June 25, 2012

Looking for Gluten-Free Mexican Food in Boulder? Try Agave.

By Evan Sandsmark -  

In Boulder, near the corner of 28th and Valmont, tucked away in the corner of a multi-ethnic strip mall with a place called “India’s Grocery” and a Chinese restaurant, you will find Agave, a wonderful Mexican restaurant with an abundance of gluten-free food (and gluten-free margaritas). We’ve known about their gluten-free options for a couple of weeks now, and a few acquaintances have recommended the place to us, so we went to check them out recently. The food was great, the service excellent, and gluten-free possibilities extensive, so we highly recommend Agave in Boulder.

We visited Agave on a Saturday evening, right before the end of Happy Hour, so the circumstances seemed to demand we order a margarita. We ordered this (con sal) shortly after being seated and then examined the menu. As our very helpful and nice server explained, almost the entire menu is gluten-free because corn tortillas are used instead of flour tortillas for most dishes. This isn’t universally true – flour tortillas are used for the quesadilla, for example – but the vast majority of the menu is gluten-free, giving us a lot of consider.

Agave has a fairly extensive seafood selection, with shrimp in particular playing a prominent role in several dishes, so we considered getting a plate with something del mar, but in the end we went with a “traditional plate.” In this section of the menu, several of the staples of Mexican cuisine – enchiladas, flautas, chile rellenos, etc. – are covered. We went with the tamales, in part because they seemed like a good representative dish of the restaurant, incorporating as it does a variety of different ingredients. You get both a pork and a chicken tamal, coming with red chili and green chili, respectively. On top of the tamales is a delicious mango pico de gallo and a “cream sauce,” as the menu puts it, which more or less seemed like sour cream to us.

It is worth mentioning that we also had a variety of vegetarian dishes from which to choose. An entire section of the menu is dedicated to vegetarian food, and a few other dishes without meat are scattered throughout the menu. Again, corn tortillas are used for these dishes – in any case, they appear to be used in most of them (we didn’t confirm this for every possibility) – so several vegetarian options are also gluten-free.

With the tamales ordered, we waited for our margarita, which we made sure was gluten-free. (Margaritas often are, but sometimes the mixes that are used to make them contain gluten.) In due course it arrived in a tall glass garnished with a lime wheel and a salted rim. For a house margarita (the one that was on special during happy hour), it was a fairly advanced concoction, made with fresh lime juice, agave nectar, triple sec, sour mix, a splash of orange juice, and, of course, tequila (Cuervo Tradicional Reposado). It was not, in other words, a mere margarita mix with some tequila stirred in. We added a little fresh juice by squeezing the lime wheel for all it was worth and got to work on the margarita.

Had our food not arrived with startling quickness, we would have sipped our drink and closely examined the interior of the restaurant for review-related purposes. Our meal, however, did arrive with startling quickness, so we didn’t scrutinize the restaurant to the extent that we usually do. We can report that the place, with its subdued lighting provided by numerous small lights and candles scattered about the bar and dining room, had a pleasant feel, and we can also say that the exterior doesn’t properly reveal the extent of the interior, which has more seating room than perhaps you would expect because there is an upstairs with several additional tables. Anyway, about the food.

In a word, it was awesome, in both presentation and taste. The tamales came on a large square plate – the chicken tamal was on one side and the pork on the other. The leaf wrappers were tied in a bow on one end and split open, giving us easy access to the tamales. They were covered with their respective chilies. A side of beans and a small pyramid of rice were each served on separate square dishes as to not clutter the red and green display before us. But clutter it we quickly did, adding some of the rice and beans to the plate to mix it with the chilies. Both of these sauces were fantastic, but we must confess a slight preference for the green chili, which was a little spicier than the red chili. We also slightly preferred the tamal that was covered with the green chili – probably because it was covered with the green chili – which was the one made with chicken. For whatever reason, this tamal was a little moister than the pork one and the chicken in it was almost impossibly tender. The pork tamal was more tightly rolled than the one with chicken and it had a thicker “wall” of masa, the corn-based dough that surrounded the pork. Both were delicious and went great with the mango pico de gallo that was scattered across the top. We also had a special fondness for the rice, which had some peas in it and went really well with both chilies.

Every part of the dish was great, and so the dish was of course great overall. Our recent positive experience, coupled with its extensive gluten-free options, leads us to enthusiastically recommend Agave. It’s not for every occasion because it’s a little more upscale, but it’s definitely a good place for tasty gluten-free Mexican food.

If you want to check out Agave, here is the address:

2845 28th Street
Boulder, CO

Note: Many of the places we visit merely offer gluten-free options, and hence are not necessarily 100% gluten-free facilities, so if proximal cross-contamination is an issue, call ahead. If you would like us to review a particular restaurant with gluten-free options, send an email to info@glutenfreeinboulder.com. We’ll try our best to check it out!

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