From Salad to Tacos to Dessert and Tequila, El Agave Puts a Fun Twist on Mexican Food in San Diego
“Mexican food is far more varied than people think. It changes like dialects.” -Gael García Bernal
Let me start off by saying that I’m not afraid to refer to myself as a Mexican food snob, but can you honestly blame me? I spent my childhood in Tijuana eating freshly made tortillas, the best tacos you can possibly find, and some of the freshest seafood around. I was that kid that refused to eat from the kids menu because I just wanted to enjoy all the food that the adults were eating. And to be honest, I don’t recall seeing many kids menus when I lived in Mexico. I was seriously very spoiled living in Tijuana, but living in San Diego means that I can find everything that I want without the need to cross the border (although sometimes my body and mind craves a trip to Tijuana every once in awhile). That being said, I am extremely picky when it comes to eating Mexican food in San Diego (here are six aspects of the best Mexican food) but I just found El Agave Restaurant, a hidden gem tucked away in Old Town that really blew me away.
El Agave Restaurant is open daily from 11:00am-10:00pm, and is basically any tequila lovers dream come true. As soon as you walk in you’re greeted with an incredible array of tequilas. No seriously, you’ll see tequilas everywhere from the walls to the ceilings. There’s over 2000 different tequilas to try out and who knows how many tequila bottles that decorate the entire restaurant. It honestly looks like a museum because it is a tequila museum! You’ll find everything from limited edition bottles commemorating the Mexican National Football Team (because in Mexico we call it football, not soccer), bottles shaped like a cactus, and even some beautiful decorative bottles that look like handpainted Mexican tile.
So what makes this restaurant different from other Mexican restaurants in Old Town? That’s easy, it’s the menu. If you only have a quick 30 minutes for lunch, maybe try a few of these quick delicious restaurants, but if you’re looking for a fun spin on the Mexican food experience made by Mexicans, then El Agave Restaurant is definitely it. El Agave Restaurant claims that you’re in for a unique experience when you come to their restaurant, and I would certainly agree with that. I really enjoyed experiencing familiar ingredients and flavors presented in a very different and exciting way.
To start off we have a salad, simple enough right? No, this isn’t your regular run of the mill salad. The Ensalada del Huerto has baby mixed greens tossed with lightly fried red beets, fresh gold beets, pistachios, figs, cherry tomato, queso de cabra (goat cheese), and a light pomegranate dressing. The salad is absolutely perfect as a starter or as a light lunch option. And you might be thinking, are salads even considered Mexican? Well what if I tell you that the birthplace of the famous Caesar salad is in Tijuana, Mexico and not somewhere in Italy? Not many people know that fact, so you can feel free to quiz your friends about that. This salad contains many ingredients that I grew up eating fresh when I lived in Tijuana such as beets, figs, and pomegranates. The ingredients are distinctly Mexican, but the light pomegranate dressing is something that you don’t see too often in Mexico.
Another case of taking something familiar and turning it into something completely new and exciting is their Taco de Pulpo al Pastor. Tacos al Pastor were created in Central Mexico thanks to the influx of Lebanese immigrants into Mexico. Traditionally the pork is marinated in a combination of dried chiles, spices, and pineapple. The pork is assembled in a very similar manner to shawarma, so it will cook in a vertical rotisserie which is called el trompo (Spanish for whipping top, since it does resembles the toy). Once the pork has been cooked, it is sliced thinly using a large knife and served with chopped onions, cilantro, pineapple, and salsa.
Instead of offering the traditional Tacos al Pastor that many Mexicans know and love, El Agave Restaurant created a new version of it with grilled octopus. If you’ve had octopus before, then you know how tricky it is to cook. Sometimes octopus can come out too chewy or tough, but when I tried it at El Agave, the octopus was cooked to perfection. When done right octopus should taste similar to lobster, which in this case it did. The grilled octopus was marinated in achiote and it’s garnished with pineapple, red onion, beets, and a cilantro pesto. The combinations of flavors and textures is truly remarkable and something that I would highly recommend to you. To make things even better, all the tacos are made in homemade tortillas and I can definitely appreciate a place that makes their own tortillas.
And if you want to end your experience at El Agave Restaurant on a sweet note, then you better save some room for dessert. I grew up eating freshly made buñuelos that my grandma used to make, so I had high expectations for their buñuelos with ice cream and it did not disappoint. If you’re not familiar with Mexican buñuelos, they’re a deep-fried dough that’s covered with cinnamon and sugar. A lot of times it will be paired with piloncillo (sugar cane syrup), but in this case El Agave Restaurant paired the buñuelo with a vanilla bean ice cream. The two compliment each other so well, and it’s another fun take on something that I grew up with.
The last dessert I tried out was the Cajeta Flan which was absolutely divine! Take a traditional Mexican flan and add a dash of Cajeta (a Mexican syrup made out of caramelised goat’s milk) and you get a taste of heaven. It was so rich and smooth, just like caramel but adding the cajeta really made this a different experience.
Next time you’re strolling through Old Town, take a slight detour from the very touristy restaurants and head over to El Agave Restaurant for something completely new and exciting. Their lunch menu is definitely worth checking out and their dinner menu looked equally as amazing. Plus, if you’re into tequila then you’ll really enjoy their extensive menu.
As we would say in Mexico, provecho!
What’s your favorite Mexican dish? Let us know in the comments below!