A new amigo on the block, Los Agaves Mexican Grill in downtown Sisters has ignited the area's restaurant scene with an inventive take on familiar, south-of-the-border fare. Sporting the flowering green agave plant on their signs and menus, the famous herb from which tequila is derived, owner and head chef Jimmy Fernandez welcomes old friends and customers with his trademark grin and hospitality.
"This is the cuisine cooked and eaten in Central Mexico, near Mexico City, with more masa corn, dried chiles, shrimp, pork carnitas, carne asada and mole sauce," explained Fernandez, "It's what I ate growing up, watching my grandmother and mother cook in the kitchen. These are some of our oldest family recipes and I think people are going to be very surprised. I started making up my own spicy soups when I was around ten years old, experimenting with meat and vegetables.It's a good skill to have when you're hungry."
The totally refreshed interior has a casual elegance reminiscent of Texas border town cantinas with carved juniper furniture, stone floor and framed cowboy artwork by local western artist, Dyrk Godby. This is Mexican comfort food, surprisingly inexpensive with a regional flair prepared with love and precision by Fernandez and his friendly, efficient staff and wife, Laura. Service is prompt and attentive and the food, on multiple occasions, (this place is addictive!) was colorfully presented. When the weather warms, one can easily imagine the spacious outdoor patio alive with diners enjoying a fresh, sugar-rimmed glass of sangria or a frosted margarita in the High Desert sun.
Fernandez began working at El Caporal in Bend in 1997, graduating to head cook before moving to the new Sisters restaurant in 2007 as part owner of the Sisters location, which closed this summer in the face of challenging economic conditions.
"I always had the idea of my own little place where I could share this food with all my friends. I love food and I love people and want them to feel comfortable and relaxed like they're at home," he said.
On a recent lunch outing, I ordered the Carne Asada burrito ($7) and was presented with an ample one-pounder filled with black beans, rice and rich grilled steak, topped with fresh tomatoes and sour cream, ringed with a sunburst of cheddar cheese and lettuce. Fernandez promises that lunch-goers will leave satisfied, and I was pleasantly stuffed. The meat was tender and flavorful without an ounce of fat and wrapped in a delicate, yet chewy, flour tortilla.
A quick glance at the lunch menu showed ten items priced between $6 and $7 and choices from Carnitas De Puerco, Chorizo Con Huevos, Quesadillas De Pollo or Tacos De Pescado with fresh Mahi fish. All lunches include two side orders and homemade chips with family recipe salsa.
A regular from El Caporal days, Joe Gunterman was amazed at the changes.
We were so sad when El Caporal shut down in Sisters. We all used to call it "Jimmy's Place," he joked. "And now Jimmy's back!"
Returning for a late afternoon dinner, I was tempted to try their incredible Sopa De Poblano soup ($3 cup, $6 bowl) and it was lust at first spoonful. This is a creamy, cottage-style chowder with a buttery-smooth taste, flecked with mild, fire-roasted Poblano peppers, green chiles and tomatillos blended with a hint of cheddar cheese.
Fernandez suggested the Pescado Del Dia ($17) - during my visit, a fresh mahi-mahi made with lime juice, onions, garlic and epazote - a rich green Mexican herb said to contain magical digestion properties. This coastal dish, with its festive array of tender pieces of citrus-spiced fish, broccoli, baby carrots, peppers and onions was light and flavorful, complemented by a small stack of poblano rice and a dish of black beans sprinkled with Cotija cheese. This is the most expensive entree on the dinner menu, but registers high marks for value, bold tastes and artistry.
Appetizers available from the bar or dining room are camarones a la Yucatan ($12), tostadas de tinga ($8) and guacamole fresca ($7) prepared tableside. Soup choices are the traditional chicken tortilla or sopa de poblano cooked with fire-roasted peppers, chilies and tomatillos.
The inventive debut dinner lineup is filled with favorites, both old and new. Dinner entree prices range from $10 to $17 and are served with a choice of two sides: house salad, soup of the day, Spanish rice, poblano rice, pinto or black beans. Specialties of the house include: osso bucco al mole ($16), pollito al horno ($16) and carne asada ($16).
For those seeking a less substantial sampling, Los Agaves' happy hour runs weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and features dishes like marinated clams and mushrooms and Jimmy's Special Nachos for $4. Wash it down with a strawberry margarita or a Three Creeks Knotty Blonde Ale, also $4.
Los Agaves Mexican Grill
291 E. Cascade Ave.
Open daily 11a.m. - 9:30 p.m..