Maybe it’s the fiery red trees around the dining room. Or the absence of burritos on the menu.
Either way, when you walk into the newly opened Tabachines Cocina restaurant, you know it’s not your typical Mexican restaurant.
The restaurant opened this week, a transplant from its former location in downtown Los Angeles.
Tabachines (pronounced Tah-bah-cheen-ase) refers to a tree of the same name, images of its red-orange flowers splashed across the restaurant walls. The tree reminds owner Consuelo Alvarado of her birthplace, Guadulajara, where tabachín trees line the main square and look like dancing fire when the wind blows.
She’s a former Mexican folklorico dancer, so it’s no surprise she pays attention to visuals like that. It’s an attention to detail that she and chef Patricia Zarate bring to the food as well.
“It looks simple, fresh. More than anything it’s colorful,” Alvarado said. “We’re serving Mexican food the way it was meant to be.”
The pair ran a restaurant of the same name in Los Angeles for two years, though Alvarado never really moved there. For her, Fresno has always been home, in part because that’s where the grandbabies are. The chef has since moved to Fresno.
Alvarado and Zarate, close friends, both grew up in Guadalajara. Conversations about the way their mothers used to cook are common.
Alvarado recalls her mother dropping her off at school on the second floor of a building and then shopping at the “mercado” downstairs. They didn’t have a refrigerator so food was bought fresh daily.
She never had a burrito until after she moved to the U.S. at age 17, she said.
Alvarado and the chef are trying to share that simple, fresh cuisine of their mothers at the restaurant.
“We want to make sure we share that table we grew up with, share a little bit about what our Mexico is really about,” Alvarado said.
The food isn’t all from Guadalajara though. Many of the dishes are familiar Mexican dishes from across the country, but with their own twists.
The ceviche is served on a bed of greens with habanero pickled onions. A simple roasted corn dish with Cotija cheese and lime is deceptively delicious. Carne en su jugo is on the menu also, beef cooked in its own juices and served with beans, grilled onions, avocado, radishes and cilantro.
There are no hamburgers — or hamburguesas — on the menu. But there is a “jamburguesa,” the chef’s own twist on one. Customers choose from asada meat, carnitas, chicken or fish, and the dish is served with black bean spread, arugula, and pickled habanero onions.
Tabachines has a full bar, and a sommelier has paired each dish with wine or a cocktail.
The restaurant also makes aguas frescas, the Mexican drinks made with fruit and sweetened water. They come in some unusual flavors, like kale and tomatillo. The deep red-purple jamaica is a showstopper, getting its flavor from the hibiscus plant.
There are cocktails like the “mo-heat-o,” a mojito made with a serrano chile, and a mango bellini available during brunch.
There are classic cocktails too, like a simple margarita using quality ingredients, said bar manager Robert Maidt.
“It’s a margarita,” he said, “but it’s one of the oldest recipes of margarita that exists.”