PICTURED: Vegan tacos with arugula salad, black beans and salsa on the side. Photo by Janis Nelson

Blue Agave Restaurant
185 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura

I do not pretend to be a Mexican food expert (I’m guessing that few Norwegians are). I simply know what I like. And I like Blue Agave.

Located at the south end of Mission Plaza on Santa Clara Street at Figueroa, 22-month-old Blue Agave has done what a series of restaurants in this location have not: built a loyal clientele that enjoys good food, good fellowship and, in many cases, good tequila (although the latter is not a requirement).

More than 500 kinds of tequila are available, as well as a variety of margaritas and other cocktails, beers and wines. Again, I am no connoisseur in this department (don’t listen to my college friends), but I think I know what tastes good, and the

Agave Paella de Pollo. Photo by Mike Nelson

Cadillac Margarita (1800 Reposado, house-made sweet and sour and a float of Grand Marnier) suits me just fine.

Ultimately, though, a go-to restaurant has to excel in providing good food at reasonable prices, and Blue Agave more than passes this test with a delicious assortment of menu items that go far beyond standard Mexican restaurant fare, particularly with regard to vegetables.

Exhibit A would be the Vegan Tacos ($12.95), filled with either butternut squash and sweet potatoes or Portobello mushrooms, in addition to cabbage and pico de gallo, then drizzled with “veganaise” aioli and avocado. They are accompanied by a side of black beans and a generous arugula salad. My wife chose the squash/potato version and declared it “excellent, an interesting and delicious option, nutritious and filling.”

Venturing outside my standard Mexican restaurant choices of burritos or tacos, I tried Agave Paella de Pollo ($16.95), diced free-range chicken breast tossed with rice and peas in a house ranchera sauce and topped with roasted almonds, with

flour tortillas on the side. A large, perfectly cooked, stuffed red pepper was set in the middle of the paella, and it was a surprising but welcome addition. Consider my horizons happily expanded.

I have also enjoyed the Mission Burrito ($13.95), a substantial flour tortilla filled with meat (shredded chicken, machaca or ground beef), rice, beans and pico de

Fried ice cream. Photo by Mike Nelson

gallo, then topped with jack cheese and a “secret” red sauce. I don’t need to know the secret, only that it’s delicious.

Also recommended: Ventura Tacos del Mar ($15.95), two organic corn tortillas generously stuffed with mahi mahi, cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado and house chipotle aioli. Each ingredient complements rather than overpowers the others, and the black beans on the side are a nice (if rather mild) touch.

Desserts include Tres Leches Cake, flan and a mountain of fried ice cream covered in caramel. But, again going beyond the expected, Blue Agave also offers Choco Flan, a moist, chocolaty, not-too-sweet combination of chocolate cake on the bottom with flan layered on top, garnished with fresh berries. (Warning: Too much of this can expand more than your horizons.)

Lunch and dinner are available from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and late-night DJ entertainment in the lounge takes place Friday and Saturday. Blue Agave also serves a fine Sunday buffet brunch which, while a bit pricey at $30 a person, includes three margaritas or mimosas.

Patio and inside dining are available. The former is lively and within sight of sports event-filled TV screens behind the bar, perfect for the happy hour crowd. The dining room is nicely appointed with linen tablecloths and napkins, yet offers a

friendly and relaxed atmosphere that perfectly augments the menu selections.

Blue Agave bills itself as serving “high end” Mexican cuisine, and I will take their word for it. I only know we left feeling very satisfied and happy — and that’s more than the margaritas talking.