Sometimes you stumble upon a little restaurant that’s right under your nose and it’s so charming and different, you wonder why you haven’t been there before.
Mochuelo is one of those places.
It’s inside a Fresno hotel. It has a quirky mural on its patio. And it’s been quietly serving up a menu of small plates since late 2017 with barely any social media presence.
Mochuelo is Spanish for “little owl,” the staffers say. Its logo is a cute-yet-slightly-irked-looking cartoon owl created by a California artist and filmmaker.
The restaurant is inside the Hotel Piccadilly at 2305 W. Shaw Ave. It’s across the street from The Annex Kitchen, the Pardini-owned restaurant that is booking up fast these days (and Mochuelo is getting some overflow customers who don’t want to wait for seats at Annex).
The hotel got new owners about six years ago.
“They wanted to do something different,” said general manager Paula Flores.
And they definitely did.
Longtime Fresnans may remember the Mochuelo space as Oliver’s Pub. But it looks drastically different now.
“People always go, ‘Where’s the fireplace and the moose head?’” Flores said.
Both are gone, a wall has been torn down and the big ornate wooden bar is on a different wall than it used to be. A giant sculpture of gold forks and spoons hangs from the ceiling.
The restaurant opened in September 2017 after a renovation. You may not have heard of Mochuelo because the management has been taking baby steps, with a small sign out front and officially giving it a name only last August.
The menu is definitely creative for Fresno, with items like bacon-wrapped dates, cauliflower gratin and lamb meatballs.
It’s inspired by Spanish tapas – small plates, snacks, canapes, shareable dishes – whatever you want to call them, notes executive chef Megan Done.
The dishes are smaller than your typical restaurant and range from $6 to $15. They are meant to be shared.
This concept is a little new for some Fresnans, and the fact that the hotel check-in desk and the restaurant are essentially in the same big room is a little puzzling to some customers.
“It kinda throws people off, but in bigger cities there are hotels that have really great restaurants,” Flores said. “Once they get in and they see the menu and the drinks coming out, they change their mind.”
You won’t find a hamburger on the menu, but you can get a steak. There’s a grilled flank steak with a smoked paprika and cumin rub and a cilantro-lime herb sauce. Sliced steak also comes in the Moroccan street tacos.
The chef’s favorites dishes are the fried calamari and the seafood paella made with mussels, clams, shrimp, chorizo and saffron.
As for drinks, there’s plenty of Spanish wines and a partnership with Moravia Wines in Fresno. There are 12 taps, with an emphasis on California beers. Three taps pour beer on nitro, meaning Guinness and Firestone’s Merlin milk stout, for example, are infused with nitrogen gas that creates a smoother texture.
A cocktail menu changes seasonally. It includes a pomegranate Manhattan made with Corbin Cash whiskey from Atwater. Others have creative names like Running Through the Orchards — a vodka drink with orange, spiced pear and elderflower flavors.
The restaurant is small, seating just 32 people. The patio, not usually used in winter, is pet friendly. It features that mural by Los Angeles artist Tim Kim, with nearby scenes like Yosemite’s Half Dome, giant sequoias and a tractor in a field. The owl that graces the center of the mural, the coasters and other parts of the restaurant was created by Molly Schiot.
The bar at Mochuelo opens at 4:30 p.m., with dinner starting at 5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Park anywhere on the hotel property or on the street.
Details: (559) 348-5520.