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Fresno’s New Gordita Shop is an Homage to Mom’s Cooking

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A woman wearing a white shirt with an apron that says "Lucy's" stands in front of building that has a sign that reads "Lucy's Gorditas."
Lizett Lopez in front of Lucy's Gorditas in Fresno on Sept. 11, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

On a sunny summer afternoon in Fresno, Lucy’s Gorditas is bustling with the lunch rush. Monica Irene Rainey came here specifically after reading an article about the new establishment’s commitment to keeping the prices affordable.

“Their whole thing is about being generous to people who are less privileged,” Rainey said. “I love it. That’s why I came here.”

While people may be more familiar with the tacos and burritos offered in many Mexican restaurants, this shop focuses on gorditas, a dish from the Mexican state of Durango. Miners in this mountainous northern region of Mexico favor the gorditas for a quick bite.

“[A gordita is] almost like a taco, but the tortilla becomes a very thick tortilla,” said Lizett Lopez, owner of Lucy’s Gorditas. “And instead of having the filling or the meat on top, we just slice it in the middle and fill it.”

A picadillo gordita with salsa and shredded cabbage.
A picadillo gordita with salsa and shredded cabbage at Lucy’s Gorditas in Fresno on Sept. 11. 2023.a (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

The small restaurant focuses on takeout, but there are one or two tables for folks who want to dine in too. The observant customer will notice a framed photo of a woman with short, highlighted hair sporting a white fur stole sitting next to the cash register — Maria Lucille Huerta.


“The running joke that I always tell my brothers is, ‘Mom is watching you,’” Lopez said.

Taking care of others had always been her calling

Lopez’s mother, Maria Lucille Huerta — known to all as Lucy — moved from Durango to Fresno in 1976. Her first job was cleaning at a convalescent home. Later, she helped cook and clean for kids with special needs. But she spent most of her career — almost 35 years — working as an in-home caregiver to elderly people. She loved her job because everyone she helped became a friend — she even invited them to family holiday parties.

Two women are seen in a kitchen. The woman wearing an apron and closest to the camera turns over a gordita with her hand and utensil.
Lizett Lopez cooks gorditas on the griddle at Lucy’s Gorditas in Fresno on Sept. 11, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

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Huerta was a wonderful cook, but she guarded her recipes carefully, keeping them even from her own daughter. And she was competitive! If a family member praised a dish made by someone else, she would strive to make one better.

Huerta was so well known for her cooking that some clients’ families even asked her to cater their events. She dreamed about opening her own restaurant one day. It would be a small takeout place to serve the working people of Fresno, just like back home in Durango.

Love and Loss During the Pandemic

While Huerta continued to work as an in-home caregiver in Fresno, her daughter, Lizett Lopez, left her hometown for the glamorous big city. As a kid, Lopez had always wanted to live in San Francisco. After completing her general education requirements at Fresno City College, she applied to transfer to San Francisco State. She graduated with a biology degree and got a job in the Bay Area as a data analyst.

A hand holds a spoon to scoop food in a tray.
The picadillo gordita filling at Lucy’s Gorditas in Fresno on Sept. 11, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, Lopez and her husband decided to move back to Fresno to be closer to family. She was pregnant with their first son and wanted her mom’s help with the baby. For several weeks after the birth, Huerta stayed with Lopez, teaching her everything she needed to know as a new mom.

Huerta had diabetes, and around this time, she developed an infection in her leg. At first, she didn’t take it too seriously. It was early in the COVID pandemic, and she was scared to go to the hospital. One day, when Lopez called to check on her mom, she realized Huerta wasn’t lucid. Her son rushed her to the hospital.

The infection had turned gangrenous, and Huerta went into sepsis. The doctor did several surgeries to remove the infection, but it was too late. The infection had spread throughout her bloodstream. Huerta passed away at age 61, leaving behind six sons and one daughter.

It was a very traumatic time for Lopez, who had just given birth. She wasn’t sure if her intense sadness was postpartum depression or just grief at losing her mother.

Lucy’s legacy lives on

As Lopez and her brothers mourned the loss of their mother, a birthday rolled around. Normally, Huerta would let the person whose birthday it was request a special treat. After her death, Lopez carried on the tradition. She asked her brother what he wanted for his birthday meal. He replied, “gorditas.”

Two hands shape a piece of dough above a metal bowl.
Lizett Lopez shapes the corn dough to make the gordita wrap at Lucy’s Gorditas in Fresno on Sept. 11, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Lopez had never made gorditas before but promised to do her best. She was nervous, worried she wouldn’t be able to recreate her mother’s recipes from memory. So, she was pleased when her first gorditas turned out well.

That’s when one of her brothers suggested they open a family restaurant. What better way to honor their mother’s memory than following her dream? They quickly found a place on East Clinton Avenue, and Lucy’s Gorditas was born. Lopez works at the shop during the week, while her brothers take over on weekends. The shop has little nods to Huerta all over it — her favorite butterflies and hummingbirds decorate the walls, and, of course, her photo at the cash register.

For Lopez, opening this restaurant in Fresno is both heart-warming and humbling. Many customers knew her mom; others have shared their own stories of losing loved ones during the pandemic. It’s comforting to share those memories along with the food, knowing that her mom finally got her gorditas shop.

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