Fresno, CA

My updated review on the Fresno hidden food scene.

Mark-John Clifford

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Home Made TacosMark-John Clifford-Author

In May, I wrote a piece about the Fresno hidden food scene covering the Mom and Pop taco stands that open late at night or early in the morning. 

These Mom and Pop pop-up stands cover the back streets of Fresno and Clovis are where you can get some of the best authentic Mexican food you will get in the vicinity.

There are some great food trucks on the street with well-known names that are always popular at malls and other locations when they all get together, but these Mom and Pop locations try to stay under the radar for a good reason.

The City of Fresno still hasn't adopted the law allowing anyone to have a food license to sell food cooked at home. It's a law in the State, but it's up to each County/City to put it in place. Fresno hasn't as of yet. So far as I know, as of this writing, Riverside County is the only one in the State allowing people to cook and sell from their homes.

Will Fresno ever adopt the law? Good question and no one at city hall has an answer. When I called recently to ask about it, all they said was it's coming.

Back to the Mom & Pop's

When I wrote in May, I was hoping to land a grant to make a documentary of these Mom & Pop stands that would give people more insight into what's happening with the hidden food scene, as I called it, and their efforts to keep open.

I didn't get the grant as I had hoped, but while waiting for the grant and interviewing some of the Mom and Pop stands, I ran into another issue. They didn't want to be videoed or identified regarding their names and locations. That was going to make the documentary a little more challenging.

Once the grant didn't come through, I decided it was time to update the original story with what all the stands seemed to agree on as to what I could say and couldn't write.

Here's the essential list of no-nos. No videos of the people dining or the owners, chefs, and their families. No real names. Don't harass their diners. I could ask questions but don't give their names or anything pertinent. 

Rules and Regulations-Sort of

I could take pictures of the food, but not the location. I could mention their general site, like the main street, they are on, but not the cross streets. 

It goes without saying that they didn't want to attract the attention of the local police, so they didn't get shut down or tagged for running an illegal food operation.

When interviewing the chefs, owners, and the help of these Mom & Pop locations all gave the same reason for operating an illegal food stand, money. Money to support their families during fought times and help with medical expenses for their kids and themselves. Many of them didn't have any health insurance, private or through the State, so this was their only other means besides working full time to cover living expenses.

The set-up of each location depends on the family and the home they are operating from. Some set up on the front or side lawns with tables and chairs outside. They want it to feel like a family get-together in the event the authorities come along. They ask that if a Sheriff or police officer comes around and asks questions, you say you were invited to a family gathering. 

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Breakfast BurrittosMark-John Clifford-Author

The same goes for the stands operating out of their garages. They have tables and chairs in their driveways to accommodate the diners, with lights and music playing quietly. They don't want to upset the neighbors surrounding them and have them call the authorities.

The cooking set-up for each location is different also. Some have a complete kitchen in their garages where many cook not just for their late evening guests but also for holiday family get-togethers.

I noticed a few of the locations we checked out also cooked inside and brought the food out after you ordered. As I said, they all had ingenious ways to make their stands work for their guests.

We felt at home at each of the locations we ate at and would return in a heartbeat if we stayed up late all the time. As it was, we stayed up late for a few weeks while we ran around finding these stands, and it wasn't that easy.

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Chicken Enchilada’s From the OvenMark-John Clifford-Author

Most of the diners we met were returning customers. Some diners make the rounds each weekend, Friday and Saturday, in late evenings or early mornings to try new recipes or their favorites.

Their menus stayed the same for most weekends, but a new item appeared every once in a while. A few chefs told me it depends on sales at the markets where they purchased their goods.

Locations

As I stated above, one of the rules of my doing this story was not to give exact locations of the vendors, and in keeping with that, here's a rough rundown of places to start when you need that late night or early morning taco of a burrito.

We haven't traveled as far as we would like, but that's coming soon. For now, know we covered Fresno and Clovis from Clovis Avenue south of Shaw east to Academy Avenue.

In that area, we found close to 24 different pop-ups open from 10 pm till 2-3 in the morning, most Fridays and Saturdays. A few pop-ups are also open other evenings, but we were only out on Fridays and Saturdays.

The main streets where we saw the most activity were Temperance, Olive, Fowler, Armstrong, and the surrounding side streets south to Kings Canyon.

Everyone treated us like a family member, describing how they made the food if asked and making our dishes to our liking. Me, not being fond of onions, was always pleased that they honored my requests for no notions. Not an easy thing to do when cooking for many.

It's worth a late-night journey one weekend for you and the family to check out these places and try them. I promise you won't be sorry, and it'll be some of the most authentic Mexican food you'll have.

Buon Appetito!

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Patti, my wife, and I write about life here in Fresno, California, and the Central Valley. We especially enjoy writing reviews about restaurants we've dined at, along with the food that is served. From time to time, we also write about and share recipes that we are fond of and hope you'll try them and let us know your thoughts. We are not traditional food critics. We don't have to worry about restaurants making unique dishes for us. We're just the average customer going in to dine, and then we write reviews.

Fresno, CA
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