best new restaurant: red agave

best new restaurant
Why Red Agave's so damn good
By Ben Fogelson

in 1988, South Eugene High School students, best friends and roommates Sara Willis and Katie Marcus-Brown had already spent years discussing a grandiose project that would include others having a good time.

When the Café Navarro space became available this March, Brown made a call to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, where Willis was operating a restaurant called the Fandango.

Days later Willis flew up to Eugene. Between June and July, after numerous hurdles, hundreds of hours of hometown sweat, and help by third partner Jeff Desler, head chef Patrick Mckee (when Willis is out of town), and Katie's father, Rick Marcus, the Red Agave, purveyor of fine Nuevo Latino cuisine, was born. Don't forget Jeff Morgenthaler, prodigy bartending mixmaster, who brings extraordinary life to one of Eugene's newest and finest dining establishments.

Incident #1. Sept. 27, 4 pm.
My wife and I peer in through the window, shading our eyebrows from the glare. A reflection of the train station wavers behind us as the Amtrak pulls in. A menu taped to the glass door reads expensively and a little too well; duck, steak and such things as poblano potatoes, hibiscus-jalapeño drizzle and clamata-chile port wine reduction. A dark-haired woman trots up and begins to pull at the door, "The food here is so good," she says sideways.

"Do you work here?" I ask.

"I'm the owner," she answers.

Incident #2. Sept. 30, 7:30 pm.
We've been inside for 15 minutes and can't get over the interior. It's so … damn … warm. Brazilian music keeps pace with the crowd steadily filing through the door. Homemade lighting fixtures cast a sunset on red and orange walls; romance under an obsidian ceiling.

We sit at an intimate corner table in the adjoining bar, relishing the quench of a minty rum mojito, whispering between crunches of delightfully thin home-made corn chips and smoky chipotle-tequila salsa. The drink menu rides hard the trend of interesting concoctions containing fresh-pressed juices, sometimes-exotic spirits and always colorful names, such as the Red Agave and the Blood Orange. Foreign liquors sit against a mirror. I drain my glass and ask the prodigy barman to bring me anything.

Incident #3. Sept. 30, 7:45 pm
A wagon-load of hearts-of-romaine arrives on a white chilled plate as expansive as an Argentinean prairie. "Damn," I say, "That's a big salad." A re-check of the menu shows that the cost was actually $8, a pretty good price for more-than-enough greens for two temporary herbivores. The dressing is light, and the fresh sourdough croutons are enough to drive a crouton connoisseur into spontaneous orgasm. I shift in my seat.

Suddenly there are crustaceans on the table. Coconut prawns ($7), very well displayed, hanging out in a circle as if they're about to take a swim in the guava-apricot chutney dipping-sauce. They're tasty, though only mildly flirtatious with a ranking of "special."

At my elbow I discover a soon-to-be-famous Tomato Daiquiri.

Incident #4. Sept. 30, 7:55 pm
If you like late cow like I do, you can relate to Agave's tender, red, melt-in-the-mouth thick hunk of bovine ($20) covered in a merlot-ancho demi glace. The mashers are glassy and so smooth that your swallow will beat your chew to the plate by a mile. The sweet potatoes, also mashed, are mixed savory-sweet to an artful level, served with the pork-loin ($16) and roasted veggies.

We eat and look at one another and cannot speak.

Incident #5. Sept. 30, 8:15 pm
"Tempt you with dessert?" Asks the prodigy barman, knowing we're very full.

"We're so very full," we say.

"The Key Lime Pie will freakyou ... out," he says.

"We'll take it."

The pie's so light, so smooth; my wife, who sometimes seems to be in charge of all the key lime desserts on this planet, says, "I can easily say this is the best key lime pie I've ever had."

Morgenthaler happily shrugs as if to say I told you so.

Incident #6. Oct. 1, 3:52 pm
"Hey Pops," I say to my father with whom I dine when he cares to, sometimes Chinese, sometimes something more special. He knows that my wife and I usually choose not to afford ourselves such cuisine as is available at Agave, and Dad loves to treat. "We should go try that place Red Agave," I say. "It is so good."

