31105 Rancho Viejo Road
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
I think it's safe to say that this address has had a pretty good run. We first visited this quiet little shopping center, nestled above the more hectic mission area of San Juan about a year ago, when South Coast Kitchen inhabited this very same space. We raved about Chef Justin Davis's wine country inspired food, but he got the itch to actually move up north, to real wine country and left broken hearted culinary fans wanting more from this kitchen. Enter Sol Agave.
Sol Agave started as a food truck about two years ago but opened up in the former South Coast Kitchen spot at the start of this year. Executive Chef Manny Velasco is the man in charge here, and his prior work experience was obtained at Marie Calendars, Carmelita's, Amorelia, the Costa Mesa restaurant that recently got included on our restaurant wish list, and also some time spent at the now-shuttered Savannah Chophouse, as their Executive Chef. I learned of Chef Manny's cuisine from a former coworker, who turned me on to his Instagram account, and I knew I would be trying his food eventually.
Eventually turned out to be about two years later, but hey, we've been busy. I made reservations on a recent Saturday night at 7 pm, and I'm pretty glad I did. Having been here before, I knew this restaurant was small, so reservations were encouraged to avoid the twenty minute wait other diners experienced on this evening. That will soon change, as later on this month, they will be moving across the parking lot, to the much more spacious revamped Harlow's old spot. I'm looking forward to seeing how that shakes out for them.
As for this evening, we were seated on their small patio out in front of their restaurant. According to their website, they tout their food as, "upscale, organic Mexican," and judging by the menu I'd say that's a pretty fair assessment. The Sol Agave menu boasts ten entrees ranging in price from $10 to $19 and is complimented with a fair assortment of starters and salads. There's also a brunch menu offered here on weekends, which we will definitely have to try out in the future, but for now, it was all about a long overdue date night for Katie and I. Let's see how everything turned out for us on this evening.
As is customary when eating in a Mexican restaurant, we were brought out Chips and Salsa before our meal, but Sol Agave also included Bean Dip to up the ante. I always enjoy when a restaurant includes an extra like this. These chips were pretty solid, with a nice crunch to them, and the salsa had a good consistency to it, with a mild pop of heat. The bean dip was nice and smooth and complimented the salsa wonderfully. After this little starter, I had quite a good feeling about this evening at Sol Agave.
Something that I've noticed that has been passed down to Katie, from her parents is a love of Guacamole ($7), as she orders it, just like they do in every Mexican restaurant they inhabit. The streak continued here at Sol Agave. This avocado mash is mixed with tomatoes, cilantro, Serrano chilies, chipotle cream, onion, and sprinkled with a little queso, and adorned with two plantains. This was a very fresh and clean tasting guacamole, but I was hoping for a little flavor boost from the ingredients added to this. I might see if they can make a spicy version of this next time we are here.
I knew we'd be getting this Cazuela de Queso ($9) when I read OC Register Restaurant Critic, Brad Johnson's glowing review a few months back, and he was spot on. I learned from the waitress that this is not listed as a queso fundido because this includes sour cream in the bubbly cheese mixture. It's also topped with pasilla pepper, guacamole, and a little pico de gallo. Maybe because this had the sour cream added, or for some other reason, this was probably one of the lightest versions of this starter that we have ever had. It was delicious, with a subtle flavor that was not in your face, or too heavy. It came with handmade corn tortillas that were the best I have had, and I'm not even a fan of corn tortillas. They were thick but had an airiness to them. Excellent, and this is a must try when dining at Sol Agave.
Just like Katie ordering guacamole in a Mexican restaurant, you can almost always count on her ordering Chicken Fajitas ($20) in that same restaurant. True to form, that's what she had here. This organic chicken came with plenty of grilled veggies, a dollop of sour cream, and guacamole. These fajitas did not need the attention grabbing sizzle and steam that most restaurants use to drum up interest in their fajitas. The chicken was one of the most tender we have had, as that is one of my litmus tests for a Mexican restaurant since most over cook pollo to almost jerky-like toughness. The orange sauce covering the chicken was almost like an orange chicken sauce, just not as sweet. The veggies were done well, and this also came with the great corn tortillas and beans and rice, but not pictured. Sorry about that.
Okay, I guess I shouldn't publicly shame Katie for getting the same thing all the time, as I always seem to gravitate towards Carnitas ($16) on my maiden voyage to a new Mexican restaurant. This was an excellent rendition of this dish. The Kurobata pork was tender, a bit fatty, which I don't mind, and full of flavor. Really good swine here. I opted for the flour tortillas, which were okay, but I should have gotten the much better corn version. The beans and rice were okay, but nothing earth-shattering. I really did enjoy the pork though.
Pretty full by this point, but we were tempted by the Churros ($6). These freshly fried churros were filled with cajeta, which is a caramel-like syrup, usually made with caramelized goat's milk. Not sure if that was the case here, but I kept that fact hidden from Katie, who's a little squeamish about things like that. Anyways, back to these churros, which also came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and cinnamon whipped cream. These came to the table super hot, and we had to let them sit for awhile which was hard to do. I really enjoyed these, but wish there was a little more cinnamon or sugar clinging to the churros, and of course, a little more ice cream could never hurt.
Modern Mexican is quickly becoming one of my favorite kinds of cuisine. Restaurants like Sol Cocina, Tacos y Amor, Anepalcos, Tempo Urban Kitchen, and more have shown OC diners that Mexican food has evolved from the combo plates that they have grown up with. You can definitely add Sol Agave to the list of very good upscale Mexican, and I'm pretty stoked that they are located close to where we live. This restaurant, along with the others I have listed, really show their chef's creativity and commitment to quality. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this restaurant evolves once they are in their new, larger digs across the parking lot. I'm also pretty interested to see what takes over their old spot and hoping for a third straight great restaurant for this charmed location.
Out of five bottles of tequila, (not only because agave is essential in the production of tequila, but also because they will be showcasing a great selection of tequila when they move to their new location), five being best to zero being worst, Sol Agave gets 3.5 tequila bottles.
For more information about Sol Agave, and to keep up with their impending move, check out their website here: http://www.solagavesjc.com/