Wandering through Del Mar’s 15th Street Mall on an unusually warm October weekend, my thirsty companion Cris and I strolled into El Agave Restaurant & Tequileria, a relative newcomer to this community’s culinary scene.
El Agave’s mosaic glass art, fuchsia upholstery on sleek chairs and barstools, rich green accents and espresso stained wood elements combine for rather dramatic eye candy. Admiring the sleek, nouveau design, it took just a moment to realize that Mexican architect Isabel Infante intentionally designed the interior to complement El Agave’s reputation as a creator of bold, authentic Hispanic nouvelle cuisine utilizing the diverse flavors which are unique to specific regions in Mexico. As the hostess escorted us across a bridge from the entry and dining room to the large open bar area, I glimpsed behind me at a library-style wall showcasing hundreds of elaborate tequila bottles perched on several rows of glass shelves. Salud indeed!
On a postcard perfect day like this, Cris and I made a quick decision to grab seats at the bar. Perusing El Agave’s mouthwatering menu, a mere sampling of which included lobster, tomato, artichokes, cotija and cilantro stacked atop a duo of tostadas and drizzled with cream, cochinita pibil tacos (think pork shoulder marinated in orange juice and herbs, then slow grilled over banana leaves) with habañero cream and black beans, and shredded duck enchiladas bathed in a sun-dried prune molé sauce, we quickly realized that selecting our meals would not be an easy undertaking. However, sipping a wickedly delicious award-winning margarita while devouring the menu and catching sensational coastal views was inspiring at the very least!
Two margaritas later, our decisions were final. I was set on a trio of tacos made with fresh Mexican White Shrimp tossed in a light house made sauce and garnished with spicy poblano and cotija cheese. Cris landed on the Ensalada de Mariscos, a combination of fresh greens and a bevy of seafood (lobster, squid and shrimp) tossed in a flavorful olive oil and citrus dressing.
Although it seemed to take some time for our meals to arrive, the wait was well worth it. Uber fresh ingredients, savory sauces and vinaigrettes, and a brilliant blend of authentic Mexican flavors made for a deliciously memorable afternoon. It’s often said that “the devil is in the details”. Owner Juan Carlos Gomez and chef Mario Montes clearly take this quote to heart in all aspects of their venture. The ambience was stellar, staff was extremely friendly and accommodating, and the service was prompt, attentive and welcoming. El Agave-Del Mar was recently awarded Open Table San Diego’s Diners Choice Awards for Best Scenic View and Best Mexican Food. Judging from the meals and views Cris and I enjoyed, I’d say those awards are well-deserved.
Luckily El Agave-Del Mar has a few San Diego siblings. If you’re tripping around Old Town, be sure to stop in at the original El Agave Restaurant & Tequileria which opened for business in 1996 on the corner of Old Town and San Diego Avenues. Feasting on authentic, piquantly flavored Hispanic dishes while surrounded by their Tequila Museum which happens to house a record 2,000 bottles of tequila (hence their “Best Margarita in San Diego” Award) will certainly be a gastronomic experience you won’t soon forget! And if it happens that tequila just isn’t your thing, check out La Jolla’s Iberico Spanish Bistro & Gin Club, where they specialize in Spanish paella and tapas, and are dedicated to the excellence of Gin & Tonic.