Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, South Florida chef and restaurateur Ivan Alarcon says he grew up learning family recipes in his grandmother’s kitchen. Today, a self-proclaimed self-taught chef, Alarcon has cooked in just two kitchens: his own home and that of his two established Davie restaurants, El Agave Azul.
He must be doing something right, though. Next month, Alarcon will be opening his latest concept, Agave Taco Bar, a fast-casual version of his Mexican restaurant set to open February 1 in Fort Lauderdale's Federal Market Place.
Since opening the first El Agave Azul in 2010, Alarcon says the restaurant has evolved into what he terms a modern Mexican taqueria. As a result, Agave Taco Bar will be a hybrid establishment of sorts, a fast-service version of the Agave concept that will offer a more casual dining experience.
This February, Agave Taco Bar will offer Fort Lauderdale residents a taste of Alarcon's authentic, from-scratch family recipes prepared with fresh produce, 15 meat choices, and a number of specialty, add-on items. Signature menu items include Alarcon's Tacos de Trompo, a house specialty; a build-your-own burrito bar; and Sopes del Jefe (a handcrafted corn cake with pork belly).
The new location will also introduce a Botanas menu, says Alarcon, a specialty section offering seasonal, customized, snack-sized items. During the grand opening, expect to find a ceviche, alitas asadas (grilled chicken wings), and empanadas de masa Azul (blue corn vegetarian empanadas).
"The desire to re-create the memories I have growing up, eating authentic Mexican food, and the desire to share those memories with people seeking a taste of true Mexican cuisine is what inspired me to open Agave," says Alarcon.
Name: Ivan Alarcon, executive chef and founder of Agave Taco Bar
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
New Times: What’s the first important meal or dish you remember making?
As a young man, I was in charge of grilling at home on the BBQ. One could say, I was inspired by the fire; ignite my inner cook.
Alarcon: What’s your favorite restaurant in South Florida (besides yours, of course)?
Chimas on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. I absolutely love cooking on a charcoal grill, and Chimas provides just that in a wonderful setting.
What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now?
Los sopes del jefe. Translation: the boss’ sopes (meaning they're my favorite). It's basically a handcrafted corn cake with pork belly in a green tomatillo sauce. And it's pork belly. Need I say more?
Do you have a favorite dish at another restaurant?
Rebel House in Boca Raton has an amazing bone marrow appetizer on the menu. All I can say is "Wow!" It was phenomenal and brought back childhood memories.
What’s in store for your first menu change?
I want to incorporate bone marrow into my Botanas (Spanish snacks) menu. I already do it at home, and I need to translate that into the restaurant's setting. Bone marrow in a taco will be out of this world.
What do you cook for yourself at home when there’s no one to impress?
Everything starts at home. If I get the thumbs-up at home, that means I have something to share. The Alitas Asadas (grilled chicken wings) are a great addition to the Botanas menu. Amazingly seasoned and grilled to perfection, it’s a taste like no other.
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What's the best dish you’ve ever eaten in South Florida?
There have been many, but one that comes to mind right now is the grilled octopus from the Greek Isles. Exquisite.
What would you like to see change in the South Florida food scene?
From a selfish standpoint, volume. Also, the need of more people sharing their experiences through food, genuine to their culture. More people taking a chance and sharing their story through food.
Agave Taco Bar will be located at 2949 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-560-0954, or visit Agave-TacoBar.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.