There are so many new restaurants opening in Fresno and Clovis these days it’s hard to keep track.
The big-name restaurants – Black Bear Diner, Triangle Drive In, Burgerim, Tabachines Cocina – get lots of attention. And a handful of new downtown Fresno restaurants – Chicken Shack, Chelita’s Taqueria and Tutis Fruties – have made their own splash.
But plenty of mom-and-pop shops with less familiar names are opening, too. Some have opened quietly and are slowly ramping up. They range from a full coffee shop in an unexpected place (a car wash) to familiar faces who are serving tri-tip in new locations. Even though most have been around a few months, it’s not too late to put the spotlight on these seven restaurant openings you may have missed.
Little Fat Dumpling
This Chinese soup dumpling place is something new for Fresno. Soup dumplings have taken off in popularity in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but haven’t made much of a splash here yet – until now.
The Xiao Long Bao dumplings that Little Fat Dumpling specializes in are little handmade packets of dough and soup. Put them in your mouth whole and the hot soup spills into your mouth when the dumpling is bitten.
Just how did the liquid get inside those delicate dumplings? That mystery is part of the appeal, but we’ll give you the CliffsNotes version here.
Little Fat Dumpling, a tiny restaurant, is at 8482 N. Friant Road, next to Butterfish in the new shopping center at Fresno Street. Hundreds of dumplings are made here daily by hand in front of diners.
“Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh,” says Yu Ouyang, who owns the restaurant with his daughter, Yaohan Murong.
The dough is rolled out into perfect circles. The Xiao Long Bao dumplings, sometimes called juicy dumplings, are filled with pork and what will become soup. The soup is a blend of pork skin, green onion, ginger and other ingredients cooked for six hours. It’s then refrigerated, which gives it a gelatinous texture that is shredded into tiny pieces.
The soup is solid enough to be scooped into a dumpling by hand with the pork. The top of each dumpling is folded by hand with tiny pleats about 20 times.
“It looks easy, but when you do it, it’s not easy,” Ouyang says.
When the dumplings are sealed up and steamed over water, the soup turns back to liquid.
It takes a little skill to eat them. Murong picks them up with chopsticks, dipping them in vinegar and ginger before transferring them to a spoon and tipping them into her mouth. She says that if you can’t fit the whole thing in your mouth, it’s OK to bite the dumpling on the spoon, letting the spoon collect the liquid that spills out.
Little Fat Dumpling has other kinds of dumplings, too, including pork-cabbage, beef-onion, shrimp and vegetarian.
The menu includes other kinds of Chinese food, such as noodles dishes with noodles made in house, fried rice and kung pao chicken.
Little Fat Dumpling is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Beware though, there only 11 tables and they fill up quickly at mealtimes.
356 Tavern & Grill
There is a little bit of everything going on at 356 Tavern & Grill: Local beer, line dancing, freedom fries, handmade ice cream and live music.
The business inside the historic hotel in Clovis gets its name from its address, 356 Pollasky Ave. The Williams family behind it is the same one that makes 559 beer including father-son duo Randy and Rhett Williams and wife/mom Cheryl Gomes Williams.
The restaurant’s menu includes half-pound burgers, fish tacos with beer-battered fish (using 559 beer, of course), steak and more.
The freedom fries are french fries covered in gravy, bacon, sour cream and cheese, with a tiny American flag plunked in it. But it’s the hand-cut tavern chips served with a smoky muscat sauce that is the most popular appetizer.
Clovis-made 559 beers are on tap, along with a few other California breweries. The restaurant is swapping a few kegs with other small breweries that don’t have distribution systems, meaning they’ll have beer you may not find on a store shelf or at other restaurants.
You can order a flight of all eight beers on tap, which are served atop a wagon wheel. There are wine-based cocktails, too.
Live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays is bringing in a lot of customers, Cheryl Gomes Williams says: “It’s becoming quite the venue for music because all ages can come in and all styles of music.”
That includes reggae and soul bands and bands that say they’ve never played in Clovis before. And sticking to those Clovis roots, there’s line dancing on Tuesday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Another business, Roll Me Some Artisanal Ice Creme, operates under the same roof, selling rolled ice cream. Cream and other ingredients are turned into ice cream on freezing slab while you watch. It has different hours, opening at noon on weekdays, 11 a.m. on weekends and and staying open through the evening.
Fulton Street Coffee
Fulton Street Coffee is in the same building as Warnors Theatre, at the corner of Fulton and Tuolumne streets downtown. The coffee and tea bar opened quietly Feb. 3 and has been ramping up ever since.
