The Hired Belly's ongoing search for value eateries has turned up a new fave, surprisingly in the heart of Yaletown, across from the Roundhouse Community Centre.
It's best to get to Salsa and Agave early to be guaranteed a seat inside or streetside-and don't plan on going late because most nights they close early.
The word is out on the fresh and flavourful fare at this compact, bustling Mexican-although, if you do have to wait, it won't be for long. Sometimes it feels there's as many staff on the floor as there are customers. But while service is brisk and friendly, you won't feel rushed.
The decor is gently Tex-Mex-dominated by large flat screens at either end of the red and black trimmed space, with the focus on a miniscule bar. From here everything flows-including a basic but adequate beer selection that encompasses Corona, Dos Equis and Alexander Keith's. Somewhere in back there's an equally small kitchen that manages to keep pace.
While you can find more elevated Mexican fare, flavours and dishes are authentic, delivered in hearty well-priced portions that are a step above.
Choices run the gamut, from a full range of tacos- including the curiously appealing "pastor" of spicy pork and pineapple-to fullon mains with all the trimmings, such as hearty carne tampequina (top sirloin with chicken enchilada, $14) and a molé poblano pollo with plentiful beans, rice and soft tortillas for $13.
For a quick but satisfying bite, the chicken tostadas are tough to beat. They come crisp and laden with lashings of lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream over refried bean paste with avocado on the side ($4.50 each or $8.50 a pair). Burritos are equally generous and well-filled, as in the carne asada, which is packed with flavourful sirloin, refried beans and cheese, $9.
For desserts (all $4), as we were warned, the dense flan de café tasted more of caramel than coffee (at least on this night) but it was still satisfying, while the moist pastel de 3 leches (milks) was a finale that might have us trotting back for more.
Bargain dining and Yaletown may not be exactly synonymous (although a couple of spots, such as Yopo Café and Bistro Sakana do come to mind). But at $25 for dinner, drink and dessert, Salsa and Agave more than fits the bill. (1223 Pacific Blvd., 604-408-4228; open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) ...
Newly launched, Coal Harbour's Soi Sun Belt Cookery (550 Denman St., 604-568-2235) is a co-pro between "Binmeister" Gord Martin and Abdel Elatouabi (ex-Marakesh). Having recently returned from a stint as executive chef for the Crown Prince of Morocco, Elatouabi had no idea that the space once occupied by his Bravo Bistro was (yet again) available.
He called longtime friend Martin and, remarkably, within two weeks they opened their long-discussed collaboration, with the Bin founder in the kitchen, Elatouabi running front of house, and staff from just closed 942 on the floor.
Look for a blend of wellconceived Mediterranean, Moroccan and Turkish tastes in the $8 to $22 range, says Elatouabi, including a hallmark grilled lamb sirloin and ratatouille with Argan oil, as well as supper-club style entertainment Friday and Saturday evenings. email@example.com