Salsa and Agave in Yaletown, Vancouver

Ever since Alejandra and Estanislao started telling me finer points about Mexican food, I get more interested in finding out about it. I used to be so oblivious about Mexican food. If you ask me, I would not be able to name one Mexican restaurant or even know where to find one.

Since the past few weeks, I had began to understand a lot more and that Mexican cuisine is more than just tacos and burritos. A month ago, we went to the El Mariachi. I wanted to try the Sopa Azteca (Aztec Soup) that Alejandra said I should but unfortunately they did not have it. But when I found out that the Salsa and Agave has it, Suanne and I made a beeline to the restaurant.

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Salsa and Agave is located in the middle of Yaletown. This hole in the wall had gained quite a reputation and is arguably one of the best Mexican restaurants in Metro Vancouver. They closes on Mondays but on other days they are open for lunch and dinner between 11AM to 9:30PM.

I was curious as to what the word Agave means. Estanislao told me that agave is a type of cactus that is used to make Tequila, particularly a type of agave called the blue agave. But if you think they serve tequila in Salsa and Agave, you will not find it here.

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Salsa and Agave is really small … and extremely popular. We counted only 8 small tables each able to hold 2 people each. As usual, Suanne and I were there early at about 4:45PM. So there were a lot of empty tables. By 6PM when we were about to leave, the restaurant was filled with customers standing in between tables waiting for one to free up.

It was freezing cold outside and I guess no one wanted to wait in the cold. That is why everyone was cramped into the little space.

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ALL of the customers speaks Spanish. We stuck out like sore thumbs being the only Asian faces.

Service was very friendly. First thing we got was tortilla chips and red salsa served in a mortar like bowl.

We were sitting there for a few minutes trying to understand the menu. It was confusing for us — all of them looked the same and we can’t imagine what most of them were. We told ourselves we will not want the tacos stuff and wanted a true dinner.

Our waitress was friendly and helpful. We told her we don’t know what we wanted except that we definitely want the Sopa Azteca and “real Mexican dinner”. First thing she told us, in a hush tone, is “do not get the burritos, we make it like the Americans”. We had a good laugh.

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At first I wanted to order a Mexican pop but then I noticed that they had a drinks dispenser with a white and a red drinks. Even though we do not know what it is, we ordered one of each. We just had to try.

The red drink is the hibiscus (a kind of flower). Hah, one learn new things everyday. In Malaysia, hibiscus is the national flower and no one even thought that it could be made into a drink. The drink is sourish. While it was OK, it will not be something we will enjoy a lot.

But the white drink was fantastic. It is called the rice and cinnamon water. It is sweet … and cinnamony, of course. One can easily mistaken this for milk. I think a lot of people will like this.

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So … finally … this is Sopa Azteca. It is a tomato soup with tortilla, diced avocados, cheese, sour cream and chipotle pepper in it. It tasted “cheesy” and not too spicy. The fried tortilla presents a balanced … texture to the smooth avocados. The fried tortilla strips are cut too big to fit the spoon. As a soup, it was lighter than the Sopa Tortilla we had in El Mariachi.

Still the soup is very filling. Suanne and I shared this bowl and even that it was a lot of soup. It is so filing that the Sopa Azteca alone can be a meal by itself.

The Sopa Azteca is $7. Very nice, we liked it and finished it to the last drop. Mexican soups present such a good change to the other types of soups we had that we told ourselves that Mexican soups are what we want to always order when we eat out at Mexicans in future.

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Our waitress recommended the Alambre. It is grilled beef, green peppers, onions, bacon, ham and a few pieces of tortillas. A single order is $9 and if you add cheese, it is $10.

The menu said that we will get five pieces of tortillas but she gave use seven. Nice. The warm tortilla was used to cover the main ingredients.

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The filings were held together by the cheese. It looked so delicious that we dug into this immediately. After all, it tastes great when it is all still warm and the fillings moist.

On the side is the chili sauce. Love it. At a first taste, it is mild but the heat kicks in gradually after a few seconds.

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LOL! We still can’t get over the difficulty in eating this way. I mean, eating with the hands is entirely natural to us. It is just that having to tilt the head and having a hand at the other end to catch the fillings that falls out that makes it such a challenging affair for us.

But this is absolutely delicious. And the portions are outrageously generous. This is super for “metatarians” like me.

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The Enchiladas was $12.

I still can’t quite get this and hope someone can simplify this for me (particularly “Bill” who sent me nasty/rude notes when I ask these questions!). It seems to me that Tortilla is so common in Mexican cuisine. What is not clear to me is that Tortilla with meat is called many types of names — tacos, burritos, enchiladas. The only difference I would tell between these are the shape and sizes.

