Taquitos, pambazos and homemade nachos come to Dublin 2
What’s the story?
Dublin has never been the city to find legit Mexican food (something that causes us much dismay), and while there are some success stories (namely 777, El Grito, and more recently pop up food truck La Cocina Cuevas), what's on the market here would make most Mexicans shudder. The majority of it consists of questionable burritos and sizzling enchilada plates, and is more more Tex-Mex than Oaxaca - fajitas, chile con carne and even our beloved cheese-covered nachos all fall into this category (read more about the differences in this Thrillist article, or listen to this episode of Eater's Digest).
So, any time a new Mexican restaurant opens we live in hope that this will be the one with the homemade corn tacos (wheat anything = not very Mexican), the mole (totally different to guacamole) and the infamous tacos al pastor (pork marinated in spices and cooked on a spit grill, served with pineapple, onion, coriander and salsas on the aforementioned homemade tacos). The latest addition to this hopeful hit list is newly opened Agave on Lord Edward Street.
Do you remember Café Azteca? Not many people do - they never quite made the mark on the Dublin dining scene that they were hoping for - but that's where Agave is now. It's run by Mexican couple Costel and Aldo, who was a chef in Azteca and is from Mexico city. Costel is a chef too, but for now he's running front of house. They say they wanted to bring new dishes and fresh ideas to the city, and images of more unusual dishes on their Instagram feed had us pulling on the comfy pants and setting off for Lord Edward Street.
Where should we sit?
It’s a small space with only six tables (they’ll possibly have more if Covid ever fecks off), and there’s a nice one for six people in the window if you’re planning on seeing friends at some stage this year. Otherwise tables are for two or four and the space is definitely more eat and leave than graze and linger.
What's the food like?
The menu is definitely trying to stay a little on the safe side, and it’s probably a bit too large as they try not to scare people by keeping dishes they’ll recognize (can we just make burritos die already), as well as introducing more authentic ones like chilaquiles (tortilla chips soaked in salsa), sopes (corn tortillas with various toppings) and pambazo (bread dipped in a red pepper sauce and stuffed with potato, chorizo, sour cream and lettuce).
Okay so maybe loaded nachos aren’t the most Mexican of Mexican foods, but Agave’s are homemade (777 actually buy theirs from them), so we feel this gives them a major pass. They come with cheese, sour cream, excellent pico de gallo, jalapeños and either chile con carne or guacamole – we asked for half and half. It might not be what you’ll get in a Mexican Mami’s casa, but it was extremely tasty, and a huge portion – we shared one between four.
The crunchy chicken taquitos - rolled and fried blue corn tortillas stuffed with chicken and queso fresco, and topped with pico de gallo, sour cream and lettuce - were another highlight. Crunchy, creamy, zingy - what's not to like.
The aforementioned pambazo (traditional Mexican sandwich) had great flavour from the chorizo and potato but was a bit soggy. It tasted like it had been dipped in the red pepper sauce but not fried to crisp it up, which undoubtedly would have made all the difference. Also don't do as we did and forget about the salsa until the last bite. There's mild, spicy and very spicy - approach the last one with caution.
There are six different types of tacos on the menu, with pork (including those legendary al pastor), chorizo, chicken, chili con carne (no comment) and prawns. We really liked the tacos de camaron (prawns) which came with pickled cabbage and chilli mayo, but the batter on the prawns could have been a bit more delicate and a bit less oily. Despite this they had a great balance of flavours, particularly when those salsas were added into the mix.
The only truly devastating, soul-crushing disappointment of the meal was the tacos al pastor, which just weren’t. Granted it would be difficult to get a verticle rotating spit into such a small space, but catering style chunks of tasteless pork are not even in the same universe as the real deal. This is so far from what it should be it just shouldn't be on the menu. It also said we would get five tacos but we only got three - not sure if this was a typo or a kitchen error, but under the circumstances it was probably for the best. (For an in-depth look at what tacos al pastor should be, please watch the first episode of Netflix's Taco Chronicles and join us in this obsession)
Also, not to get anyone (i.e. us) too excited, but we happened to walk past 777 later that day and saw what appeared to be an 'el pastor tacos' hatch - we'll even forgive them the wrong spelling. Watch this space for incoming news.
There are no desserts on the menu but when we were there they had vanilla or chocolate 'conchas' (sweet bread in the shape of a seashell) and crème caramel (more commonly called flan in Mexico), both homemade. It turns out the conchas are not really a dessert (it literally is a slightly sweet bread roll), and more something to have with coffee in the morning. The crème caramel however was creamy, sweet and doused in caramel, and the cream and berries on the side were a nice touch. We initially thought it was a small portion but it turned out to be perfect. A must-order for anyone with a sweet tooth.
What about the drinks?
Fans of cult Mexican soft drink jarritos will be giddy when they see the number of flavours on the shelf here – from cola to guava, mango to mandarin – although not many seemed to be in the fridge, so you’ll probably need ice. They also have non-alcoholic pina coladas and ‘nojitos’, the latter of which, with cucumber, mint and lime, was very refreshing on a muggy Dublin day. As far as alcohol you’re limited to house prosecco, white or red wine, or tinto de verano (lemonade and red wine).
And the service?
Friendly, if a bit subdued, and the mortal sin of wearing mask over mouth but not nose was in full force. Kitchen staff weren't wearing masks, but there was sanitzer, tables were decently spaced and the door was open.
Agave is a good addition to Dublin’s Mexican food scene, and while it’s not quite the one we’ve been waiting for, it's a world better than most and definitely has the potential to go further. We’d like to go back and try a few more of the lesser seen dishes, like the chilaquiles and the sopes, and it’s very good value – we paid €20 a head for a lot of food. We would love to see them ditch a few of the more common dishes and focus more on what they eat at home in Mexico, because that's what's really lacking over here. And kill the burritos.
19 - 22 Lord Edward Street, Dublin 2 instagram.com/agavedublin