From the street, you can only see office buildings.
But walk down the long, palm-lined driveway at the southwest corner of Palm and Herndon avenues and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a thriving restaurant scene. At least five gourmet restaurants here are packed with diners on a typical Saturday night.
This is the North Pointe Mall, although the area was nicknamed Restaurant Row years ago.
Longtime Fresnans will remember the center from years ago, when it was home to restaurants like Brix, DJ Hill’s, Don Fernando’s, Saigon Palace, and later Samba Brazilian Steakhouse, Club Habanos and Rue Cafe. But it ran out of steam after a while, with restaurants closing or relocating.
It operated under the radar until Cracked Pepper Bistro moved there about five years ago.
Things then changed, noted Steve Rontell, a retail broker at Colliers International who leased the mall buildings.
âOnce Cracked Pepper went over there, which is a very, very high quality restaurant, we (had) a snowball effect,â he said. âPeople were like, ‘Hey, my quality restaurant can be there too.’ “
Now the mall is 100% full. It offers a mix of cuisines, Italian, upscale Mexican and Japanese. The majority of restaurants are only open for dinner (although Tabachines and Tamari are open for lunch). Most have patios that will be lively when the weather warms up.
All of them are relatively considered fine dining, so make sure the wallet is healthy before dining here.
While restaurants dominate, this mall is also home to the paint and sip business Pinot’s Palette. Milano, the company with the little tomato logo, is not a restaurant, but the parent company of Me-N-Ed’s Pizza and Piazza del Pane across the street.
As for restaurants, here’s a bit more about each and what you can find there.
This restaurant is widely regarded as one of the best in town. It is a popular place for birthdays and other special occasions. Although this is high-end cuisine, the down-to-earth atmosphere of chef and restaurateur Vatche Moukhtarian pervades the entire restaurant.
Here you can enjoy snails, seafood, salads, and main dishes like slow-braised ribs and scallops in a vanilla vodka sauce. The chef uses as many local and seasonal vegetables as possible, as well as meat that is free of antibiotics or hormones where possible.
A surprising bestseller? An eggplant appetizer made with a stack of sliced ââeggplant encrusted with pumpkin seeds served with roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, pesto and aged balsamic vinegar.
It has a bar and a cocktail menu, but its most famous dish is undoubtedly its bread pudding. Its good ? Well, a pregnant client once sent her husband to get a take-out order as they went to the hospital to deliver her baby, Moukhtarian said.
Details: (559) 222-9119.
Parma Ristorante will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, including the last eight years in this center.
You can find all kinds of handmade pasta here, some in the shape of flowers. If you can’t decide what to buy, you can combine two or three kinds of pasta in one dish.
You will also find unusual meat dishes, such as rabbit, quail and smoked duck breast accompanied by a peach sauce in summer.
There is a huge selection of wines, including wines from Italy and California. And each customer leaves with a piece of sbirolona, ââa crispy Italian pie.
Details: (559) 432-3389.
Tamari Robatayaki & Whiskey Bar is one of the newcomers in the area. Pronounced “robot-uh-yah-key”, this is a Japanese way of cooking on a stainless steel trellis using a special type of charcoal shaped like tree branches that can reach 1000 degrees. You can watch the chef cook this way (safely behind a clear barrier) from the dining room.
What to get here? Robatayaki, largely served on skewers and designed to be shared, like lollipop lamb chops and corn served with shisho butter (an herb).
The rest of the menu is huge, and his spicy chicken wings made this reporter’s Top 10 Foods of 2018 list.
Tamari offers a wide selection of whiskey and cocktails, as well as wine and beer.
Details: (559) 721-7300.
Bella Pasta Trattoria Italiana is an Italian restaurant, so of course their pasta gets a lot of attention. Seasonal pumpkin ravioli are very popular these days. If you love pumpkin pie, you’ll love this one, said chef and owner Fabian Rodriguez.
The menu also offers plenty of seafood, steak, veal and lamb.
But the most popular seller: old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, prepared here with a sauce that is a combination of marinara sauce, cream and butter.
This small restaurant has a patio near a fountain.
Details:: (559) 325-5525.
Tabachines Cocina is the newest restaurant in this center. It’s a Mexican restaurant but it’s unlike any other in town and you won’t find burritos on the menu. Instead, it’s a fine-dining restaurant named after the trees with bright red-orange flowers that grow around the restaurant.
The food is simple and fresh, a throwback to the way the owner’s mother cooked in Guadalajara, shopping every day at a market as they didn’t have a refrigerator.
Diners on restaurant review site Yelp.com rave about the chicken tortilla soup and ceviche, served on a bed of greens with pickled habanero onions.
The restaurant has a premier bar with creative drinks. Of course, there are margaritas (including one made from Fresno chili) and non-alcoholic aguas frescas, cool fruit drinks including one flavored with hibiscus.
Details: (559) 473-1077.