106 S. Montgomery St., Ojai
Walking into the courtyard entrance of Agave Maria in downtown Ojai one might feel as though they have been teleported to a part of Oaxaca. A serene water fountain sculpture welcomes guests to the terra-cotta tiled outdoor dining area, which is inviting for both summer and winter use due to several heat lamps. For those seeking a traditional indoor cantina experience, Agave Maria has your back as well. In addition there is a welcoming bar with about six seats of real estate to gaze upon the playoff games or wall of tequila, your choice.
Deciding on the outdoor patio, I was seated and started the night by indulging in the Cadillac margarita, which revealed itself to be an ideal way of justifying the baskets of warm tortilla chips and bowls of salsa that I eventually devoured throughout the course of the night. I opened my menu and immediately saw many deliciously familiar options.
Nachos are my old nemesis, the proverbial thorn in my side, and I shamefully use them as a gauge for how the rest of the meal will turn out. I predictably caved in, and found that Agave Maria delivered some of the best that I’ve had in quite a while. I added shredded chicken to enhance the play and it was a choice maneuver. I recommend getting a hefty $3 side order of guacamole as well because, why the hell not?!?
Another of my staples is the classic cheese enchilada platter, complete with refried beans (black beans are also available) and rice. Here Agave Maria held its own and more. The red sauce that smothered the cheese-stuffed tortillas was a subtle and delicious trio of flavor personalities: spicy, sweet and smoky. The refried beans were creamy and evenly salted to purposefully compliment the fluffy rice. A little sour cream and guacamole topper makes for a welcomed addition as well.
I also decided to treat myself to the most intriguing item on the menu, and a personal favorite when done well: the roasted duck quesadilla. Shredded and seasoned with a smoky and sweet balance, the duck was rich and succulent, pairing lavishly with the melted layers of cheese.
The second entree I settled on was the El Diablo shrimp, a palatably spicy take on the rich dish. The red sauce had a fire-roasted pepper base with sweet onion and garlic undertones to begin, followed by the spice that teased and didn’t linger. My recommendation: add sour cream to cleanse the palate and an extra order of tortillas so as not to waste a drop of the sauce.
If an authentic experience is what you seek then Agave Maria is absolutely worth the trip out to the Ojai Valley. Because we all need a little respite, and to take a siesta from the daily grind.