Sophia’s Place – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Despite what the Name on the Marquee Says, This is the New Home of Sophia’s Place

Exterior signage for Dennis Apodaca’s new restaurant venture sports the name of the previous tenant, a short-lived eatery named MIXX. In a February blurb announcing Dennis’s return,  the Albuquerque Journal called his new venture “REMIXX.” A handwritten note scrawled on the front door, however, informs you that you’ve arrived at “Sophia’s – that you knew & loved on 4th St. NW.” Not taking any chances, Yelp lists entries for both “REMIXX by Sophia’s Place” and “Sophia’s.” So which is it? Ask Dennis and he’ll tell you that despite what the sign says, his restaurant is a relaunch of Sophia’s Place, the celebrated restaurant that made him one of Albuquerque’s most talked-about and respected chefs. “I’d rather spend money on serving great food than replacing a sign” he laughs.

Dennis points out that the exterior signage for Trois Mec, one of the most revered fine-dining restaurants in Los Angeles, still bears the name of its predecessor, Raffalo’s Pizza. That’s entirely by design, the point being that despite a constantly changing five-course tasting menu approaching a C-note price point, the restaurant is unpretentious, its focus being on the food not peripherals such as signage. The term “unpretentious” probably fits Dennis more than it does any other chef in Albuquerque. He’s as down-to-earth as they come, a straight-shooting guy whose passions are family, fine cigars and cooking. Despite an enviable pedigree that includes cooking side-by-side with some of the country’s best chefs at some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the fruited plain, he would rather turn out an affordable menu of New Mexico-inspired Mexican food than a more pricey menu of fine-dining entries.

Chicken Chicharrones

Ensconced on the southwest corner space on the first floor of the capacious Silver Moon Lodge apartment building along historic Route 66, Sophia’s Place reborn is the antithesis of its namesake predecessor. Where the Sophia’s on 4th Street was situated in a homey ramshackle old structure and for a time didn’t even have signage to tell you you’d arrived, the new Sophia’s has a more contemporary feel to it.   Parking at the new venue on the fringes of both downtown and Old Town is a bit tricky, but at least you’ll be parking on pavement. The parking lot at the old Sophia’s Place was prone to muddiness during inclement weather.

While Sophia’s Place would remain Dennis’s flagship restaurant, operating from 2002 through its unexpected closure in 2017, the enterprising chef would launch several other restaurant ventures over the years, all but one named for family members.  First came Ezra’s Place (2008 – 2013) which was named for his then teenage son.  Next came the magnificent, but short-lived Jo’s Place (2011 – 2012) named for his mother.   Just before the dawning of 2017, he launched Maya, a name inspired by the bright, vibrant cuisine prepared by the dynastic Mesoamerican civilization and their descendants.  He left Maya to launch the second instantiation of Sophia’s Place in March, 2017.

Salsa and Chips

Dennis’s cachet was elevated from local to nationwide when he wowed Guy Fieri, the Food Network’s spiky-coiffed host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives during a 2008 episode. He would parlay that appearance into an invitation to compete in the Food Network’s Chopped program where he displayed his chops to another nationwide audience. Exposure on the Food Network made Sophia’s Place a restaurant to which visitors pilgrimaged.  His other restaurants, all fabulous in their own right, were frequented more by Duke City devotees of dining Dennis style.  Some of us will follow him anywhere.

Count my friends Larry “the professor with the perspicacious palate” McGoldrick and Dazzling Deanell among them.  After his first visit to the original Sophia’s Place, Larry wrote “I have done some stupid things in my life, but waiting almost three years after moving to Corrales from the east coast until eating at Sophia’s Place ranks near the top. With that stupidity cured, I am now hooked.”  He wouldn’t wait three months after its launch to dine at the new Sophia’s Place.  We were greeted at the door by Dennis’s delightful mother Josie an effusive ambassador for the restaurant’s food and her son’s prodigious talents.  A spry and youthful grandmother, Josie is a perpetually smiling ray of sunshine, a terrific hostess.

