Everyone loves nachos.
They are everywhere at ballparks and stadiums, but these insanely popular loaded tortilla chips seem to get cast aside a bit when it comes to Mexican restaurants.
My theory is that given most places give you chips and salsa on the house, most customers feel like they are foolish to pay for even more of them.
But when you get a plate of simply great nachos, like the ones I had during my first visit to the newest Agaves Mexican Grill at Chapel Ridge, you quickly realize why they are so popular. And you may want to kick yourself for not ordering them more often.
The Fajita Nachos, which I chose with steak instead of chicken, were perfect. They had a generous amount of meat – nicely charred and kind of crispy on the edges, like good fajita steak should be – grilled peppers and onions, white queso sauce, lettuce, sour cream and pico de gallo. The crispy, fresh white tortilla chips were perfectly layered – not just piled on top – so you got toppings in every bite.
I would make a meal out of those nachos instead of an appetizer unless I had at least three other people with me. Either way, I will have them again, for sure.
The fresh guacamole was also worth trying as an appetizer. It arrived in a giant mortar with pestle and was very creamy. The ratio of tomatoes, onions and cilantro was just right and jalapeños were brought on the side, which was a thoughtful touch. The only minuscule flaws were that it needed a bit of salt, and the price is a bit salty.
After the nachos and guacamole, my meals turned sour.
The best entrée I found was the Fernando’s Enchiladas, but even it was not without fault. The filling of imitation crab and shrimp was nice and the blanket of light green "specialty chipotle cream sauce" was pretty, but its flavor was not. It was had no peppery heat and was so bland, even the drizzle of sour cream was more profound.
The beef chimichanga was nicely stuffed with Agaves’ shredded beef – which was the right choice – and had plenty of brown enchilada sauce and creamy queso on top. But those sauces, combined with the fact that the pair of chimis spent way too little time in the fryer, killed any chance of their flour tortillas being crisp. And the reason you order a chimichanga instead of a burrito is for that crunch.
The beef in those chimis blew away the ground beef I had in the Quesadilla Rellena. The meat was super salty but had no other seasoning to make it really Mexican. There was plenty of cheese, but there was barely enough lettuce on the side to be a bad garnish, much less use in the quesadilla. And that lettuce was limp from being buried under a scoop of sour cream.
The Tampiquena Steak was doomed from the start. Described as a "sizzling rib-eye hot off the grill," the two paper-thin slices of beef were well done and gray, even though I said medium rare when asked. But at least it was tender and nicely seasoned.
The meal included sautéed whole green onions – bulbs and all – a cheese enchilada, tortillas, and my choice of either black or charro beans. I asked for black beans but received charro. When the correct beans finally arrived, they were cold. The onions were pretty much inedible. I could not cut them with a knife, especially since I was not given a steak knife with this steak dish. But even when I finally got a steak knife, the outer layer of the onions was too tough to saw through.
The enchilada was OK, but once it was gone, I basically lost interest in this poorly executed meal.
I will give Agaves credit: I was able to drown my sorrows over my bad steak in a fabulous margarita. The Premium Margarita was fantastic, as a touch of orange liqueur tames the double shot of tequila the big drink is made with.
Dessert was a mixed bag, however. The fried ice cream was spot-on. The sugary cereal coating was super crunchy, and the vanilla ice cream it coated was soft and creamy.
The tortillas made to produce the sopapillas did not puff up when fried, so they were flat and crunchy. They also tasted of oil.
Aside from the oversights from the kitchen, which included being served possibly the weakest glass of iced tea I have ever had, my servers at Agaves were stellar. They were attentive and did all they could to make things right when things went wrong.
And this new Agaves is a beautiful place. The spot was once home to Uno Chicago Grill and Vince’s, so it was already well constructed and laid out. Agaves has added just enough touches to make it clear it is an upscale Mexican eatery without going overboard.
Restaurant: Agaves Mexican Grill
Address: 10460 Maysville Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Fajita nachos ($), Tampiquena Steak ($13.99), Quesadilla Rellena ($7.49), Fernando’s Enchiladas ($9.99), chimichangas ($9.49), guacamole ($7.49), fried ice cream ($4.84), sopapillas ($2.65)
Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 max.), service: 1/2 (1 max.)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.