Agave & Aguacate
Agave & Aguacate is not your typical Mexican fast-food joint. Unlike most fast-food cooks, owner and lone-chef Francisco Alejandri trained at the prestigious Stratford Chef School and pours his culinary expertise into every one of his creations in an attempt to change Canadian's perceptions of Mexican food. It sure worked for me. Decked out in a Panama hat and pristine pink chef's coat, Alejandri has received a warm welcome from Kensington Market goers who come flocking to see the talented chef at work behind his stainless-steel prep-table.
On the corner of Nassau Street and Augusta Ave., Alejandri's 'kitchen' is nestled in a mini-food court style outlet void of any seating so be prepared to take your food on the go. Since it opened up it seems no matter the time of day, there's always a couple of people in line for food though I've never had to wait more than 15 minutes.
I decided to be a true gourmand and eat a three course meal starting with the pinto-bean soup. For vegetarians (and meat-eaters a like), the pinto-bean soup, at only $3.50 (don't go searching for your pennies, that's including tax), is a must try thrifty, yet hearty, option. Like everything else on the menu (save for desert), the soup is made to order including the tortilla strips on top.
Since it hasn't been sitting in a giant metal vat all day, the soup is piping hot, fresh off the stove. Spare your taste-buds a scalding and wait a few minutes for the soup to cool-off. The bean soup is thick and creamy with quesa fresca (soft, unripened cheese) sliced and mixed in. The cheese maintains its form without melting and I found myself poking for the savory pieces like cookie dough in a tub of Ben and Jerry's.
After I finish the soup, my tingo tostada ($5.50) is ready. The tostada base, made to order (of course), is perfectly golden and crunchy. On top, Alejandri spreads 'well-fried' beans with a heap of the most succulent pulled chicken I've ever had. Tender and luscious, the chicken is stirred in with white onion and the juices spill into the beans and tostada.
A thick dollop of Mexican crema (closer to French creme fraiche than sour cream), slices of avocado and pickled red onion top off the chicken. As I take my first bite, my eyes close and I literally start to moan as the crema and chicken melt into my taste-buds. Women could be heard asking to have what she's having.
Since I live about 30 seconds away, I come back an hour after my tingo tostada encounter with a rested palate ready for desert. I ask Alejandri which dish is his favorite and he says he can't pick since he has thought out and labored over every dish with an equal amount of care. I believe him. His labour of love truly stands out when I watch him meticulously carve out a piece of lime Charlotte cake ($2.75) with such a gentle hand and intense gaze you would think he's excavating a piece of ancient pottery.
The cake is lightly drizzled with olive oil and fresh lime is grated on top. I bring it home and let each rich, creamy, velvety bite linger in my mouth. The zesty lime and cream mix seamlessly without one trying to overpower the other. No visitor to Agave & Aguacate should dare leave without trying this heavenly delight.
Francisco Alejandri is one guy you will never see doing anything without due diligence. With so much care poured into every creation, don't expect your food to be served up in a flash. Some might call this a fault, but personally I find half the joy of eating at Agave & Aguacate is being able to watch a master chef at work crafting the food I am about to devour at a bargain price.
Vegetarians can enjoy the green tostada, pinto-bean soup and lime Charlotte. Vegan's, you're out of luck.
Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to 6:30 pm. Later hours to come with warmer weather. Closed Mondays and holidays. Cash only.
Check out Alejandri's blog for gourmet Mexican recipes and his personal food musings.
Writing and photos by Kaela Greenstien