Elote

The menu at Sophia’s Place isn’t a mirror image of the menu at its previous instantiation, but you will find several familiar favorites such as the duck enchiladas, shrimp tacos and a sirloin and green chile sandwich.  Sophia’s Place is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and has a dog-friendly patio.  For the time being, Sophia’s is cash only.  On select Friday evenings (call ahead), Dennis prepares a different thematic dinner.  Whether it be Italian, Thai or some other ethnic cuisine, you can bet it will be outstanding.  Dennis isn’t solely a chef who specializes in New Mexico inspired Mexican food; he can prepare anything you want and prepare it well.  That was certainly validated during our inaugural visit.

1 May 2018: You’d be surprised how challenging it is to decide what to order from a relatively small menu, moreso when you’re also contemplating the daily specials.  Josie doesn’t make it any easier because she raves about everything her son prepares.  As we perused the menu, we shared a bowl of chicken chicharrones.  They weren’t on the menu.  Dennis just thought we’d like them…though he wouldn’t commit to calling them chicken chicharrones (there’s a pattern here).  It’s a relatively simple offering of lean chicken thighs cut into thin pieces and tossed with Cotija cheese, cilantro, scallions and sea salt.   Sometimes, as in the case of this dish, simple is best.

Vegetable Curry with Papaya Salad

1 May 2018: At first browse, our second starter seemed equally simple–a bowl of black beans with avocado slices, Cotija cheese and pork rinds.  Appearances can be deceiving.  The black beans were impregnated with a pleasantly piquant chile that elevated them significantly.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never liked black beans that much, preferring the sacrosanct pinto, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.)  These black beans I liked…a lot!  We used the pork rinds as a scoop mechanism to extricate those black beans from the bottom of the bowl and used the avocado as a palate-cleansing, tongue cooling aide.  From a textural and flavor perspective, this dish was yet another huge success.

1 May 2018: Since discovering the transformative elotes at El Cotorro, my affections for corn-on-the-cob have been rather singularly focused.  No other elote has been able to capture my fancy…until Sophia’s Place, that is.  As with the elote at El Cotorro, this sumptuous starter begins with a flame-grilled sweet ear of corn.   It’s elevated with the infusion of a lime aioli, chile powder and Cotija cheese. While that makes for a very messy proposition, you’ll enjoy licking any delicious residue off your fingers. You’ll also need a couple napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. All corn-on-the-cob should be this good!

Grilled Cheese with Mango and Shoestring Fries with Salad

1 May 2018: While every dish Dennis prepares is a paragon of creativity and deliciousness, perhaps the dish which best shows off his versatility is vegetable curry with papaya salad, a special of the day during our inaugural visit.  If you thought his repertoire was limited to New Mexico inspired Mexican food, this dish will convince you otherwise.  It’s curry as well-prepared as the curry at the very best Thai restaurants in Albuquerque.  Dennis has mastered the delicate balance of flavors–pungent, sweet, savory–characteristic of Thai food, not compromising the integrity of flavors to pander to American preferences for cloying Thai dishes.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared, somewhere between al dente and fork-tender.  In a masterstroke of genius, Dennis tops the vegetable curry with a tangy papaya salad, again as good as you’ll find at any Asian restaurant in town.

