Sabor Cocina Mexicana  
2200 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.  
Thousand Oaks

Sometimes restaurants miss the mark, sometimes they really nail it. Sometimes the food is spectacular, while the service is not. Other times the food is average, but priced too high. Sadly, it’s rare when all the pieces come together. Sabor Cocina Mexicana is one of those rare places.

Located in the upscale Lakes at Thousand Oaks Shopping Center, Sabor pulls out all the stops. The dimly lit, high-ceilinged restaurant is ornately decorated with Mexican tiles, massive chandeliers dripping with blown glass, high-backed dark wooden chairs and red velvet booths; and the bar area is filled with star-shaped light fixtures, making for a stunning first impression.

When we arrived for dinner, the place was packed — though it cleared out around 8 when an event began at the nearby Civic Arts Plaza. (Read: best to make a reservation, especially if you plan on dining early on a night when there is an event next door.) Our server, Caesar, introduced himself, presented us with menus, and quickly returned with our drinks: a Negro Modelo draught beer and a hearty glass of garnet-red sangria.

As we sipped our drinks and perused the menu, we drank in the festive atmosphere and all the decorative details. The only thing that struck us as odd: the woman dressed in traditional Mexican garb, strategically placed in front of a window into the kitchen, making fresh tortillas. Though we loved the tortillas and appreciated that they were handmade, it did seem a bit contrived.

Having heard good things about the guacamole, but wary of the $9 price tag, we inquired about a half order. Our server then happily brought us a small dish for $3. It was topped with a watercress garnish and flecked with the flavor of red onion. This guac is simplicity on a chip, a guacamole that allows the flavor of the avocado to fully shine.

We also ordered a cup of tortilla soup, which was served with great fanfare. We were presented with a bowl filled with chicken, cheese and crispy tortilla strips — over which our server poured hot broth from a tiny teapot. In addition to wowing us, serving it this way allowed the tortilla strips to stay crispy. The broth hinted of the flavors of tomato, and offered a great balance of sweetness and spice.

The entree options at Sabor are just as impressive as the décor. Think crispy duck tacos, seafood enchiladas, free-range chicken in mole sauce, and cochinita pibil —marinated pork baked in banana leaves. We were drawn to two dishes that you don’t see every day: a seafood chile relleno and chile colorado made with short ribs.

The chile relleno is a large pasilla chile filled with chunks of mahi mahi, shrimp, roasted corn and cheese. This nontraditional chile relleno isn’t battered and fried; instead it is simply roasted and stuffed, sitting pretty on a bed of roasted red pepper sauce. Where this dish is light, the chile colorado is rich and bold. A generous serving of short ribs sits atop a mound of rice, fried plantains and a silky bean purée. The whole dish is finished with salsa guajillo, a dark red chile sauce that isn’t as spicy as it sounds. The combination of the tender savory beef, the sweet plantains, and the rich sauce was divine. Both came with an endless supply of fresh, hot flour and corn tortillas.

Throughout the evening, I found myself trying to savor every bite and relishing every minute of our meal at Sabor. The service was prompt and very efficient, but I found myself wanting to linger. Hoping to drag the meal out a bit longer, I did the unimaginable: ordered two desserts! Really, who could decide between churros filled with nutella and tres leches cake?

The hot churros were dripping with nutella — the silky chocolate hazelnut spread acting as the perfect complement to the crispy fried dough and the crunch of the cinnamon sugar. They were served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. The tres leches cake is a towering sponge cake infused with coconut cream and topped with fresh whipped cream. We gobbled up both, but it was the churros that made a permanent impression on our palates.

The prices at Sabor are somewhat steep with entrees ranging from $14 to $24, making it, for many, more of a special occasion kind of place. But with the excellent service, attention to detail, unique dishes and festive atmosphere, we felt it was worth every penny and well worth the drive down from Ventura.

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