Boulevard of refried beans

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Glorious food and piercing questions from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe

Mark Laba

Elizabeth Hernandez (left) with the green enchiladas and Maria Rodrigues with Tampiquena at Salsa & Agave. Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province

Salsa & Agave Mexican Grill

Where: 1223 Pacific Blvd., Vancouver

Payment/reservations: Major credit cards, 604-408-4228

Drinks: Soft drinks, Jarritos, horchata.

Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tues.-Sun., closed Mon.

I was never popular in my school days. I was a geek, but without even the geek capabilities like computer savvy. No — I was just Dumb and Dumber Part 3.

All that changed with the arrival of our twins. Not the dumb part but the popularity. Now it seems I can’t go three steps without someone stopping me to goggle and coo over the little imps. Of course I’m not foolish enough to believe I’m the popular part of this equation but I glom onto a little of the emotional effluvia that runs off and bask in the saccharine-sweet glow that encounters with their drooling visages result in.

Twins have always had a strange allure throughout history. Jacob and Esau, Romulus and Remus, Heckle and Jeckle, the Olsen Twins. Our dynamic duo is no different.

Which leads me to this dining adventure that Peaches, the wee ones and I experienced at this somewhat new and very excellent Mexican restaurant where the twins, for a small moment, even out-celebritied a celebrity.

First, though, is this wonderful restaurant, a small affair with only three or four tables inside, a few tables out front, dark wood furniture set against yellow walls and the luminous hues of Jarritos fruit drinks in a glass display case.

The kitchen is run by Elizabeth Hernandez and Maria Rodriguez while Juan Contreras, Hernandez’s husband, manages the front room. All three are co-owners in the business. The food is built from scratch using the freshest of ingredients, the cooking is homey and authentic and the flavours will transport you to a timeless taquería by the side of a rutted dusty road, stray dogs nuzzling iguanas rendered senseless by the midday heat.

Complimentary salsa and chips are your introduction to this shindig and the homemade salsa is fantastic. A greenish-yellow hue, it appears innocent as a daffodil in June, but beneath its surface lurks a heat that builds like a tropical day shifting from morning to noon.

I tried the Carne Tampiquena ($13), a great combo plate that includes the classic Mexican thin-cut grilled top sirloin, wonderfully seasoned, plus a chicken enchilada basking in green tomatillo sauce.

Rice, beans and rajas con crema, a mix of sautéed poblano chilies, onion, corn and cream are along for the ride. Wrap this in the supplied warm tortillas and it’s like heaven and earth moving on a plate.

Peaches sampled the chicken burrito ($8) with great homemade guacamole but also check out the pork in red sauce or the sautéed shrimp versions. This place does it all, a dizzying array of food emerging from the tiny kitchen. Try the tacos from chorizo to carne asada, the sopes, the tortas, the gringa, the alambre with grilled beef, green peppers, onions, bacon, ham and tortillas or hit the chicken mole or the carne asada con chiliaquiles.

You won’t find anything over $13.

So while I juggled two babies, one in a Bjorn, the other in my arm slapping his sister’s head with great pleasure as a small crew of people walked into the place. An older woman, who still carried the punked-out look of her youth, strapped into too-tight jeans and Smokey and the Bandit-era hairdos, noticed the twins and fluttered some fingers their way. They smiled and drooled back. One shorter guy in this entourage looked our way, noticed the babies and asked, “Are they twins?”

“Yes,” I said. Peaches meanwhile hadn’t looked up from her burrito once.

“Identical?” he asked. It was then I realized I was talking to Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

“No, fraternal,” I replied. “Boy and a girl.” I was playing it cool. I might have been slightly hyperventilating but I wisely passed it off as bronchitis.

“Yes, yes of course,” he said. Then he said, “Their earlobes are very different.” It was an enigmatic observation from this equally enigmatic singer and I nodded in agreement and muttered something about the Buddha’s earlobes and ears that stick out and who the hell knows what else.

I was never cool in school but thanks to the twins I got to discuss earlobes with Michael Stipe, which perhaps is even cooler than getting the damned things pierced.


Warming the hearts and minds of those in the northern climes.

RATINGS: Food: A- Service: A Atmosphere: B

© The Vancouver Province 2008

Comments are closed.