1 May 2018: Not that long ago, an inquiry by BOTVOLR about grilled cheese sandwiches launched an avalanche of comments with several respondents providing input as to where the Duke City’s best can be found.  Sophia’s Place provides yet another contender, a rarefied exemplar of tradition meets innovation.  Between buttery, lightly toasted bread are nestled the unlikely combination of Manchego cheese and mango slices.  Yes, mango slices.  Manchego, a cheese made with sheep’s milk has a distinct acidity and flavor profile reminiscent of a tangier Monterey Jack.  It’s a perfect complement to the sweet richness of mango.  I ordered this grilled cheese sandwich because it was “different,”  but will order it again because it’s absolutely terrific.  As with other burgers and sandwiches on the menu, it’s served with Dennis’s shoestring fries, the best in New Mexico.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

5 May 2018:  It’s often been said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”  Perhaps a more accurate aphorism might be “you knew what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it.”  That was the case with Dennis’s magnificent lemon ricotta pancakes, the very best we’ve ever had.  Those pancakes were our favorite from the rotation of fabulous flapjacks Dennis served at the original Sophia’s Place, a luscious line-up that includes blue corn pancakes, pumpkin pancakes and mixed berry pancakes.  It’s great to see he hasn’t lost his touch.   Available in quantities of one, two or four, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t have four, especially if you’re sharing. 

One of the things that makes Dennis’s pancakes a panacea is his homemade butter, a culinary rarity that blew even Guy Fieri away. Fieri who has probably seen just about everything on his road tours seemed amazed that Dennis would go to that extent. After sampling Sophia’s homemade butter (made from separated heavy cream mixed with toasted pine nuts, dried cherries and honey), Fieri called it “outstanding.”   A generous slather of that butter tops the pancakes along with fresh blueberries and strawberries.  As expected, the pancakes are punctuated with a lemony flavor that tempers the sweetness of the syrup.  These pancakes are available only on weekends, another reason to love Saturdays and Sundays.

Huevos Divorciados

5 May 2018: Josie got a kick out of it when I told her, in front of my Kim, that I wanted a divorce.  Not from my bride of thirty-two years.  I wanted one of the specials of the day, the curiously named Huevos Divorciados, a term which translates to divorced eggs.  This dish is an exemplar of the official New Mexico state question: red or green.  This dish features two fried eggs atop two tostadas topped with shredded white and yellow Cheddar and black beans .  One egg is slathered with a tomatillo sauce (the green), the other with red chile.  Both are absolutely superb!  The tomatillo sauce is tart and herbaceous, the red chile piquant and rich.  Dennis knows his way around Mexican sauces as well as most of us know our names.  The tostadas are crispy around the edges and soft in the middle.  The eggs are fried to your exacting specifications.  Every divorce should be this good!

5 May 2018: Another special of the day, emphasis on the word “special,” is the roasted organic achiote chicken tostada with black beans, avocado slices and a fried egg served with a salad.  Achiote is a orange-red spice with a subtle, earthy flavor and peppery aroma, but a little goes a long way.  Dennis knows exactly how much to use and how to use it.  Thin strips of organic chicken are a perfect vehicle for the achiote.  The richness of the avocados provides a pleasant counterbalance while the fried egg lends a savory deliciousness.  A light sprinkled of Cojita cheese adds a light feta-like saltiness.  This is yet another terrific dish.

Roasted Organic Achiote Chicken Tostada

12 May 2018: Long-time Duke City diners may remember that before there was a Sophia’s Place in that dilapidated 4th Street location, there was Fajitaville and a young chef named Dennis Apodaca.  When Fajitaville closed in 2002, Dennis rented the location and named it for his daughter Sophia.  One holdover from Dennis’s days at Fajitaville are some of the best salsas in town. An order of salsa and chips rewards diners with two salsas–a smoky chipotle salsa and a pico de gallo style salsa coupled with housemade chips served warm. Neither of the salsas are especially piquant, but both are redolent with freshness and flavor.  The chipotle salsa is among the very best in New Mexico and that’s saying a lot. The chips are lightly salted and oversized for Gil-sized portions of salsa. Unfortunately you’ll run out of salsa before you run out of chips.

