Bethany Clough

Eating Out: Bella Pasta moves to ‘restaurant row’ in northwest Fresno

Bella Pasta opens in its new location at Palm and Herndon avenues Wednesday, March 2.
Bella Pasta opens in its new location at Palm and Herndon avenues Wednesday, March 2. SPECIAL TO THE BEE

With Bella Pasta Italian Bistro moving to a new location, a “restaurant row” is taking shape once again at a northwest Fresno shopping center.

Bella Pasta is joining Cracked Pepper Bistro, Parma and Zen Wok at the North Pointe shopping center at the southwest corner of Palm and Herndon avenues.

It opens Wednesday, March 2.

The move is a homecoming of sorts to this side of town for Bella Pasta, the 25-year-old restaurant that got its start at Palm and Bullard avenues. It opened a second location at Cedar and Herndon avenues in 2005 and ran both for about three years.

“The recession hit and we lost our ‘you know what,’” says Fabian Rodriguez, who owns the restaurant with his wife Carmela Marziliano (who, coincidentally, is the daughter of the couple who started Sam’s Italian Deli & Market and you can still find her working there a few days a week).

The Palm and Bullard Bella Pasta closed when its lease was over in the depths of the recession.

The Cedar and Herndon location remained open, but Rodriguez couldn’t seem to escape questions about why the restaurant moved to that location. A slew of customers from Old Fig and surrounding areas never seemed to make the trip to the northeast Fresno.

He tried repeatedly to get back to the old neighborhood, but it never seemed to work out – until now.

Bella Pasta is taking over the former By the Sea restaurant space.

Rodriguez has history on this side of town: He used to be the general manager of Max’s Bistro and the bar manager at Harland’s in Fig Garden Village.

“We are going home,” Rodriguez says. “We are doing the best thing.”

The new Bella Pasta space looks drastically different than it did when it was By the Sea, with a new stone accent wall, crown molding and ceiling.

All the old favorites will still be on the menu – like lamb shank, pappardelle campagnola, and the crab cakes – and the restaurant will keep making its own pasta.

But Rodriguez hints something new and spicy might be coming to the menu soon too – along with some local wines.

Restaurant row

Bella Pasta joins other restaurants that have moved to the center in recent years. The center – directly across from Palm from Piazza Del Pane – is a little unusual in that its restaurants don’t front Herndon or Palm, but are discovered once people drive into the center past office buildings.

Cracked Pepper Bistro – one of the best restaurants in town with a bread pudding that is probably Fresno’s most famous dessert – moved there in 2014. Parma Ristorante, another upscale restaurant with authentic Italian food, moved there in 2011.

And Zen Wok, a fancier version of Zen Wok Fusion in the Tower District, opened next door in 2014 with huge craft beer menu.

All three have patios and form a little cluster of fine dining. It was exactly where Rodriguez wanted to be.

“The synergy of it – Cracked Pepper, Parma,” he says. “I want to be part of restaurant row.”

The center has had a couple of high-profile closures recently though, including the tiny Rue Cafe. And Club Habanos closed its doors a week and a half ago, after disagreements between the club and the shopping center owner.

But retail broker Steve Rontell with Colliers International, who handles leasing the center, says he’s already had an offer on the Rue space. He expects the center to be full again by summertime.

Anything from Mexican, Indian, Mediterranean restaurants to a bakery or sandwich shop could end up there, he says. And a store – especially a jewelry store – would fit well there, he says.

The center gets lots of female visitors due to The Bar Method, a popular workout spot.

Coming in April is Pinot’s Palette, which is taking over the former Xena’s day spa. Pinot’s is part of the popular trend of paint nights, where customers sip wine and an instructor leads them in their own painting, culminating in an evening of tipsy fun. It’s a national franchise that is opening its first location in Fresno.

Unlike other paint night events held at bars around town, Pinot’s is solely devoted to such painting events and can sit up to 64 people. It will have a bar serving beer and wine and non-alcoholic drinks. Catering is available, along with a private party room seating 32 for special events.

The past

Now if you’ve been around Fresno for a while, you might remember a restaurant row with a lot of different players that once thrived in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The center has been home to big-name restaurants such as Brix, DJ Hill’s, Don Fernando’s, Il Forno, Saigon Palace, SAC’s Restaurant and Bar and later Samba Brazilian Steakhouse.

The center took a hit during the recession, but is coming back in a big way, says Rontell, the retail broker. He noted that the owners could have turned it into an office complex or all retail, but decided to bring back a restaurant row.

“We felt its destiny was to repeat its glory days of the past,” he says.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough