Here's a new hot spot to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year: Agave Taco Bar, located at 9739 NW 41st St. in Doral.
The restaurant, set to open the first week of May, will celebrate both its grand opening and "Cinco de Drinko" next week with a limited-time happy hour Thursday, May 5, through Saturday, May 7. During the three-day event, guests can order the restaurant's $5 Monterrey sampler — five small corn tacos with any filling and toppings — along with half-priced drinks from open to close.
The Doral Agave Taco Bar is chef-owner Ivan Alarcon's fourth location and first Miami-Dade outpost, opening just two months after the grand opening of his latest Fort Lauderdale restaurant. The concept has roots in Davie, where the Mexican-born chef launched his original concept, El Agave Azul, in 2009. Both Davie locations continue to offer a more refined dining experience, while the Agave Taco Bar's Fort Lauderdale and Doral locations are designed to offer a hybrid of fast-casual and full-service dining.
Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, the self-taught Alarcon grew up learning family recipes in his grandmother’s kitchen. Now these traditional Mexican flavors provide the foundation for the Agave Taco Bar brand. "Everything on this menu reminds me of something that occurred in my life, from a childhood memory to cooking with my grandmother or stopping at a street vendor with my grandfather. We're not just another traditional Mexican restaurant. It's my interpretation of Monterrey for the people of South Florida."
That interpretation includes what's arguably Agave's signature dish, tacos de trompo ($7.99). Five tacos are made from pork cooked on a vertical spit and seasoned with a combination of spices and a blend of guajillo and ancho chilies that stains the meat a bright, near-fluorescent red. The outer layer, crackling and crisp, is shaved from the spit and often served with a handful of finely chopped onion, cilantro, and a slice or two of fresh pineapple.
The menu also lets you "build your own," tacos, a selection of mix-and-match options from 15 marinated meats and seafood ($5.99 to $9.49). The selection of beef, chicken, pork, and fish ranges from a carne asada and picadillo to chicken marinated in salsa verde or ancho tinga. There's also pork belly, cream-sauce-smothered poblano peppers, and grilled shrimp.
Order the barbacoa, made with beef cheek and tongue ($5.99). In Alarcon's native northern Mexico, it's a traditional practice to cook the head of the cow — nothing wasted — including brains and eyes. After hours of braising, the meat becomes so soft that it nearly melts in your mouth. The barbacoa tacos are served two per order with a choice of homemade flour or corn tortillas and purple-tinged escabeche de cebolla (strips of pickled red onion seasoned with oregano and cumin).
The Doral branch will also have a number of "botanas" — Alarcon's version of Mexican snacks or small plates, each made to order ($4.50 to $16). Many of them aren't what you'd find in Monterrey, but they're good. That includes the alitas asadas, grilled chicken wings the size of a fist, smothered in a tangy sauce Alarcon created from scratch at home.
A "favorites" section highlights three dishes the chef customized to represent the flavors of his culture ($7.49 to $9.49). The star here are the sopes del jefe, two handcrafted corn-cake cups cradling salsa-verde-smothered chicharrones mixed with refried pinto beans, chopped cilantro, sautéed white onion, crema, and melted queso ($7.49).
The beverage menu includes a rotating selection of craft and draft beer, wine, and margaritas. Any dish pairs well with an ice-cold michelada dusted with tannin ($8), a rust-colored, citrus-tinged pepper powder that garnishes the popular Mexican beer/tomato juice combination.
"These dishes are a taste of what I've lived, a sampling of the flavors from my memories of Monterrey," Alarcon says. "My goal is to change people's perspective of Mexican food and help my customers create their own memories in the process."
Agave Taco Bar Doral will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.