Anyway, we can get either the chicken or the beef enchiladas which came with melted cheese, sour cream and onions accompanied with rice and beans by the side.

The rice is a little sourish and looked like broken rice. According to the menu, we were supposed to get a choice of the sauce — green tomatillo, red tomato sauce or mole. We were not asked and were given the green tomatillo.

This one, we were not so enthusiastic about. It is just a personal preference. The serving here is also generous.

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I am going to give you-kn0w-who a break about dessert. Let’s just say that I insisted on dessert for once. I simply need to try Mexican dessert.

I wanted to get the Pastel de 3 Leches which sound really nice. That is translated to “3-milk cake”. Unfortunately, it was too early and not ready.

So we opted for something else … the more common Flan de Cafe (Coffee Caramel Custard) which costs $3. The custard was dense and coarse. For someone who likes sweet stuff, you-know-who enjoyed this a lot.

All in all, Salsa and Agave is super. We enjoyed the meal (which we took a long time to savour) and the waitress was super helpful knowing that we know very little about Mexican food. She looked so glad that we enjoyed the meal and despite all the people milling around waiting for a table, she never once came by and try to shoo us off.

Here is their menu should you want to check out what they offer.

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  1. The white drink is called horchata. It is make from ground rice. This is such a common drink that I was surprised that not many ‘Mexican’ restaurants in Vancouver served it.

  2. Hi Ben,
    It was excellent. We liked and would recommend it to friends. I tried the alambre too. And, this is the one I have liked more outside Mexico.

    As per different types of tacos you described, you have classified it very well although I would add one more category: fried tacos (or tostadas). Main differences between categories of tacos are:

    Tacos: when you place basically any meal (not only meat) to a tortilla (usually soft) and rolled it, you are making a taco. Note: tortilla could be made with corn or flour.

    Burritos: it is basically the same as taco but tortilla is a very big flour tortilla and it has rice, beans and salad added in addition to your choice of meat. This is originally from the North Mexico where the burrito could be larger than half meter.

    Enchiladas: First, a hot salsa (souce) is prepared in a pan (almost boiling). Then, tacos are prepared with your choice of meat. Finally, tacos are warmed up with the hot salsa on the pan. Note: salsa could be green, red, mole, etc.

    Tostadas: tortilla is fried first. Then, different ingredients can be used to prepare a tostada. For instance: cream, beans, salad, cheese, meat (usually chicken or beef). However, a tostada can be prepared with many other meals as well.

    Tortilla is also used to eat almost any meal in Mexico. This is the same as bread is used in many countries.

    Cheers,
    Estanislao

  3. For sure super! I do not see many Mexican restaurants in my area that have so many different choices to choose from. Never have heard of the Alhambre before.

    And yes, the white drink is horchata. Don’t see that much also around here but I’ve seen both of the drinks your ordered just last week due to a Las Posadas celebration I had at school recently :).

  4. Hey Ben and Suanne!

    I am a long time reader first time poster :p you must hear that a lot.
    I have been waiting for you guys to try this place out its right by my work and I love it. The food is always great, the aztec soup is my fav, and the service is always so friendly! Cheap, delicious and filling, what more can you want? Highly recommend.

    Bye!

  5. I’ve been an avid reader of the blog for quite some time now and it makes me so delighted to see this post!! I’m from Texas.. So Mexican/Tex-Mex is mainly all I eat! Please explore more restaurants in your area. It’s good stuff. 😀

    Also– see if you can find a place serving stuffed avocados. They are divine (in any variation!)

  6. Mmmmm, we love *real* Mexican/Latin American foods, to which there aren’t enough authentic and quality examples in the city. But we’re gonna try to check these guys out !

  7. hey there are lots of different types of bread and meat combinations: sandwiches, subs, hoagies, hambugers, hotdogs, open faced turkey sandwiches, etc; so why not lots of different kinds of tortilla and meat combinations?

  8. Hi,

    Isn’t there already a Hibiscus drink in Malaysia? It was very heavily marketed in the mid 1990’s. I’m not sure if it is still popular or available now but there was definitely a Hibiscus drink made by a Malaysian company.

  9. The red drink is called Jamaica-pronounced Ha-MY-Kah and should never be too sweet, quite unlike many Mexican beverages.

    The appealing part to drinking Jamaica (to my taste) is the dry tickle it produces in the back of the throat, very thirst quenching.

  10. I had dinner here a couple of years back and enjoyed it immensely. Haven’t really tried a lot of Mexican so I don’t know how it fares compared to other Mexican restaurants. But for me, it was really really good. Thanks for the post! Really need to spare some time to go back!

  11. My Officemate from Mexico really likes this place for authentic Mexican food.Its the real deal for him

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