Agave Maria’s Restaurant & Cantina
710 Arneill Road
Camarillo
383-2770
$16-22.95

One of my all-time favorite Mexican restaurant experiences (outside of Mexico, that is …) would be Old Town San Diego. Yeah, it’s kitschy and touristy, but it’s also hard to beat the atmosphere of sitting on a patio, sipping on a “world’s largest margarita” while watching the sun set and picking at my tacos carne asada plate. As of four months ago, Camarillo has just such a spot.

Of course, many Ventura County locals may already be hip to Agave Maria’s in Ojai (on South Montgomery Street), which opened five years ago. I haven’t been to the original yet, but I thought I’d try the Camarillo version, just a few blocks shy of the 101 (53B, Lewis Road exit).

We found a lovely corner on the vast patio and started with ceviche as our appetizer. It’s made here nice and fresh daily with white fish, lemon and a bed of jalapeño, cilantro, onion, cucumber and tomato, all diced up and topped with slivers of avocado. Surrounded by tortilla chips, the ceviche tasted delectable, light and bright and easy to scoop up with the chips.

Entrees followed. Yes, of course, I could have ordered a wet burrito here (make that should

Delivered on a French roll and gooping with grilled onions and melted pepper jack cheese, this sandwich dissolved in my mouth; the lean meat cooked just right, the baguette fresh and surprisingly flavorful.

have, given how big and stuffed the ones delivered to our neighboring table appeared). I felt like throwing this place a curve ball, however, and trying something less obvious: the tri-tip or pulled pork sandwich. I sided with pulled pork and I wasn’t disappointed. Delivered on a French roll and gooping with grilled onions and melted pepper jack cheese (I requested the accompanying barbecue sauce on the side), this sandwich dissolved in my mouth; the lean meat cooked just right, the baguette fresh and surprisingly flavorful. This is one sandwich they could just as easily have phoned in; they didn’t.

My dinner companion chose something more traditional and Mexican: chile Colorado — a deep bowl of seasoned tri-tip beef lathered with the house’s zesty red sauce. Sharing the entree, I can confirm that she chose very well, even if the accompanying Spanish rice and black beans were standard issue Mexican restaurant sides. (There’s also a pork version of this — the chili verde plate.)

Truth be told, dessert is where our meal kinda fell apart … only to be saved by a last-minute Hail Mary play by the restaurant. Given a choice of tres leches cake, chocolate lava cake and flan, we originally opted for the flan. Minutes later, the waitress reappeared and informed us that they were out of flan. OK, no biggie; we ordered the tres leches. More time passed, and the response returning from the kitchen was that they were out of tres leches, tambien. Chocolate lava cake would never be my first choice among desserts, but given the dilemma here, the restaurant was nice enough to whip up an order for us … on the house! I wanted to order a cappuccino or mocha to go with this attractive offering — a rich, moist small mountain of chocolate topped

Chocolate lava cake — a rich, moist small mountain of chocolate topped with whipped cream and criss-crossing strawberry sauce

with whipped cream and criss-crossing strawberry sauce that proved so irresistible, it didn’t last long on our plate. When we tried ordering said cups of chi-chi liquid caffeine, however, we were told that they only served a basic house coffee. (We passed). Seriously, Agave Maria’s should elevate its game and expand its java options, as there might be more people dropping by to take advantage of that glorious patio just for a bite of dessert.

That’s probably my greatest quibble with Agave Maria’s as the Camarillo destination is overall solid. One visit there is not enough as there is so much more to explore here. On the high end of the menu, the rib-eye seems comparatively inexpensive as far as steak entrees go. There are also the completely seductive entries of Latin-style shrimp, grilled shrimp skewers, pan-seared red snapper with mango sauce, salmon with red chile sauce and duck quesadilla, not to mention camarones a la diabla (six Tiger shrimp covered in chipotle and Morita chile sauce), chicken mole, tacos, and yes, those plump, mouthwatering wet burritos. With so many options in so many directions, Agave Maria’s could become my go-to local destination for Mexican.

Although … I wonder what the Ojai version is like?