Farm-fresh southwest fare at Agava Restaurant on Ithaca’s east hill

This week, 14850 Dining pays a return visit to Agava Restaurant on Ithaca’s East Hill. Open just over five years, Agava offers southwest-inspired fare in rustic surroundings, with a tremendous focus on farm-fresh local food.

Chips and salsa come with your meal, and we often add the freshly made guacamole! 14850 Photo by Mark H. Anbinder.

The new fall menu at Agava keeps some indispensable favorites, brings back a few menu items from the past, and adds a couple of great new dishes.

We often start with guacamole to go along with the chips and salsa, and for a couple of extra bucks, dress up your guac with toppings like pecans and manchego. The “Sweet Thang” is roasted delicata squash with sage and shallots, a perfect start to an autumn meal.

Other great “small plates” choices, easily shared or perfect as appetizers, are the crisp chicken taquitos and the amazing wood-roasted cauliflower.

We never knew we needed crabcake tacos in our lives until they arrived.

New taco options include a vegetarian fried brussels sprouts offering, with charred jalapeño hummus, brown butter lemon aioli, and almonds, or pork belly with salsa verde and guacamole. The popular crab cake taco, added several months ago, stays on the menu.

Some old favorite flatbreads are back: the Green Machine with kale, crimini mushrooms, pickled jalapeños, smoked garlic, and fontina, and the Chupacabra with housemade bacon, smoked garlic, crimini mushrooms, mozzarella, and crushed tomatoes.

The tacos, flatbreads, and burgers — including an excellent black bean burger that can be served vegan — are a good way to enjoy an affordable meal at Agava, but there’s also some fancier fare. One example that’s easy to spot is the perfectly cooked charred octopus.

Bucatini with local-mushroom ragout and peppery pecorino.

Larger plates (in the $16-28 entrée range) include pan-roasted chicken breast or pork chop, and we love the Boomers, Agava’s take on cacio e pepe — perfect bucatini pasta with an earthy mushroom ragout and peppery pecorino cheese.

It’s easy to eat a vegetarian or vegan meal at Agava, and there’s even an entire gluten-free menu. Don’t skip an inventive cocktail, such as a smoked margarita, or the great beer and wine list with lots of New York offerings.

Agava has made an effort to whip up quick eats for those who need to stop in for lunch but don’t have loads of time, and they promise to have certain daily lunch specials out within ten minutes.

Sure huevos rancheros can be vegan!

Spend a little more time on a great brunch on the weekend, where instead of chips and salsa, meals begin with a complimentary basket of cornbread and biscuits. From there, go with perfectly poached eggs, biscuits and chorizo gravy, or even a roasted-tofu vegan version of huevos rancheros.

Keep an eye out, as well, for the occasional tasting menu event, like this spring’s Southern Tier beer pairing dinner.

They’re open from lunch to late-night, with brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and live music several times a month. Plan on spending $10-40 per person on a meal. Find Agava at 381 Pine Tree Road next to East Hill Plaza and at agavarestaurant.com, or call 607-319-4366 and tell them you heard about them here.

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