"Who are you, the owner?" he replies.



best overall restaurant: marche

the taste of the town
Eugene Weekly readers pick the best eats.
by Marina Taylor

best overall restaurant
We look at which eatery won the most awards and then slap this title on them. This year, Marché takes the honors. Not only did it win best Northwest, it also placed second for Atmosphere and third for Wine List, Eco-Friendly, and Soups. Koho Bistro and Adam's Place tied for second, and McMenamin's North Bank came in third.


best new restaurant
This coveted category went to Red Agave. Opening this summer, Red Agave stepped into the comfortable digs of Cafe Navarro, which closed around this time last year. Red Agave continues the tradition of Mexican-influenced dishes, a welcoming atmosphere, and a great respect for fresh, high quality ingredients.

Second place goes to Café Lucky Noodle and third place goes to Los Jarritos, which has actually been open for several years now.


best kitchen full of love: sakura

best kitchen full of love
This award is meant to recognize a restaurant that puts its heart into the food, that feels like home, but is cleaner and no one has to wash the dishes afterwards.

The winner is Sakura, the Japanese restaurant by campus. The place is full of people, art, music, international chefs and waiters. Japanese anime plays on a corner TV, Beach Boys play on the radio. The chaos is carefully orchestrated by head man Tak Kishino, originally an employee of Shiki before helping start Sakura. The two restaurants are both owned by the same company.

Also voted Full of Love were Morning Glory and Keystone, with a strong showing for "my mom's," "my wife's," and "mine."


best eco-friendly: morning glory

best eco-friendly
Eugene is a mecca for good healthy food, with plenty of restaurants buying produce from local farmers and organic meat. Restaurants are responding to consumer demand by becoming more earth conscious. Morning Glory won this category. It begins with locally grown organic foods, a light-on-the-earth vegetarian menu with plenty of vegan offerings, and then tops it off with politics that give top priority to our planet. LocoMotive, an all vegetarian gourmet restaurant, gets second place, and Marché came in third.


best service
You can sense it when you walk in the door if a place has it. The waiters at these restaurants elevate service to an art form. They're the ones who don't need to write your order down or can tell when your kid needs to get her food NOW. Ibrahim Hamide's Mediterranean-inspired Café Soriah came in first. Adam's Place downtown came in second, and by the way, welcome back from the construction zone! Café Zenon's extra efficient and friendly waiters get third place service.


best atmosphere: cafe soriah

best atmosphere
Soriah again topped the list here, followed by Marché, with its quiet and sophistication, and McMenamin's North Bank restaurant took third. That deck overlooking the Willamette at sunset is not to be missed.


best northwest
Marché, a French-style, market-inspired eatery, takes this award this year. Glance down the menu and you can tell why. Marché begins with local ingredients and seasonal menus, and ends with rich and exotic flavors. Since its inception, Marché has been dedicated to supporting local farmers, like Creative Growers, Horton Road and Sweet Leaf, Northwest ranchers like Laughingstock Farms and Painted Hills, and independent foragers. Koho Bistro and Adam's Place tied for second place, and McMenamin's North Bank gets third place.


best kid friendly: keystone cafe

best kid friendly
Being in public with kids can be unfriendly no matter where you are. All the things they do that seem so natural at home are less than appreciated in public. However, at Keystone, the winner in this category, your kids won't get yelled at. In fact, you'll get a little dish of fruit for your tantruming toddler, or a coloring page, or just people making silly faces at your baby. A sense of understanding and acceptance is tangible here, and the breakfast is, of course, fabulous!

Pearl Street Ice Cream Parlour took second place and the ever-friendly and laid back Glenwood came in third.


best place to eat during a recession
Those in the know let us in on the best places for cheap eats. The winner is Burrito Boy. Burrito Boy's food is served in generous portions, it's tasty and perhaps even cheaper than making it yourself. Glenwood is also a standard for the most food on your plate for the least amount of dough, as was the all vegetarian buffet at Govinda's. Sadly, Govinda's closed Oct. 1.


best wine list: ambrosia

best wine list
The wine selection at winning restaurant Ambrosia didn't happen by accident: Owner Armen Kervrekian and his staff spend hours (poor things!) tasting bottle after bottle, writing books of notes. The best of the drink of the gods ends up on the winning wine list, so long it reads like a luscious novel.

When he speaks of his wines, Kervrekian's love and passion is apparent. "Wines are just like people, some age into round, mellow, wise, ripe conversationalists, some get old, cranky, bitter. Each wine has its own peak." Kervrekian's personal favorites are the deep rich Italian wines, Piedmont wines grown from the Nbbiolo grapes. Those can sit ripening for decades in a cellar, though he also approves of the Pinot Grigios coming out of Oregon, and California Cabernets.