12 May 2018:  Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times, the only food writer ever to earn a Pulitzer Prize, once wrote “when it’s done properly, taco should be a verb.”   In Albuquerque, Dennis has made taco not only an active verb but a possessive adjective (as in my taco), an exclamation and an interjection (as in aha, great tacos).  His scallop tacos are superb, his shrimp tacos a revelation and his carnitas tacos are transformative.  In his breakfast nopales tacos, we found a new favorite.  Nopales or nopalitos are the flat paddles of prickly pear cactus (nopal).  Remove the thorns, slice them up, bottle them in brine and they’re delicious, albeit a bit on the slimy side.  Dennis pairs nopales with scrambled eggs, fresh salsa and cojita cheese then packs them tightly into two warm corn tortillas.  The tortillas can barely contain their contents.  You won’t be able to contain your smile as you enjoy them.

Nopales Breakfast Tacos

12 May 2018:  A couple of years ago, Business Insider published a feature entitled “How to make any quesadilla better.”   Obviously very few people in Albuquerque need help finding the quintessential quesadilla but if they do, all they need to do is point their GPS toward Sophia’s Place.  The carnitas quesadilla with salsa, eggs and papas is one of the best reasons to get up in the morning.  It’s several orders of magnitude better than the best Business Insider could do.  Four triangular wedges of cheesy, meaty love can only be improved with some of Sophia’s magnificent salsa. 

Sophia’s Place is located directly across Central Avenue from Robinson Park, home of the Downtown Grower’s Market.  The market operates on Saturdays from April 14th through November 3rd from 8AM to noon.  Parking is often a challenge when the market is in full swing, but it’s worth walking an extra block or six to visit one of the most dynamic and vibrant markets in the city followed or preceded by a fabulous breakfast or lunch at Sophia’s Place.

Carnitas Quesadilla

By any name, Sophia’s Place is an outstanding restaurant and platform for the culinary genius that is Dennis Apodaca.  Albuquerque is a far better place with Sophia’s Place as its culinary heart.

Sophia’s Place
918 Central, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 916-5496
LATEST VISIT: 12 May 2018
1st VISIT: 1 May 2018
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Grilled Cheese with Mango, Chicken Chicharrones, Black Bean Stew, Vegetable Curry with Papaya Salad, Elote, Huevos Divorciados, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Roasted Organic Chicken Achiote Tostada, Nopaies Tacos, Carnitas Quesadilla, Chips and Salsa
REVIEW #1040

Sophia's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Krazy Lizard – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Krazy Lizard Taqueria

I count in almost equal measure, friends, family members and colleagues who label themselves as either militant liberals or staunch conservatives. Despite what they may think, they have more in common than they’d ever admit.  Passionate ideologues, they  all regurgitate political dialogue in talking point format.  They’re uncompromising in towing their respective party line. They would never see merit in counterpoints from “the other side,” ergo, they never compromise.  They’re all are passionate, almost to a fault.  You could say they’ve all been been fully assimilated and they’re not going to change.  It sure makes it difficult to share a meal with people when their disparate principles, ethics and beliefs make them incompatible with those of opposite perspectives.

Despite the old maxim that you should never discuss politics or religion at the table, there’s one restaurant in Albuquerque that practically invites diners to discuss politics even as they’re perusing the menu.  That restaurant is the Krazy Lizard Taqueria on Jefferson Street just north of Singer.  The menu is posted above the counter where you place your order.  Now, political discourse would be easily avoided if the sole focus of the menu was breakfast, burritos, tortas and salads.  Those items don’t have politically charged names.  It’s when you get to the tacos section of the menu where divisiveness can set in and emotions can run high.

Dia De Los Muertos Murals on the Rear Wall

Politics pervade  the name of every taco on the gourmet tacos menu.  Aside from The Republicans, The Democrats and Libertarian, you’ll find tacos with such names as Outsourced, Popular Vote, Bad Hombre, Wikileaks, Credible Sources, The House, The Immigrant, Fake News and Congress.  I pictured my friends Carlos, a Reagan Republican and Hien, a self-professed “Obamanista” lambasting the tacos named for the opposing political party.  Carlos would undoubtedly point out that one of the seasonings on The Democrats (ground beef seasoned with in-house taco seasoning, chipotle mayo) is cumin, which  he considers a corruption much like the party he loathes.  Hien would harangue The Republicans (marinated pork with pineapple) as a metaphor for Republican pork barrel spending.  From there the conversation would get nasty quickly.

