with carne asada or other meat, chipotle crema, cotija cheese, pickled onions, cilantro and a kicky salsa.

Taste Kitchen is in a part of town that’s not exactly a hotbed of new restaurants, but Franco wanted to be there.

“It’s my neighborhood I live in, my family and I live in,” he said. “I like to do something in the community I live in.”

That shopping center, with Gb3, has had a mini-boom in recent months. Persian food restaurant Caspian Grill is there now, along with newly opened Poki Bowl Express. A doughnut shop is on the way.

Pizza and self-serve beer

Newly opened Blast & Brew has 38 self-serve taps. The Clovis restaurants also serves, pizza, sandwiches, salads and more. Blast & Brew

Locally owned Blast & Brew is up and running in one of the new buildings in Old Town Clovis. At 601 Pollasky Ave., it’s across from House of JuJu’s new location.

Beer is the highlight of this restaurant. There are 38 taps from which customers serve themselves. That allows customers to taste new beers and try a variety without relying on a bartender – though there’s always one there just in case.

Four of the taps dispense wine. The rest are mostly craft beers, though they promise to have Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap during the rodeo. Four are “on nitro,” meaning they’re infused with a nitrogen gas that creates a smoother texture.

How much you drink is tracked by a card connected to your bill. You put it in a slot below the tap and as you pour, it tells you how much you’re spending. The card has to be reupped at 32 ounces, which makes sure people aren’t drinking too much.

The restaurant is a franchise created by the same people behind Me-n-Ed’s Pizzeria, and owned by five local families.

The menu has 11-inch, personal-sized pizzas, including a build-your-own option. There also are salads, sandwiches and and beer-friendly appetizers like a Bavarian pretzel with beer cheese. The grilled chicken pesto sandwich with bacon is a customer favorite.

“There’s nothing over $12 on the menu,” said co-owner Matt Sherrell.

A downtown gastropub

Hop PK opened in November, a joint effort by Sanger-based House of Pendragon Brewing Co. and Visalia’s Pita Kabob Mediterranean restaurants.

It has 32 taps serving craft beer, including all kinds of beer from House of Pendragon. It’s the same brewery that has a tasting room in Clovis. The Star Wars beers are popular, including the Grey Jedi IPA.

The food is Mediterranean, with kebabs, salads, rice bowls, burgers and wraps.

What to get here: The shawarma fries are a huge seller. French fries or sweet potato fries are topped with gyro meat, grilled onions, Serrano peppers, melted cheese and topped with garlic sauce, pepperoncinis and spicy tahini.

The falafel wraps also are popular.

At 820 Van Ness Ave., Hop PK is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Boba tea and more

New tea shop iTea serves boba tea at 385 E. Shaw Ave., in the same shopping center as CVS at Shaw and Fresno Street. Bethany Clough

Asian tea house iTea has locations all over the state and recently opened one in Fresno. It’s at 385 E. Shaw Ave., in the same shopping center as CVS at Shaw and Fresno Street.

This isn’t your typical American tea shop. It specializes in boba tea, a concept from Taiwan where the drinks include little chewy balls made from tapioca. The company has locations are all over California and this is the first in the Fresno area.

Cold drinks are the standard at iTea, though a few can be made hot.

There are traditional teas, fruit teas, milk teas and smoothies. If you want to try something fun, opt for the slippery popping boba that makes tiny explosions in your mouth. Or a tea topped with “pudding,” which is more of an egg custard than a typical pudding.

If all this seems overwhelming, co-owner Ellen Shi recommends ordering a milk tea, especially the Hokkaido milk tea. It’s a caramel flavor tea that comes with boba and pudding.

Teas come with a thin plastic seal on top that you poke a big straw through.

One thing that makes iTea different from other local tea places is that you can pick the sweetness of your drink and how much ice is in it. There’s a graphic right on the menu with different levels you can point to.

