A beloved uncle inspired Norma Carrillo and her three brothers — German, Alberto and Eleazar — to finally open their own restaurant.
The result is Carrillo’s Mexican Food, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at Bullard and Villa avenues.
Burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and tacos fill the menu along with several specialty items. Chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito with a special sauce, guacamole and sour cream ($9.25).
“If you fry anything, it’s popular,” Diana Rubio — Norma’s daughter — said with a smile.
Customers get a choice of shredded beef, ground beef, chicken or chile verde in the chimichanga.
Asada fries — French fries topped with carne asada, beans, cheese, guacamole and sour cream — are another favorite of customers. They’re $8.95, or $6.95 for a half-order.
German — who oversees the kitchen — learned to cook from the siblings’ late uncle, Longino “George” Velasco of Fresno.
Velasco had a Mexican restaurant on Ventura Street, and Norma started working there when she came to Fresno as a teenager. She left at one point but eventually came back because — as she says — “I like serving people.”
When Norma’s brothers followed her to Fresno, Velasco was like a father to them all.
Norma and her brothers have the same easy, friendly way with customers that their uncle had. “He liked to talk to people,” she said.
As the years passed, the Carrillos began to consider having their own restaurant.
“It was in our minds for two or three years,” Norma said.
They received encouragement from customers, who urged them to open a place in Clovis.
But the tug of love and loyalty was strong, and the siblings kept working for Velasco. Then, in February, he passed away. A standing-room-only crowd attended his funeral.
Finally, Norma said, “I told my brothers, ‘Let’s go to Clovis.’ ”
Business has been good since the restaurant opened in August. Repeat customers like the restaurant’s chile verde plate ($8.25) and menudo ($5.50 for a small serving; $8.95 for a large).
Menudo is not the only soup served at Carrillo’s. Also on the menu are birria de res (a slow-cooked stew in adobo spices), albondigas (Mexican meatball soup), caldo de pollo (Mexican chicken soup), cocido (Mexican beef stew) and caldo de camaron (shrimp soup). Prices range from $8.95 to $10.25.
Breakfast items include a number of traditional offerings — chorizo and eggs ($7.75), huevos rancheros ($7.75), breakfast burritos ($3.95 and $5.25) and much more.
Combination plates are served at lunch and dinner. Rice and beans come with both lunch and dinner combos, and dinner combos also are served with a tostada or salad.
There are 17 combination plates, ranging from $6.95 to $8.95 for lunch, and $7.95 to $9.95 for dinner.
Children’s plates — featuring smaller portions — are available to youngsters 12 and younger and to seniors 55 and older. Prices range from $4.25 to $5.25.
Carrillo’s simple interior is brightened by walls painted yellow and adobe red, with trim that’s turquoise.
Furthermore, on each table, there’s a picture from Lotería, a game of chance played in Mexico. Lotería — Spanish for lottery — is similar to bingo, but instead of using numbers, it uses a deck of 54 cards, each with a different picture. The pictures include a rooster, a watermelon, a spider and many more images.
Rubio — Norma Carrillo’s daughter — had the idea for the Lotería pictures.
“It reminds me of playing the game at my grandmother’s house in Mexico,” she said. “We didn’t have anything like a Nintendo DS when we were young. We played actual board games.”
Her grandmother, Susana, lives in Tijuana, and the Carrillos say she is the best cook in the family.
“She knows exactly what flavors to use. Everyone goes to her house,” Rubio said.
Even Uncle “George” — the Fresno restaurateur who passed away — said that Susana was No. 1 in the kitchen.
Norma often thinks of her uncle.
“He would be very happy for us. He was a special man,” she said. “He loved us, and he wanted people to better themselves. Before he passed, he said he was going to help us open our own restaurant.”
Carrillo’s Mexican Food is at 151 W. Bullard, No. 101. It’s on the northeast corner of Bullard and Villa avenues. The phone number is (559) 325-5688. The restaurant is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Customers can call in orders, and takeout is available. The restaurant is on Facebook.