cien agaves tacos & tequila
For free monthly updates, event invitations and exclusive deals, sign-up for our newsletter!
Enter a keyword such as “Italian” or “Hamburgers” or type the name of the restaurant below.
Cien Agaves Tacos & Tequila
March, 2008, Page 171
Photo by Chris Bassett
Queso fundido con chorizo paired with an organic margarita.
For a state that borders Mexico and a tourist town that peddles all things South of the Border, we sure have a lot of mediocre Mexican restaurants. Excluding Barrio Café and a handful of other real-deal operations that scare off the gringos, most of my favorite Valley Mexican spots have been around forever. Seems like the newcomers I run across these days have forgotten (or never knew) that the first step to Mexican food success is mastering the basics. The first thing I expect is warm chips – crunchy and preferably homemade – served with freshly made salsa redolent with chiles and cilantro. If a Mexican restaurant can pull that off, it’s got me at “hola.” Creamy, flavorful refried beans, fluffy rice that actually tastes like something, vibrant chile Colorado, perfect tamales and house-made tortillas will keep me happy through “adios,” but frankly, getting all that yummy stuff in one place is seldom more than a pipe dream.
The new Cien Agaves in Old Town Scottsdale has a way to go on the basics, but it works from a premise I absolutely love: tacos (the ultimate Mexican snack) paired with tequila (the ultimate Mexican beverage). The blessedly simple concept suggests fun, which is the very same adjective I’d apply to the setting, a funky concrete-floored cantina with a low slung bar in the back and a colorful, open dining room filled with modern Mexican art.
Live music on Thursday and Saturday nights elevates the party atmosphere, as do the 100 premium tequilas (distilled from 100 percent blue agaves) and specialty margaritas. In fact, if you’re a margarita maven, put this T&T spot on your to-do list. The selection is really pretty unique. I will say, however, that their drinkability seems dependent upon the bartender on duty. The house margarita was so strong on one occasion I left most of it melting in the glass (and yes, I am a wimp).
On the other hand, the Tamarindo – made with the same pulpy, sour fruit that goes in a sweet Mexican drink of the same name – was tart and yummy (if you can handle its greenish-brown color). But the ultra-smooth organic margarita, made with 4 Copas organic tequila, blue agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime juice, was simply outstanding – bright, sweet, icy, salty and eminently slurp-able.
Crispy chips arrived at the table warm, which threw me into addict mode despite the pale red salsa that accompanied them. Thank heavens there was tart, chunky tomatillo salsa too, which was so much better. Good chips gave us incentive to order guacamole, generously portioned but strangely viscous and odd tasting. It was very frustrating – warm chips and a heap of lousy guac ($7). My buddy and I directed our attention instead to queso fundido con chorizo, which should be another Mexican restaurant no-brainer. It tasted delish (how can you go wrong with Manchego and chorizo?), but it was so thick we had to use our forks to get it on the chips, which is hardly the point of fondue ($7). A better melting cheese could make all the difference.
Grilled street corn, sprinkled with chile powder and cotija, would have been successful, had the corn been worth a hoot. Alas, it was waxy and tasteless. However, crema-swirled poblano soup, pale green and plenty spicy, was so good my pal and I wished we’d ordered bowls of it instead of cups ($3).
The menu features five entrées, including cochinita pibil, but I’ll tell you the truth: I lost interest in them after discovering that even tacos were a challenge for this kitchen. My buddy and I did try the lobster enchiladas with tomatillo sauce, which were pretty good, but maybe not 15-dollar good. I’d rather have Carlsbad Tavern’s shrimp enchiladas (for less) any day. As for those all-important accompaniments, the black beans had no salt, while the pintos had too much. The rice was just OK.
Tacos were what I came for, and tacos were what I had – eight of 13 possibilities. Beginning on a positive note, we liked the pappas con queso (soft, chunky spuds with melted Manchego and cheddar, $4) and the chorizo con pappas (chorizo and potato, $3). Both were simple and tasty. Citrus-marinated carne asada wasn’t half bad either once we raked off the guacamole ($5). Although the shredded chicken breast in the crispy Tinga taco was a little dry, its spicy chipotle flavor suited me, and I liked its traditional crisp taco toppings of cheese, lettuce and tomato ($4).
I adore tacos al pastor (a Mexico City specialty of spit-roasted pork, borrowed from the Schawarma of the Middle East), but this version didn’t taste much like the traditional dish I’ve grown to love. The only clue was a bit of canned pineapple tucked in the taco ($4). Carnitas with cilantro and onions weren’t particularly flavorful either ($4). In most cases, we could’ve been eating anything, a point that was painfully obvious with the $6 lobster taco, topped with jicama mix and “Baja-style sauce.” It didn’t taste like lobster and wasn’t worth the price. But the fish taco, filled with two breaded patties of fried tilapia, was actually sort of gross – akin to greasy, unidentifiable fast food ($4).
I wonder who’s making the desserts – certainly not the guy who makes the tacos. Silky Kahlua flan, served in a dense wedge, was wonderful ($6), while orange sorbet was all sweetness and light ($6).
In theory, I love Cien Agaves; in reality, not so much. This is a way-cool concept impaired by poor implementation. Although the casual space is appealing, the menu is too broad for the concept, and the food is inconsistent. Give me some good, simple tacos and hold the grandiosity.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday.
© 2007 Copyright Phoenix Magazine 15169 N. Scottsdale Road Suite C310 Scottsdale Arizona 85254
Travel & Outdoors
Best of The Valley
Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine
Advertise With Us
Web Site Design