Fortunately my dining companion was my bride of 32-years who, like me, would rather discuss the colorful artwork on the walls of the Lilliputian eatery.  Those walls are festooned with human and canine visitors who returned to this world for El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  During this Mexican holiday, the profusion of skeletons of all sizes performing day-to-day activities signifies the return to this world of the dead who remain who they were when they lived, doing what they did.  For example, the skeletal figure regaled in charro outfit and strumming a guitar on the east wall, was a Mexican mariachi in life. Therefore in death, he remains a mariachi.  His companion, attired in a flowing skirt, was a folklorico dancer in life and remains one after life.  The counter housing the salsa trays depicts a skeletal dog according to Krazy Lizard owner Hanif Mohamed.

Even the Counter Housing the Salsa Trays is Colorful

Ironically, we first met Hanif on the patio of Breve Crepes & Coffee where we struck up a conversation about dogs, an easily flowing topic because we were dining with our debonair dachshund Dude. When we got to the inevitable perfunctory small chat about what we do when we’re not enjoying crepes and coffee on a patio, Hanif told us about his restaurant, Krazy Lizard, instantly appealing to us because  it’s dog-friendly.  Moreover, Krazy Lizard serves some of our favorite foods.  We should have guessed from his irreverent sense of humor that there would be something different about his restaurant–and not just his politically-charged naming convention. 

Hanif is proud to offer to the extent possible, products from local vendors and growers.  He procures pinto beans from Estancia (there are none better in the world) and pork from a local south valley farmer. Other products come from the ever reliable La Montañita Co-op.  Fresh and organic are hallmarks of his menu.  Tortillas and tortas are made fresh in-house daily.  Flour is unbleached.  The black beans, green chile and flour are organic.  Chicken and canola oil contain no GMO and eggs come from cage-free chickens.

Salsa and Chips

Before there was a Krazy Lizard, there was the Jefferson Deli, Hanif’s first restaurant venture in Albuquerque.  When it became apparent the items flying off the menu most quickly were specialty tacos, he changed his restaurant concept.  Hanif is quite the entrepreneur.  In addition to the Krazy Lizard, he owns and operates KayTahRing, a catering service specializing in customized menus, venue placement, and event design.  Hanif actually has over 30 years of food and beverage experience in 4 Star – 4 Diamond properties in the United States and Kenya.  Even in a small venture like Krazy Lizard, that experience is telling.

It comes across in the little touches other restaurants don’t provide, the real difference-makers guests remember.  It comes across in the complimentary salsa bar, a practice fewer and fewer restaurants now offer.  Salsas are roasted and made fresh in house from fresh ingredients.  Krazy Lizard offers five unique and delicious salsas: roasted tomato-arbol salsa, described as flavorful and hot with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes; roasted tomatillo-arbol salsa, the hottest of all salsas with great acidity from the tomatillo; roasted jalapeño-arbol, well balanced with heat and acidity; salsa verde, classic salsa with a Krazy Lizard twist; and pico de gallo, bountiful, flavorful and caliente.

Cubana Mexicana

As chronicled in my review of the now defunct Señor Torta, your humble blogger believes it’s only a matter of time before the torta achieves the same or perhaps even eclipses the popularity of tacos and burritos.  It only makes sense in a sandwich culture like the United States.  As with sandwiches originating in the fruited plain, tortas can be constructed with a variety of different ingredients.  A torta requires a split bolillo with your choice of meat or fish, and some type of cheese, but there are no hard and fast rules about this.  Make it the way you want it with the ingredients you enjoy.

