El agave, or “the agave” in English, is a succulent plant found in Mexico.
The owners of El Agave restaurant have planted their eatery along one of Hammond’s busiest streets, and, from the looks of the crowd, the authentic south-of-the-border menu and the quite modest prices, they’ve sown the seeds for success.
The building on Thomas Street has had several transformations, dating to its origins as a Golden Corral. Now, its interior decor is definitely Mexican, but doesn’t go so far as to bombard diners with the cliché sombreros and piñatas. The large dining area, partitioned off into smaller, cozier sections, is painted in stripes of red and yellow near the ceiling. Some interior walls are brick, others are paneled. Paintings on unframed canvases, colorful stuffed parrots and a large mirror on one wall decorate the space. Recessed lighting lends a casual, relaxed mood. There were lots of families eating on a recent Friday night, and a few large groups were celebrating someone’s birthday, complete with a song from the wait staff.
While waiting for our appetizer, we munched on the complementary chips and salsa and were impressed right off. The crunchy, fresh tortilla chips were still warm from the fryer and the accompanying salsa tasted freshly made as well, not overly thick, and with a fiery kick that made you stop a minute, and then grab another chip. The salsa arrived in a carafe we could pour from as needed into small bowls.
The only slip-up we encountered with the meal was that our appetizer, nachos supremos (half order, $4.55; full order, $6.15), arrived with the entrees and not before them. The nachos, made with some more of those fresh chips, were piled with shredded beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, sour cream and guacamole. All the ingredients were in generous supply, with the exception of the tomatoes.
I chose a combination dinner offering one beef burrito, one beef enchilada and one beef taco, along with beans and rice ($6.95). All were quite flavorful and well-filled, and I was impressed that the enchilada and the burrito weren’t swimming in cheese, just topped with it. There was also a thumbs-up all around on the beans and rice - the beans very creamy and the rice fluffy and moist, with a red hue from a healthy dose of tomato sauce.
A guest chose the chimi-changas ($6.55), and preferred the texture and flavor of the one with shredded beef to the chicken version. Both were contained in flaky, rectangular pastry and topped with nacho cheese, with lettuce, tomato and sour cream on the side. Beans and rice also came with this dish.
The carne asada, one of the higher-priced items on the menu at a still-very-reasonable $9.95, featured a large, but thin cut of steak covered with grilled onions. Mexican spices enhanced the tender beef. Rice, beans, a small salad and flour tortillas accompanied this choice.
We took home two desserts, the familiar flan ($2.25) and the unusual chango cheesecake (also $2.25). The flan custard was wonderfully smooth and sweet, drizzled with caramel sauce and topped off with whipped cream. El Agave’s take on cheesecake put the creamy filling inside a flaky chimi-changa pastry, drizzled with chocolate and finished off with whipped cream. Also quite good.
El Agave also has vegetarian meals, American dishes and lunch specials.