I am going to admit up front that until visiting the new Ways Chevron gas station and convenience mart and the adjoining Agave Birrieria on the corner of Orpheus and Leucadia Boulevard, I had never experienced Birria.
As far as the gas station/convenience mart goes, it sure looks great and has a nice, easy-to-navigate layout, but besides some fancier-looking pre-packaged meals to go and local products like Wipeout Coffee, it was a little underwhelming. I was expecting something dramatically different going on inside.
Agave on the other hand was new and mysterious to me, I mean it’s not often I get turned on to something completely new from a cuisine where I thought I had tried it all.
First off a quick note on attaching Mexican restaurants to a gas station. It’s freaking brilliant and I’m surprised it’s not done more.
You may remember my story about Chris Van Alyea, owner of Solterra Winery in Leucadia and how his dad did the same thing with several gas stations and now has 16 “Aztec Grills” in Chevron gas stations in northern California and is doing very well with them. It’s quick, car-friendly food and well, a much better option in my opinion than a KFC, Subway combo.
Anyway, I popped into Agave recently, very hungry after a post-spin class at the Ecke YMCA and really did not have a clue. I ordered a Birria Burrito, walked it out to my truck, and discovered a cup full of broth in the bag.
I assumed it was for dipping the burrito in so that’s what I did and oh my, it was a new taste sensation unlike any other and I just kept devouring it right there in the parking lot. I needed to know more!
A quick search when I got home pulled up a very recent New York Times column from February 21 titled “The Birria Boom is Complicated but Simply Delicious”.
Birria has a long history in Mexico and any US city where there is a sizable Mexican population, but there is a full-on birria foodie craze happening in Los Angeles and New York and as culinary trends go, it is starting to trickle down into San Diego, which means I’ll probably start hearing about it in Detroit in about a year, ha!
Let’s start with a brief history as we could easily take up the rest of this column with the variations on its history and preparations.
Most accounts have it originating from the state of Jalisco. It’s a meat stew traditionally made from goat meat, but lamb has been mentioned and most joints like Agave are using beef to appease the demographics they feed.
It’s also mentioned as a dish served at celebratory occasions, but also as a go-to for a hangover so go figure.
Preparation is also all over the map, but the dish is often served with corn tortillas, onion, cilantro and lime. The meat is marinated in an adobo primarily consisting of vinegar, dried chiles, a herb mix that can include cinnamon, cloves, cumin and oregano, then slow-cooked in its own broth. To be blunt, the dish is all over the map, but I can say with certainty that the version at Agave is amazing.
It comes served in burrito, taco, quesadilla form and over fries as well. I’ve had the burrito and taco varieties and loved them both. There is more on the menu, including all the standard carne asada, pastor and polllo asado, but also more exotic offerings like Tripa and Cabeza tacos which would be made from small intestines and cows head respectively.
Those are next on my list. I did try a breakfast burrito and was quite happy with that as well.
Agave is owned by Juan Pablo who also owns Kotija Jr. right down the hill on Leucadia Boulevard and Coast Highway 101. Beyond that, I was not able to get much more information on the background or inspiration for Agave.
I was excited to learn that they do offer catering and am putting them at the top of the list for my first outdoor social gathering I’m hosting in the near future.
Other than that, I’m just quite excited to have a new dish to add to my Mexican food rotation. Discovering something new is always exciting.
Find them at 865 Orpheus, Encinitas or 760-452-6228. No website yet but they are on Facebook.