The tea shop also serves munchies, including basil popcorn chicken and takoyaki, a fried octopus dish.

It’s open from noon to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

A downtown favorite

The Downtown Club is open for lunch once again. This photo, taken in 2015 when the restaurant was renamed The Republican, features server Zion Gan, center, Derrick Reimer, 27, left, of Reedley, Rob Walling, 40, second from left, of Fresno, Ian Nance, 35, second from right, of Fresno and Anna Jacobsen, 27, of Fresno. SILVIA FLORES

The Downtown Club reopened quietly in late October. It’s open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and for private parties on evenings and weekends. It’s at 2120 Kern St.

This is the same Downtown Club that used to be members only and has opened and closed a few times since then. The restaurant is now open to the public and being run by the owners of the building.

Its menu is online and features burgers, salads, pasta and meat entrees. Most are $12.95 or less. The chicken kebab is a popular option.

The bar is open during lunch.

Raw-food option

raw fresno
The “verger slider” from Raw Fresno is dehydrated vegan burger, served on onion or red bell pepper flatbread. Raw Fresno

Some people may be familiar with Raw Fresno and its food truck (named Minerva) from its regular stops at Enzo’s Table and Kaiser Permanente Farmers Market.

Now the business has a restaurant in downtown Fresno, in Galleria at Civic Center Square at N and Capitol streets.

Raw Fresno has a plant-based menu and everything on the menu is vegan. Almost all of it is raw.

The restaurant also caters to people with all kinds of food allergies. Check out all the things it does not have in its food: Gluten, peanuts, sugar, corn, dairy, soy, vinegar and yeast.

Owner Naomi Hendrix makes crackers and bread by dehydrating sunflower and flax seeds and seasoning them for each dish.

The veggie pizza is served on top of it, piled high with garlic hummus, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, peppers, pumpkin seed pesto, microgreens and drizzled with a dairy-free ranch dressing made from cashews.

You can get a wrap that uses a collard leaf instead of a tortilla and pad Thai made from spiralized daikon noodles.

This way of eating is personal for Hendrix. Her son, Ian Zachary Smith, had celiac, an autoimmune disease in which the body can’t tolerate gluten. He started having seizures and eventually died at age 21. Hendrix also has celiac.

Raw Fresno is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The truck visits several locations during the week. Keep tabs on Raw Fresno’s Facebook page to find out where.

It has a lunch club that delivers lunches to people who order on its website.

Raw Fresno also is testing out a refrigerated vending machine for Fresno County buildings. It also caters, including weddings.

Rolled ice cream

Jabin ice cream
JABIN Ice Cream makes rolled ice cream on a frozen slab at Friant and Fort Washington roads. JABIN Ice Cream

JABIN Ice Cream Roll opened the second week of January.

At Friant and Fort Washington roads, it’s the only one serving this trendy new ice cream in that part of town. The ice cream is made in front of you while you wait. Workers pour cream on a frozen metal slab and work goodies into it as it turns into ice cream.

It’s topped with everything from chocolate and strawberries to Fruity Pebbles cereal.

JABIN has traditional flavors, but also so-called “healthy” flavors. That includes antioxidant-rich matcha, fresh avocado and mixed berries.

JABIN means ice cream in Taiwanese, according to the owner.

A local chain

Fugazzis opened its first restaurant in Kingsburg in November. The California cuisine restaurant has been steadily working its way around the central San Joaquin Valley.

It now has five restaurants, including two in Visalia and one each in Hanford and Tulare. Their catering company does events up and down the Valley.

The new spot is on Kingsburg’s main drag at 1335 Draper St. It’s doing 25 percent more business than owner Mike Fligor expected.

Fugazzis sells steaks, halibut, sandwiches, salads and pasta.

One thing that catches diners’ interest: The bread they put on the table with on olive oil-based dipping sauce.

“It’s a special sauce we make,” Fligor said. “When you first arrive, you get our signature bread and our signature bread sauce.”

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough