Oaxacan mole negro isn’t a dish made in an afternoon. With a laundry list of some 30 ingredients — most of which require separate roasting or blanching or toasting — it’s a labor of love passed down through generations of Oaxacan women.
Like any great regional recipe,s this inky, chocolate and cinnamon-infused chile sauce has quirks peculiar to each of its creators, but shares a common heritage and foundational ingredients. Ancho and guajillos chiles, Mexican chocolate and cinnamon, stale bread, tomatillos, plantain, oregano, raisins, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garlic, onions, cloves, avocado leaves and lard are traditional. But improvisation and secret ingredients, of course, give the mole life: Sweet bread or animal crackers instead of stale bread, a ripe banana instead of the plantain, the addition of corn tortillas. Not surprisingly, it’s a rare find at local taquerias despite the preponderance of great Oaxacan cooks in Sonoma County. Why? This is labor-intensive celebration food that’s more easily served from a can than slaved over for days. And that’s what makes Healdsburg’s Agave Mexican Restaurant such a find.
Each day, owner Octavio Diaz’s mother is in the kitchen making mole negro by hand with Oaxacan ingredients he brings from their homeland several times a year. Chocolate. Spices. Chiles. “Every day is a celebration,” says Octavio.
The hotel and restaurant management graduate and chef has spent much of his life in the United States, working his way up the food ladder. His goal: To bring the flavors of his native homeland to his new homeland.
At Agave, the mole (pronounced mo-lay) negro is poured over a chicken breast, puddles and spreads across the plate like a chocolate mudslide. It’s exotic, rich, earthy, and unmistakable. The absence of a single ingredient will alter it entirely and you can clearly taste the passion behind it. (Frankly, it’s hard not to think of Laura Esquivel’s sensuous Like Water for Chocolate, when eating it).
Along with mole negro, Diaz and his family serve up a number of other traditional dishes: Molotes (fried masa stuffed with potato, chorizo and herbs); tamale de mole (a homemade masa tamale stuffed with shredded chicken and steamed in a banana leaf); Chiles Rellenos (a green chili stuffed with chicken and plump raisins and fried) and Tlayuda, a giant corn tostada from Mexico that’s topped with beans, cabbage, queso fresco and meat, kind of like a Mexican pizza. Just want simple taqueria fare? The restaurant also serves fajitas, enchiladas, carnets, flautas, burritos and the usual suspects with aplomb.
But really, wouldn’t you rather celebrate?
Rick Bayless’ is legendary for his mole.
Agave Fresh Mexican, 1063 Vine St., Healdsburg, 433-2411.
Mole negro is just one of Oaxaca’s legendary “Seven Moles. Want to learn more? Diary of a Foodie/Gourmet has an incredible video about the process here, along with a recipe.
14 thoughts on “Agave Mexican Restaurant | Healdsburg”
Came to Healdsburg to work for a few days and went to Agave for lunch. I had the molotes and they were so good I returned the next day and had them again. I wish I could find this type of genuine food closer to my hometown.
My husband and I went to dine at AGAVE Restaurant in Healdsburg tonight. I wanted to sit outside have some refreshing ceviche and enjoy summer dining. The best thing about the entire experience was the waitress had a nice smile. The service was very slow, the salsa was something like a red blended taco sauce. The chips were not that great either.
As I sat there waiting and waiting I said to my husband, it’s taking too long … after waiting some more he said, “Now, it’s taking too long.” I was about ready to pay for our sodas and leave when our food came. My ceviche had avocado slices that were obviously turning brown, the lettuce on both our plates ( all of it) was slimmy had those ugly edges and pieces of what ever it is that develops on decaying lettuce. The type one throws away. I did not eat any of it .
My husband ate his cheese enchilada combination. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being best , he said they were a 2-3.
When we went to pay we were only charged for his and 1 soda … over $14.00 for his ….OUCH!!!!! $2.50 for a fountain soda and the entree was $2.25 more then our usual digs a few blocks away.
Sorry AGAVE we won’t be back!
More about the restaurant, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/755263
I love Chowhound, but it strikes me as a little funny how anything I post in reference to BiteClub gets removed from their site. I’ll play nice, though.
Agave restaurant is wonderful! The only mexican restaurant we go to – for some time now! The make a tamale wrapped in banana leaves that is trully delicious and unique. All their food is carefully prepared and sterling – The owner is almost always on site and working, the wait staff is attentive. Thanks for coming to Healdsburg, Octavio – Agave is a real find!
Tried Agave last night based on this article and it is by far our favorite Mexican restaurant in town by far. Every dish was excellent, with complex flavors and fresh ingredients. We found the prices to be reasonable for the quality of food. The Mezcal bar in the back room has a wide selection of hard to find gems from small towns around Oaxaca. We will be coming here often to eat and drink.
My family is from Oaxaca & my mother is THE best cook, but when she’s not around & I’m craving a REAL home cooked mexican experience this is where we go, they’re not jivin when they say authentic, wish there were more places that showcase the beauty of our indigenous dishes like this.. .. a jem!
This place is amazing!! Definately reccomend it…not only because Octavio is my cousin but the Mole is BOMB! So far thats the only dish ive tried….!
Agave has become our favorite restaurant in Healdsburg, we go for a quick lunch or dinner and we have taken out of town friends and family and every meal has been excellent. The waitresses are very friendly, Octavio is usually greeting his customers and pretty much everyone is treated like royalty. If you have not tried Agave yet, I suggest you do so, the food is fresh and very sabroso.
Love this place the food is so authentic and fresh. I have eaten there a dozen times and it gets better with every trip!
Looks like a road trip to Healdsburg is in order soon. Mole is a culinary art form.
FYI: Fajitas and Mole are on oposite sides of the spectrum of Mexican cuisine, both enjoyable though but, they are night (Mole) and day (Fajitas).
fyi: I think she knows.
this place is great. best carnitas, according to my son..a carnitas fan from way back. tamales are great, good salsa, friendly service. we ate there a lot when we were in healdsburg..we’re now back in sebastopol and will miss it. now we go to ochoa’s in sebastopol. great food. best fajitas i’ve had in sonoma county is Tacqueria el coronel, sebastopol
Agave is the bomb! Great, yummy, authentic and very affordable food. Octavio always there with a warm smile, and works very hard to make sure everyone feels welcome. Love this place..please everyone..give it a try!