I spent two weeks during Christmas with family in Lemoore, CA. Where is THAT?
We had Turducken for the big dinner and my daughter never stopped cooking for the entire two weeks. We had lots of good food at home. But the few times we did eat out were because we'd been shopping, meeting other family members who just "passed through", and on one occasion, my son-in-law's birthday. In this area, Chowhound was a real blessing.
For the birthday dinner we went to Max's Bakery and Bistro. It was excellent. Two of the guys had Harris Ranch New York steaks, perfectly grilled, and smiled with every bite. I had scallops with truffled mash. The mash, in my estimation, although delicious, sort of canceled out the lightness of the dish, which is why I ordered it. Mahi Mahi was the catch of the day, served with garlic mash and every crumb disappeared. We ordered veggies ala carte. Dessert list was limited but the chocolate lava cake was the choice for two and only one of them shared. ;-) One standard creme brulee, and because it was a bakery I ordered the bread pudding. It was extremely dense, not too sweet and served with a baseball sized dip of french vanilla ice cream. We all had one taste and it was the only dish on the table that wasn't completely decimated. We also stopped at the bakery counter on the way out and bought some nice artisan bread that incidentally is also sold at Fresno's Whole Foods Market. (BTW,This Whole Foods should be the standard and San Diego should be first in line to upgrade.) The server at our table was totally professional and knew the food and wine. As we exited the building, another staff member held the door open for us, thanked us and wished us a good evening. Original touch for a bistro. Four stars from the whole family for Max's.
Other family from San Francisco and Los Angeles met us at Harris Ranch in Coalinga on their way home from other stops. This is a very commercial and very busy dining destination in a most desolate landscape. There are three levels of dining, a steak house, a ranch grille and pub grub, all furnished somewhat like the Cracker Barrels of southern U.S. but a bit more in the California agricultural style like old fruit crate labels and kitchen utensils. We chose the ranch grille. The staff was not fine dining professional quality but local young people who were trained to feed the masses, be courteous and turn those tables. Interesting to study and joke with. The menu offered rocky mountain oysters, deep fried with cocktail sauce. I have eaten then several times and opted to try them here. I shared an order with my adventurous teen aged granddaughter who knew exactly what they were but asked the waiter to explain the dish to her. This is flirting? wha? They were good with a side order of horseradish sauce. Everyone had some sort of Harris ranch beef. I opted for a bacon, cheese hamburger. The bacon looked and tasted like it had been cooked a few days earlier, the cheddar was good, the bun was fresh and firm but the hamburger was divine. I took off the top of the bun and put it aside with the bacon and ate it as an open faced sandwich. Super fine. We all passed on dessert. It's a fun place, maybe the only meeting place for miles around.
The third outing was on a Sunday morning and I chose Don Pepe's. This is a picky family and often judge things by appearance. Well, when we arrived, several people were standing outside (points for the wait?) and the place itself, small and nondescript . There was talk of going somewhere else but a woman standing outside said ABSOLUTELY..do not go anywhere else. This is THE place for Mexican food here. So the decision was to stay. Inside the place looked like a joint from the east side of LA. The aromas were enough to keep me there. The place was packed with people, Mexican and Anglo, obviously enjoying the chow down, and a fairly extensive menu. The steak tacos got real high marks, ditto the fish tacos, spicy shrimp was highly praised and I had menudo con patas. Not too much hominy and the tripe was cut into manageable pieces, nice and spicy and served in two sizes. Very nice touch because I never could finish the ordinary size order. The price was definitely right and we were not hungry until late in the afternoon.
My son in law was off to Texas the next day with a list of Chowhound recommended eateries in Fort Worth. He wasn't taking any chances.