While I don't often review restaurants where you order from a counter, few fast-casual spots have what Agave Mexican Fusion does.
Agave is owned by Chris Wilber and Mario Di Leo who, after 19 years, continue to pack them in at their no-reservations-taken Canyon Southwest Cafe in Fort Lauderdale. Canyon's prickly pear margarita, white-chocolate bread pudding and just about everything else that Wilber prepares are the darlings of a certain Fort Lauderdale set. With good reason. (I love Canyon's smoked-salmon tostada with goat cheese, capers, scallions and Scotch bonnet tartar sauce.)
Agave mixes the same magical margarita for $8. It's $12 at Canyon. Keep in mind, Agave serves it in a plastic cup.
But if you love Canyon, you're going to love Agave. Especially if you want to wear a bathing suit, your tennis whites or whatever you threw on when you headed out for dinner. It's that kind of comfortable, beachside place.
Wilber says Agave was nothing more than a "kind of drive-by about a year ago. Then, we found out the building was for sale and then the restaurant was for sale."
Wilber and Di Leo had been wanting to branch out for at least five years. "Canyon's running like clockwork," he says. "We looked at Atlanta. We were going to try something with burgers, but that kind of got oversaturated. Then, I was thinking, 'Who doesn't like tacos and burritos?' "
Especially when Wilber is inventing them. There's no steam table here. Everything is made to order. Except, of course, the long-simmering sauces and slow-roasted pork found in many of the dishes.
Pulled-pork burrito ($7.95) starts with red chili-braised pork that takes three hours to cook. Before becoming a burrito, it's quickly sauteed with a pinch of cilantro chimichurri so that it has crispy edges. Black beans, cheddar and Jack cheese are rolled in a flour tortilla along with pico de gallo and sour cream.
You can also order burritos filled with roast chicken ($8.50), steak ($8.95) and even an interesting vegetable combination ($7.95): grilled poblanos, red peppers, onions, corn, cilantro rice, guacamole, spinach, zucchini, Jack cheese, black or pinto beans and sour cream.
The house-made guacamole ($6.50) is served with warm tortilla chips dusted with a spice combination that includes chili powder and salt. The guacamole was nicely chunky and mixed with cilantro, lime, tomatoes and green onions. You'll also want to check out the salsa bar, where everything is freshly made.
I'm a big fan of old-fashioned ground-beef tacos ($3.25 each or $7.50 for a three-taco tray), and these clearly had the Wilber touch. He starts by caramelizing onions, to which he adds minced garlic, salt and pepper. Ground beef is added along with coriander, cumin and a pinch of mace. Pulled-pork, steak, fish and grilled-chicken tacos are also on the menu.
If there's one dish I recommend trying, it's 3 Chili BBQ Shrimp Tostada ($9). Hatch, chipotle and green chilies are cooked with vinegar and sugar and tomatoes. The sauce is tossed with pan-seared shrimp and piled on a crispy tortilla with Jack and cheddar cheese, grilled onions and corn. It's served with an avocado cream, which appears frequently on the menu. Wilber even uses a version of it to dress the Southwestern Cobb salads ($8.50).
Open since July, Agave is very much a beach restaurant, with brightly colored plastic chairs and teak-topped tables. More than half of its 60 seats are outside under a big canopy, where a bar gets set up on weekends and where that famous margarita can be had for just $5 during happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m., every day.
2009 NE Second St., Deerfield Beach
Cuisine: Mexican fusion
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Small lot or meters