Something fresh. Something interesting. Something authentic but not like the food at other Mexican restaurants. That’s the goal at Figaro’s Mexican Grill, which recently opened at Ashlan and Fowler avenues.
The restaurant embodies the American dream — immigrant family succeeds in business — as it embraces the trend of healthy eating.
There’s a 21st-century vibe to the ambiance and cuisine, but behind the scenes, there’s a nod to the good old days.
You won’t find a microwave in any of the four Figaro’s restaurants — in Tulare, Hanford, Visalia, plus Clovis.
“Good food is never supposed to be put in a microwave. Ever,” said Yvette Figueroa, director of operations.
Rafael and Sara Figueroa — Yvette’s parents — own Figaro’s, and the restaurant’s name is a variation on the family name.
Salads are signature dishes, and the use of chayote in the Chimaya Salad and Chop Chop Salad is one example of the restaurant mixing authentic taste with healthy preparation.
Many Americans might be unfamiliar with chayote — a Mexican squash. When raw, it’s mildly sweet, crisp and juicy. When grilled — Figaro’s uses only vegetable oils — chayote becomes more flavorful.
In Chimaya Salad, a grilled chayote salsa is mixed with lettuce, jicama, bell peppers, corn, onions and cabbage, and tossed with an avocado dressing.
In the Chop Chop Salad, grilled chayote is mixed with lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, onions, jicama, carrots, cucumbers, cheese and guacamole and served with a smoked chipotle vinaigrette.
Both salads are $8.90, and chicken or steak can be added for an extra charge. Five other salads — including Mango Salad and Baja Shrimp Salad — are on the menu.
Figaro’s has six different taco offerings: chicken, fish (mahi-mahi), pork, salmon, shrimp and steak. All are charbroiled and range from $3.30 to $4.15.
Yvette Figueroa calls the shrimp tacos “amazing.” The chefs prepare the shrimp with a citrus-based marinade made fresh everyday, and the shrimp tacos are served with a chipotle sauce that enhances the flavor, Figeuroa said.
The menu also includes 12 burrito offerings, ranging from a bean cheese burrito ($4.95) to a grilled burrito with steak ($9.05). All the burritos can be served in bowls without a tortilla.
Enchilada, burrito and taco plates are available and served with rice and choice of beans — refried, pinto or black. Prices range from $8.55 to $12.05.
Figaro’s doesn’t use lard in its refried beans, and it only fries chips and taquitos.
The restaurant’s salsas — pico de gallo, green tomato, asada, roja and habañero — are made from family recipes and are known for their homemade taste.
Figaro’s also offers a variety of platters for parties and other gatherings, and the kitchen can produce them quickly, Figueroa said: “They’re ready in 15 minutes if need be.”
The speedy turnaround is possible because chefs exercise control in the kitchen. Miguel Figueroa (no relation) and Joel Ortiz are the chefs in Clovis.
Rafael Figueroa is the cooking mastermind behind Figaro’s. “My dad has the need to create in the kitchen,” Yvette Figueroa said. “You can tell when he has the itch to be creative. It’s in his body language.”
Rafael, the oldest of nine children, was born in Mexico and worked in the fields as a boy with his father, Jose. Father and son would return home and cook together.
“I always liked to play with food,” Rafael Figueroa said. “But I never dreamed of owning a restaurant.”
He worked as a mechanic in the state of Jalisco, where he was born, and in Los Angeles. Figueroa later moved to the Napa Valley, where he worked in the grape fields. Eventually, he got a job as a prep chef in Dos Coyotes, a restaurant in Davis.
Figueroa became head chef, learning more about food and also about the restaurant business. Meanwhile, he would visit relatives in the San Joaquin Valley, and he decided to move here to go into business.
The first Figaro’s opened in Tulare in 2004, followed by Hanford in 2006 and Visalia in 2008. The family lives in Tulare.
The Clovis location opened in August, and a fifth Figaro’s is scheduled to open in mid-October at the new Park Crossing center at Fresno Street and Friant Road in Fresno.
Figaro’s is truly a family operation. “I started out washing dishes when I was 14,” said 26-year-old Yvette Figueroa. “And just like any regular employee, I had the opportunity to move up.”
Figueroa said her younger siblings — Emily, 19; Joseph, 18; and 8-year-old Ricardo — all pitch in.
Their mother is their father’s “human guinea pig” when he’s creating in the kitchen, Yvette Figueroa said. “He’ll ask her, ‘Should I add something or take something out?’ They ‘guinea pig’ it out together.”
Rafael Figueroa’s creativity extends to the look of Figaro’s. The walls are painted a pale reddish tan to resemble adobe. A pergola-like structure — two long beams with cross pieces — is painted a darker shade of the reddish tan, and it dominates the ceiling. Other parts of the restaurant — including the swinging saloon doors that lead to the kitchen — are turquoise.
Equally colorful is the pottery dishware that Figaro’s uses to serve dine-in guests. (Take-out also is available.) The restaurant uses real glassware.
“It’s all part of taking things back to basics,” Yvette Figueroa said. “If you would come to my family’s home, that’s how we would serve you. We want to bring that to our customers.”
Her father is grateful for the opportunities he’s had in the United States. Asked if he’s living the American dream, Rafael Figueroa said: “I think so. It feels good, and I feel proud of myself.”
Figaro’s is at 3140 Fowler Ave., Suite 103. The telephone number is (559) 721-7701. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Find updates at www.figarosmexicangrill.com or on Facebook.