Krazy Lizard makes it the way I want it–large and in charge.  There are six tortas on the menu, including an all day breakfast torta.  If you like your sandwich of Dagwoodesque proportions, ask for the Mexican Cubano (pork, ham, Milanesa, tomato, onion, avocado, crispy pickle and Monterrey Jack).  It’s the beach bully to the Big Mac’s 98-pound weakling, not only in terms of size, but in sheer deliciousness.  It’s a paragon of complementing contrasts–the crunchy breaded Milanesa, a thin, pan-fried slab of meat and the sweet, thick ham; the silky avocado and the crispy pickle; the crusty exterior and pillow interior of the split bolillo.  This is one of the very best tortas I’ve ever had anywhere.

Credible Sources

In this age of fake news (no, not the taco of that name), it’s a challenge to find credible sources without bias or hidden agendas.  If you want trustworthy, reliable, truly delicious Credible Sources, try the taco at Krazy Lizard taco by that name.  A warm corn tortilla is stuffed with deep-fried battered tilapia, pickled onions, shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, queso and  avocado crema.  The avocado crema has a bit of a bite behind it, a pleasant piquancy which will delight your taste buds.  The vegetables are fresh, crispy and delicious, a nice counterbalance to the deep-fried tilapia.

My Kim’s favorite taco is the taco al pastor which Krazy Lizard’s menu calls The Republicans and describes as “the original fusion food, marinated pork with pineapple.”   Al pastor tacos, which translates from Spanish to “tacos in the style of the shepherd” were originally inspired by Lebanese shawarma.  In Mexico, the meat for tacos al pastor is actually cooked on a spit  then shaved or cut from it at the point of serving.  Unless they’re served in huge quantities, tacos al pastor across the fruited plain are usually not prepared as authentically as their Mexican brethren.  Krazy Lizard’s rendition is still no less delicious with sweet pineapple penetrating deeply into the savory, succulent pork. It’s a melding of flavors sure to inspire detente.

The Republicans

The Krazy Lizard is a fun venue whose delicious food and colorful ambiance should bring people together regardless of ideology.  With mouths kept happy and full, who can argue politics.   

Krazy Lizard
5659 Jefferson Street, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 908-9711
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 11 May 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cubana Mexicana, The Republicans, Credible Sources, Chips & Salsa
REVIEW #1041

Krazy Lizard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Agave – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho’s Lujan Plaza

“Why, this here sauce is made in New York City!”
“New York City? Git a rope!”

No matter how broad-minded we may perceive ourselves to be, most of us are burdened by covert biases and prejudices that reveal themselves at inopportune times.  One of mine was divulged during my inaugural visit to El Agave Mexican Restaurant in Rio Rancho.  After being greeted warmly by effusive hostess Lilly Venegas (who could not possibly have been nicer), I began my usual “twenty questions” routine to learn everything I could about the restaurant.  Beaming with pride, she told me her brother-in-law had owned and operated two Mexican restaurants for more than twenty years in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

North Carolina!  North Carolina!  My mind raced to the circa 1980s Pace Picante Sauce commercial in which several hungry cowboys threatened to string up the cook for serving a “foreign” salsa (translation: not made in Texas).  To be fair, my ridiculous notion that good Mexican food couldn’t possibly be prepared in North Carolina was based on having lived and traveled in the Deep South for eight years.  During those octennial years of Mexican food deprivation, we found only one restaurant in Dixie which served good Mexican food.  We didn’t find any good Mexican food in New Orleans, Atlanta or Nashville.  We should have visited Raleigh!

Chipotle Salsa and Chips, both Housemade

For nearly two decades, Hector Venegas and his family owned and operated Los Tres Magueyes, winning over Raleigh with their delightful array of authentic Mexican dishes.  The Venegas family didn’t “dumb” down their Mexican food as so many restaurants in the Deep South tended to do when we dwelled in Dixie.  Confident that the more savvy citizenry of New Mexico would love the authenticity and deliciousness of their fare, they left the menu completely intact–even retaining the leather-bound menu cover emblazoned with the name of their restaurants in North Carolina.