Ambrosia staff take a monthly class in the finer arts of pairing wines with foods, and explaining the art of wine to customers. For a novice learning the ropes, or an expert, this is indeed a worthwhile place to find a good glass.

Second place goes across the street to Café Zenon, and third goes to the Continental-style Marché.


best happy hour: cornucopia

best happy hour
How happy is Cornucopia's most festive time of day? If there were a scale of giddy to hysterical, they'd be almost catatonically happy. The deal is, you can get microbrew pints for two bucks, and one dollar off wine by the glass and all appetizers. Happy hour goes from 4-7pm Monday thru friday, Saturday and Sunday are just happy all day long.

Second place's Cheerful Tortoise is getting happier all the time too, especially now that Rocco, formerly of Diablo's, is manning the ship. McMenamin's North Bank happy hour is well thought of too, coming in third.


best late night eats: lava lounge

best late night eats
After happy hour, there are plenty of places to find a bite to eat. Ring of Fire's Lava Lounge comes in first. Pita Pit is another great option. Coming in second, the Pita Pit delivers falafels and sandwiches all over town, day and night. Bamboo and Turtles tie at third place. Bamboo in the Fifth Street Market has a pan-Asian flair available past midnight, and Turtles is also well known for its fab barbecue.


best soups
There are some places that can't seem to help winning year after year. One of the rare things Eugeneans agree on is soup. The French Horn soup chefs are alchemists. The Glenwood almost always gets a mention too, this year in second place with the ever-famous tomato cheese soup, served with warm fresh bread. I once had a near-life-altering experience with a butternut squash soup with apples at Marché, third place winner in the soup races.


best cup of java
Great coffee and good microbrews are our claim to fame here on the fringe of the Northwest. Full City has been winning the best coffee award since 1995, with consistent and quality roasted beans. Espresso Roma comes in second, with another Eugene tradition, Allan Brother's Beanery, coming in third.


best barbecue: hole in the wall

best barbecue
Hole in the Wall wins first place this year. The warmth and smell of smoking brisket, plus gobs of potato salad and the scent of fresh cornbread welcome you into this diner.

Second place goes to West Brothers Barbecue, and third place is a real Southern-style cart called BBQ King that is inside the Jiffy Market on Hilyard on Saturdays and Sundays.


best mediterranean
First place goes to Poppi's Anatolia this year. Soriah comes in second this time, and its little sister Casablanca, also owned by Ib Hamide, takes third.


best chinese
No one can beat Ocean Sky out of the top position for Chinese food. Ocean Sky earns Eugene's love with large portions and authentic flavors. Second place goes to Lotus Garden, an all vegan place on Charnelton, and third goes to Fortune Inn.


best bakery: sweet life patisserie

best bakery
Sisters Cheryl and Catherine Rineheart own and operate the winner, Sweet Life Patisserie. The parfaits, petit fours and healthy vegan options are certainly award-worthy. Metropol Bakery broke ground for the whole gourmet bread industry decades ago, and continues to pull in the votes in second place, while Palace Bakery slides into third.


best japanese
If there's a popular trend in Eugene now, it's sushi. Shiki comes out on top, followed by Misako and third place goes to Shiki's little brother, Sakura (same ownership).


best mexican
Taco Loco, that wonderful place on 7th and Blair, usually takes this category, and this year it's followed by Burrito Boy in second and the authentic flavors of Taqueria Las Brasas in third.


best southeast asian
Ring of Fire has been pulling first for a while now, but is followed closely by Mekala's. Newcomer Bamboo takes third place with a more fusion-Asian menu, including Chinese and Japanese selections.

best italian: beppe and giannis trattoria


best italian
Of all the wonderful Italian restaurants in town, Beppe and Gianni's Trattoria takes first place, Mazzi's takes second, and Ambrosia takes third.


best foodcart
Mobile food can be hard to catch, but Carte de Frisco downtown wins again this year, despite all the construction and street closures. Alexander's Great Falafels by campus gets second, and the ever popular burritos at Ritta's Burritos of the Saturday Market takes third place.


best korean
John Lee is the man at the helm of the Plaza Coffee Shop, the first place winner. His parents began the project and his mom is

still in the kitchen making tasty concoctions and frying up noodle dishes. The atmosphere is very dineresque, with classic rock playing and vinyl booths, but the food is authentic and the Stone Bowl Bibimbab is out of this world, with spinach, zucchini, seaweed, grated radish, shitake mushrooms and meat or tofu cooked slowly over a bowl of rice, an egg cracked in the middle and slow-burning soy based sauce.

