I remember the first time I visited San Diego’s Old Town. My son was little then, and I remember walking around, reveling in the historic buildings and most of all, lifting him up so he could watch the women making tortillas by hand through the window of a restaurant. What I also remember is that we ended up eating at a place with mediocre food and I vowed never to eat Mexican food in Old Town again.
That was a long time ago, and while on a recent trip to Old Town, we stopped by El Agave, an establishment which also serves as a tequila museum housing more than 5000 bottles of the agave spirit on display, an impressive 500 of which are available for order.
I opted to sit on the enclosed patio to take advantage of the natural lighting.
With all the tequila available, I asked our server to surprise me with a cocktail. I let him know I like spicy and tart flavors and he brought me this. I can’t remember its name, but spicy and tart it definitely is.
We happily sipped on cocktails while munching on the complimentary chips and salsa provided. The black bean is our favorite, but I suggest not overindulging on this because it is so easy to do.
One of my favorite things to eat is raw seafood, therefore, Ceviche del Mar ($16) absolutely appealed to my senses. Octopus, shrimp, cherry tomato, baby corn, onion, grilled red pepper, lemon, olive oil and chile morita sauce marry together to create a perfectly tart marinade for the seafood. I want more of the serrano pepper oil served alongside as it lent a lovely kick to the ceviche.
I love the authenticity of the menu and Ensalada de Nopal ($12), or cactus paddle salad is one good example. Cactus is widely eaten in Mexico and here, it is roasted and then cut into strips before it is assembled into a ring form with diced tomatoes, cilantro, onion, oregano and topped with avocado. You may find it a little ‘slimy’ but no worries, that’s because it’s been tossed with olive oil. Cotija cheese is sprinkled on top to add a salty finish.
Tlacoyos Cuitlacoche ($16) was probably my least favorite dish of our meal. It wasn’t bad, however, it didn’t stand out. Blue corn masa ‘cakes’ are stuffed with black beans and then topped with cuitlacoche (corn smut, sometimes referred to as huitlacoche), salsa verde, queso fresco, onion and cilantro. Don’t let cuitlacoche scare you off, it’s actually really tasty, and we’ve eaten it many times before, including a topping on burgers among other things. There just wasn’t enough flavor on this dish for me to want to order it again.
Therefore, it was just as well we ordered another dish with cuitlacoche in it. Crema de Chile Poblano con Cuitlacoche ($14) is served tableside. A creamy soup seasoned with chile Poblano and cuitlacoche, it is all blended together until smooth and enhanced with spices. A perfect amount of heat accompanied the gorgeous sage-hued concoction. It was so good we were all fighting for the last spoonful!
I was very surprised by Tacos de Atun ($14) because I generally am not fond of cooked ahi tuna. Here, it is panko-crusted and lightly fried, then topped with parsley, cabbage, red onion and cilantro. The light habanero and agave nectar dressing does not overpower. Served with agave rice and poblano chile strips, these tacos were perfect both in textures and flavors.
However, the biggest surprise was Enchiladas de Mole ($14). I am very picky when it comes to mole and more often than not, tend to dislike what’s put in front of me. The mole poblano sauce smothering these chicken enchiladas is actually very pleasant. I like its rich, robust flavors, without any of the sweetness usually associated with mole.
If you’re looking for a unique destination while visiting San Diego, then El Agave is a respectable choice, especially if you’re down around Old Town. Authentic Mexican ingredients are skillfully used to prepare these dishes and present it to a mainstream clientele. I enjoyed my meal here and would love to return for that stunning soup sometime soon.
El Agave — Old Town
2304 San Diego Ave
San Diego, CA 92110