As in Raleigh, the Venegas family owns and operates two Mexican restaurants.  Both are christened El Agave.  The original operates in Santa Fe in the famous Burro Alley.  It’s been pleasing palates since 2015 and is owned by elder scion Hector Vinegas.  His brother Carlos and lovely bride Lilly launched the second instantiation of El Agave in Rio Rancho in October, 2017.  My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver was there three days later and loved it.  He was confident I would, too.

Left: Mole Ranchero | Right: Camarones A La Crema

If you haven’t seen El Agave during your travels through the City of Vision, it’s probably because its storefront doesn’t face heavily trafficked Rio Rancho Boulevard. Instead, it’s set back on the northeast corner of the timeworn Lujan Plaza shopping center which also houses Namaste and Stack House Barbecue. The same obfuscated corner where El Agave is situated was once home to such short-lived eateries as immediate predecessor El Maguey in addition to Ahh Sushi, Relish (although the original in Albuquerque remains a city favorite), Pastrami & Things and other restaurants. It’s a tough location in which to succeed.

Carlos and Lilly are in it for the long haul.  They recognize the challenges of operating a restaurant just a bit off the well beaten-and-eaten path.  Moreover, they realize they have to cultivate customer loyalty one guest at a time, that they have to prove themselves with every  single dish they prepare and serve.  With a menu featuring virtually every familiar Mexican dish as well as some unique specialties, El Agave has a great chance to succeed.  All it needs is to be discovered.  Visit once and it’s a certainty you’ll return time and again.

Refried Beans and Spanish Rice with Corn Tortillas

As you peruse the menu, Lilly will ferry over a basket of chips and plastic molcajete of salsa to your table.  Both are made on the premises first thing in the morning as are the terrific corn tortillas accompanying many entrees.  The chips and salsa are first rate, among the very best in the metro.  What distinguishes this salsa from so many others is that it’s made with chipotles, the smoky dried jalapeño.  With a depth of flavor and kick of piquancy, this salsa is addictive–and it’s as good as the exemplar chipotle-based salsa served at the Plaza Cafe South Side in Santa Fe. To think Raleigh had such a delightful salsa before Rio Rancho did gave me hope the rest of the menu would deliver, too.

Unable to decide between the Mole Ranchero and Camarones A La Crema, I asked Lilly to surprise me.  The surprise was the Carlos was willing to prepare a half portion of both.  Now that’s the type of service that cultivates loyalty.  This pleasurable combination was served with refried beans topped with melted white cheese, Spanish rice and four hot corn tortillas.   The Mole Ranchero, reputedly one of the easiest moles to prepare (though still very complex) with fewer ingredients than other moles, was a delicious and pleasant surprise in that it wasn’t overly sweet as some mole tends to be.  That mole covered a moist, tender sliced chicken breast. 

Even better than the Mole Ranchero was the Camarones A La Crema (grilled shrimp topped with a savory cream sauce concocted from chipotles, sour cream and spices).  The grilled shrimp had a snap of freshness with a delicate flavor tinged with the smokiness of the grilling process.  It’s a perfect foil for the rich cream sauce with its faint smokiness and sour-savory notes.  You’ll be grateful for the steamy corn tortillas with which you’ll sop up every bit of that delicious sauce. 

If like me, your initial inclination is to dismiss a Mexican food restaurant that came from North Carolina, El Agave will quickly change your mind.  It’s a very good, very authentic and absolutely delightful little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that’s as Mexican as a Mexican restaurant can be.

El Agave Mexican Restaurant
1520 Deborah Road
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 896-8006
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 January 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
BEST BET: Camarones A La Crema, Horchata, Chipotle Salsa and Chips, Mole Ranchero
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1022

El Agave Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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