Happy New Year, foodies!
As you settle back into work and real life (bummer, I know), let’s talk about where you’re going to eat this year. Well, to be honest, let’s talk about where I’m going to be spending more time this year. There are five places where I’m determined to frequent more often because, why not? Sometimes the most solid choices in town are the places we either forget about or reserve for special occasions only. Other times, the hours or location just aren’t convenient. Well, not in 2015! Here are five spots that warrant no excuses, in no particular order:
1. Castillo’s. Why I’m not here every Sunday, I just don’t understand. Growing up, my family almost always went out for Mexican food after church, and I think I’m ready to relive that tradition. Castillo’s is one of the best Mexican places in town, but for this North Fresno girl, it’s not always top of mind. Plus, they close at 4pm, so it’s either I’m there on a weekend for brunch or not at all. Go for the menudo, huevos con chorizo, or the super savory arroz con pollo. It’s all relatively inexpensive, has a homemade taste, and is always worth the wait. I hope to spend many brunches there in 2015.
2. Cracked Pepper Bistro. This place is closer to home for me now with their Palm and Herndon location, but I’ve typically viewed it as a birthday or anniversary spot. The bread pudding is out of this world amazing, along with anything else I’ve ever had from Chef Vatche. However, now with their handcrafted cocktail menu, this is a place where I am also guaranteed an incredible drink.
I find myself craving their old fashioneds on a regular basis. I asked Nick (my favorite bartender there) why his old fashioneds are so special compared to the ones I’ve made at home, and he said, “You need to put more love into them!” And I think he’s right. My plan is to go there after work more often. It’s not a party place by any means; go there to sip, talk, and enjoy.
3. Le Parisien Café. I’ve never compared whiskey to coffee until I had an iced americano at Le Parisien. It’s so strong, made with Illy espresso, and always does the trick. I literally feel a click in my brain that wakes me up when I drink these. With two locations (Palm/Nees and First/Herndon), you can’t drive by without stopping for an americano or cappuccino (my two staples) and of course, a croissant (or any pastry).
They’re also one of the only crepe places that has survived through the years in Fresno, which means, you’ll probably need to get one of those, too. My #1 favorite food item on the menu is the croque madame. In American terms, it’s a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. But if you’ve never had béchamel sauce, all of that together with the sauce will undoubtedly make you hum le vie en rose.
4. Cafe Via. This Californian-Italian place is way too empty most of the time I’ve gone. The servers are friendly as ever and the meals are all made from scratch by Chef Matthew Babcock, who was formally the food director at Fresno Pacific University. His résumé includes various places in California, including Erna’s Elderberry House. I haven’t had anything there I didn’t like, and my gluten-free friends are happy about the options they have as well. My favorites have included the carbanara pasta, the sesame edamame appetizer (sautéed with sea salt and chili flakes), the turkey sandwich and the NY steak sandwich. Pictured below is the meatball soup I had a few months back. Talk about comfort food!
Matthew’s mother makes the desserts, which is a nice family treat (his brother owns the restaurant with him, too). Make sure to ask for her coconut cake when you go.
5. Sam’s Italian Deli & Market. When I hear people mention this Fresno-classic, my mouth immediately begins to water as I think about their prosciutto or muffaletta sandwich. And honestly, their very normal, “how do they make these so good” turkey sandwich is pretty crave-worthy. And the cheese. Any kind of cheese (with wine, preferably). This is a place that’s packed with so many specialty items on my list to try – their meat lasagna, Mamma’a meatloaf, and all the little side dishes in the deli case. My wine aficionado friends all consider this a place to find quality wine, and I tend to forget about that side, too! I’m telling you, 2015 is the year to remember where to get good food and wine. And Sam’s is worth going out of my way to get it. If only they were open after 11pm. A salami sandwich after-hours? Yes, please.
In 2015, you’ll definitely know where to find me. I’ve heard rumblings of a few more new interesting spots opening this year, so I’m excited to see if any of those will make it to my list. I’ll keep you posted!