The coffee beans are roasted on site. You’ll find traditional drinks here, but also creative ones. Owner Omar Vargas bought the business that was located there before, Raizana Tea, and continues to blend and sell tea at the shop, on its website and through Amazon.com.
He’s also clearly in love with all things coffee.
He buys coffee beans from farms around the world, but always tries to talk to the farmers to make sure they are paid a fair wage and follow organic practices.
As for drinks, you’ll find pour-over coffees here, a process of brewing that involves pouring hot water over the grounds by hand. It may take a little longer, but it makes a better cup of coffee.
“I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting the pours,” Vargas says.
You’ll also find other espresso-based drinks here, like lattes.
One popular option is the cafe con leche, which is made with cold-brew coffee, cinnamon, milk and brown sugar.
There are tea drinks here, too, including a rose lemonade that’s a brilliant pink, made from brewed rose petals, lemon juice and sugar.
Fulton Street Coffee, at 2015 Tuolumne Street, is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and closed on weekends.
Phill’s Corner Grille
If you’ve driven past the Peacock Market at Tollhouse Road and Sunnyside Avenue in Clovis in the past few months, you’ve probably smelled something enticing. That’s the ribs, tri-tip and chicken cooking in the smoker out front of Phill’s Corner Grill.
The Peacock Market is the restaurant’s new home, a move from where the restaurant used to be located, kitty corner across the intersection at the Valero gas station.
And that smoker in the parking lot?
“You can’t just call her a smoker,” says owner Phillip Young. “She’s my ‘grill-friend.’”
The old restaurant space didn’t have seating for customers, but the new space is a full restaurant with plenty of room to sit.
In addition to the popular tri-tip and ribs, you’ll also find burgers on the menu, sometimes with slices of tri-tip or mac ‘n cheese atop the patty. Young makes a California cheesesteak, his take on the Philly cheesesteak, using sirloin with three colors of bell peppers, two kinds of onions and two kinds of cheese.
You can also get a side of “X-rated mac ‘n cheese,” which Young said is a particularly delicious recipe with lots of herbs in it. The X-rated is a reference to “food porn,” he says.
The restaurant also serves breakfast, including pancakes and breakfast burritos. And a dessert menu is in the works, with ice cream available now.
Phill’s Corner Grill is at 1427 Tollhouse Road and is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, closed on Sundays.
Rare Earth Coffee
Locally owned Rare Earth Coffee just opened its fifth location, this one at the southwest corner of Herndon and West avenues. The coffee shop is inside Jack’s Car Wash, which also has a boutique and a convenience store attached.
But you can also get your drink and a car wash without ever leaving your car. The same attendant who approaches to find out what type of car wash a customer wants can take a drink order and its payment. It will be waiting for the customer at the end of the car wash tunnel.
Rare Earth sells all kinds of drinks, including lattes, cappuccinos, tea and other traditional coffee shop drinks. There are blended drinks made with espresso, and some made without espresso for the kids (big or little) in flavors like Reese’s peanut butter and horchata.
Le Parisien Cafe provides goodies daily, including doughnuts, macaron cookies, quiche and paninis.
Rare Earth is working on its next location, which is planned for inside Clawson Honda on Blackstone Avenue.
The buffet restaurant in Clovis that was once HomeTown Buffet, and later Arirang Mongolian Buffet, is now another new buffet restaurant. Victual Buffet, an Asian fusion restaurant, opened about a month ago next to Big Lots at 458 W. Shaw Ave. near Peach Avenue.
There’s food for adventurous eaters here and for diners who want to play it safe. For example, you’ll find chicken feet cooked in a brown sauce, pigs feet and mussels topped with cheese.
There are more familiar dishes like chow mein, a wide array of soups and noodle and chicken dishes. The restaurant has a Brazilian barbecue station and a hibachi grill.
There are familiar American dishes too, like pizza and onion rings.
People who dine downtown may remember Goodfellas, the restaurant at The Galleria at Capitol and N streets. The Goodfellas founder sold it in 2007 and years later it closed. Now the original owner, Gerald Chiarito, is back and has opened a new restaurant in the same spot: Ragazzo’s.
“I probably should have never sold it,” he says. “The guy decided to not renew his lease and I took the place back over.”
The name had to change because it was sold with the business (ragazzo is an informal word for boy, guy, or perhaps a fella). But the menu is still chock full of much of the same comforting Italian food.
There are pasta bowls with marinara, Alfredo and pesto sauce, flatbreads, sandwiches and salads. The restaurant makes its own sauces and meatballs.
The Scarface is the most popular dish – penne pasta in housemade Alfredo sauce with grilled chicken and mushrooms – but Chiarito’s favorite?
“If I can have anything I want, I usually get the meatball sandwich,” he says.
Ragazzo’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.