best korean eats: plaza coffee shop

The business will soon be expanding into the campus area with a new restaurant, The Jail, serving pan-Asian fast food. Second place goes to another classic, Hana's by campus, and third goes to Korea House.


best seafood
Newman's fish and chips window outside the fish market always gets kudos from our readers. Bruno's Chef's Kitchen took second place: Try out the Hawaiian influences that bloom in the kitchen there, and Fisherman's Market with the Full Boat restaurant inside takes third place.


best pizza
Lori and Paul Reader bought a Eugene institution almost four years ago when they took the helm of Pegasus Pizza and Smokehouse, this year's winner. Pegasus has been feeding a unique cross-section of Eugene for decades, with professors and students, activists and judges sitting only tables apart, brought together by fabulous pizza, sports, or family night out.

This November Pegasus is starting another big adventure: delivery. Much of the quality of a pizza is lost by putting it in a steamy box for 20 minutes, but the Readers say it's also hard to watch their competitors' delivery cars parked outside their doors. They got a good deal on a couple extra ovens and decided to make a go for it, delivering to campus area residences.

Pizza Research Institute's pizza pies got second place this year for their fantastic, mostly organic concoctions, and Cozmic Pizza tied with the more traditional New York style of Sy's Pizza for third.


best bagels: humbel bagel

best bagels
Humble Bagel takes first place again this year. The steaming vats produce big, bready, Detroit-style bagels, mixing flavorings into the dough instead of adding them on top like the more familiar New York – style ones. Be that as it may, the most popular flavor is still plain, with raisin coming in next. Humble also offered the first commercially available challa in Eugene 25 years ago, and continues with cinnamon raisin challa, great for French toast.

Bagel Sphere took second place and Bagel Bakery came in third.


| Click for Best of Eugene |

ew readers' poll best restaurants of eugene


best new restaurant
1. Red Agave
2. Café Lucky Noodle
3. Los Jarritos

best kitchen full of love
1. Sakura
2. Morning Glory
3. Keystone Café

best eco-friendly restaurant
1. Morning Glory
2. LocoMotive
3. Marché

best service
1. Café Soriah
2. Adam's Place
3. Café Zenon

best atmosphere
1. Café Soriah
2. Marché
3. McMenamin's North Bank

best place to eat during a recession
1. Burrito Boy
2. Glenwood
3. Govinda's

best kid friendly restaurant
1. Keystone Café
2. Pearl Street Ice Cream Parlour
3. Glenwood

best soups
1. French Horn
2. Glenwood
3. Marché

best pizza
1. Pegasus
2. Pizza Research Institute
3. Sy's, Cosmic Pizza (tie)
Strong showing: Bene Gourmet Pizza

best bagels
1. Humble Bagel
2. Bagel Sphere
3. Bagel Bakery

best cuppa java
1. Full City
2. Espresso Roma
3. Allan Brother's Beanery

best bakery
1. Sweet Life Patisserie
2. Metropol
3. Palace Bakery

best barbeque
1. Hole in the Wall
2. West Brothers
3. BBQ King

best chinese
1. Ocean Sky
2. Lotus Garden
3. Fortune Inn

best italian
1. Beppe and Gianni's
2. Mazzi's
3. Ambrosia

best japanese
1. Shiki
2. Misako
3. Sakura

best korean
1. Plaza Coffee Shop
2. Hana's
3. Korea House

best mediterranean
1. Anatolia
2. Café Soriah
3. Casablanca

best mexican
1. Taco Loco
2. Burrito Boy
3. Las Brasas

1. Marché
2. Koho Bistro, Adam's Place (tie)
3. McMenamin's North Bank

best southeast asian
1. Ring of Fire
2. Mekala's
3. Bamboo

best seafood
1. Newman's
2. Bruno's Chef's Kitchen
3. Full Boat at Fisherman's Market

best wine list
1. Ambrosia
2. Café Zenon
3. Marché

best food cart
1. Carte de Frisco
2. Alexander's Great Falafel
3. Ritta's Burritos

best happy hour
1. Cornucopia
2. Cheerful Tortoise
3. McMenamin's North Bank

best late night eats
1. Lava Lounge at Ring of Fire
2. Pita Pit
3. Bamboo, Turtles (tie)


Table of Contents | News | Views | Arts & Entertainment
Classifieds | Personals | EW Archive