Blue Agave, New Mexican in Ipanema

By Felicity Clarke, Contributing Reporter

Blue Agave nachos, photo by Felicity Clarke.

Blue Agave nachos, photo by Felicity Clarke.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Don’t be duped by international prevalence and vast marketing budgets – Doritos are not the last word in corn chips. Exciting evidence has emerged to support this in the form of the nacho dish at Blue Agave, the newly opened Mexican bar and restaurant on Rua Vinicius de Moraes in Ipanema.

After a rapid two month renovation transforming a disused shop unit into a stylish yet cozy bar, American chefs Richard Nelson and Jason Galeria opened Blue Agave last weekend. Serving a simple menu of snacks and meals, the pair are bringing a fresh Mexican flavor to Zona Sul.

“Being from California I grew up eating Mexican food and I just love it”, says Galeria, who trained in Rio and previously worked at Gibo Brambini and GT Brasiline. “Mexican food fits so well with Rio because it’s fresh and healthy”.

Despite the international appeal of the cuisine and the availability of ingredients, Mexican restaurants are sparse in Rio, something which struck Richard Nelson, who trained amongst top chefs across the US, “You do an internet search for Mexican restaurants in California and you get over 3,743 results, yet there are only a handful in the whole of Rio de Janeiro”.

Named after the base plant ingredient of tequila, Blue Agave is a welcome addition to the list. The menu features Mexican staples tacos, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas, and of course the aforementioned nachos which are something special: a haphazard heap of fresh-from-the-fryer chips that have a lightly salted flavor and a deeply pleasing crunch, all layered with melted cheese, lettuce, beans, sour cream and a sharp homemade salsa doing a tangy sweet dance all over the show.

With two chefs running the joint it’s not surprising there’s a clear focus on fresh, well prepared food. It’s the reasonable prices come as a surprise. Food ranges from R$4.50 for a taco to R$15 for the full baked enchiladas with rice and beans.

Owner Rich Nelson behind the bar of the new Blue Agave, photo by Felicity Clarke.

Owner Rich Nelson behind the bar of the new Blue Agave, photo by Felicity Clarke.

As Nelsons says, “Mexican food shouldn’t be expensive. It should be tasty snack food that you can enjoy with a beer or margarita, on the way to or from the beach or while watching a game”.

Like any right-thinking bar owners in Rio, Nelson and Galeria have installed a TV screen for the sports (read football). What marks them out as a bit different is that the TV wasn’t their only décor consideration. With bare brick, stained glass features, wooden fittings, dimmer lighting and a patchwork of vintage Brahma beer tiles installed in the stairway, attention has been paid to the aesthetics and it pays off in creating a subtly characterful yet relaxed environment.

Nelson and Galeria have plans to build on their foundation by expanding their range of tequilas and flexing their culinary creativity further with a specials board. “We’ll have a fillet mignon and a fresh salmon dish,” enthuses Nelson, “and if I can get hold of green tomatoes, we’ll definitely do a salsa verde”.

With a good food, a cool-yet-comfortable environment and a prime central Ipanema location, Blue Agave is a promising new opening that’s worth a visit for the nachos alone.

For more information call (21) 3592-9271/8351-7056, or visit at Vinicius de Morae 68 in Ipanema, open Noon – 2 AM daily.

35 Responses to "Blue Agave, New Mexican in Ipanema"

  1. Missy Sturgis  December 5, 2009 at 9:37 AM

    Does anybody know their hours and days of operation?

  2. Publisher  December 14, 2009 at 3:50 PM

    Oi Missy, just updated the article to include the hours – Noon – 2AM every day.

  3. Rodney  December 25, 2009 at 5:25 PM

    Great Mexican food and a large selection of tequilas. Karol was our waitress and she was awesome. We had a bunch of Blue margaritas and the nachos Agave and had a great time. Was a great night and met lots of cool locals from the neighborhood.

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  5. Adriana Wave Hostel  January 19, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    Richard, Jason, Alex, Carol, they’re all wonderful. Perfect selection of music with the most pleasant environment, delicious food, cold beer – customer service awareness I would rate 100%. Needless to say: I jut love the place. The Blue Agave is the first place I ever think of going when I leave home…

  6. Glenn  January 31, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    By far the worst Mexican food I ever ate. With all the good restaurants in Rio I doubt they will be in business very long.

  7. Patricia  January 31, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    Are you sure your talking about the right restaurant Glenn? I go there all the time with my friends and think it is is great. The food is good value and delicous and everyone that works there are very friendly and helpful. Also every time i go in its full, so i doubt they are going to go out of business any time soon, you should give it another try…

  8. Nipper  February 8, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    After months of convincing carioca friends to go to this broom-cupboard sized rest. i was highly shocked at 1. The rude, arrogant American owners (how embarrassing) 2. It was not mexican food,not at all.No guacamole. No sour cream. Bland minced beef used (this is Brasil, home of the cow!!)etc.etc. 3. Ok, lets do Brasil meets Mexico but not by filling most dishes with 80% rice and beans.
    Being a brit living in Rio i know how cheap the very limited, simple ingredients required for tacos, enchillados etc. are. No excuses. Extortion!
    Sadly, its two Americans with no knowledge of food just wanting to rip off the rich of Rio and make a buck. Very sad indeed as one of the high points of living in Rio is the food.
    Perhaps for young people with untrained palates it could be fun. Maybe not.
    As i said, embarrassing guys.

  9. Fletch  February 9, 2010 at 4:48 AM

    Seriously Nipper – what is up?

    I love the place, and eat there 2 times a week usually, because I like the people that work there, the atmosphere, and especially the CHICKEN ENCHILADAS. I ask for it a bit spicy as an American from NY I’ve got a taste for the heat – which they always do with a smile… but they have yet to burn me out.

    Rio has great food, and most of the upscale restaurants will cost you R$40-50 per plate. But Rio hasn’t had anywhere to get made-to-order, authentic Mexican food until now (or in recent memory), with guacamole – which they do have.

    The only thing that I’ve seen happen sometimes at Blue Agave is they do run out of things, but for a small boutique eatery, I find it charming… and it means it’s always fresh… so get there early!

  10. Dustin b.  February 9, 2010 at 10:14 PM

    Do either of the owners have an e-mail address? I am a chef from the states thinking about moving to Rio.

  11. Nipper  February 10, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    Fletch, I have worked in food for 15 years from local sandwich shops run by an 82 year old to 5 star estates in Scotland – oh and including 3 Authentic mexican restaurants..

    Rio has far more to offer by way of cheaper eateries with professional service – servantes, bracarense to name a couple and Blue Agave with its warm beer and fake mexican is not up there with the champs.

    Tourists and locals will be dissapointed

  12. Leslie  February 10, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    I love the place! I went there with my family (on vacation from NM) and had a great time.

  13. Igor  February 12, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    This is such a great place, actual Mexican food in Rio. The soft shell tacos are perfect, I can eat like 6 of them! And it’s amazing how hard it is to get a good margarita in this town. Thanks BLUE AGAVE, keep up the good work!

  14. Larry Milne  February 13, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    I’m all about the nachos!…. I’ll be there later today actually!

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  18. Sergio  February 25, 2010 at 11:35 PM

    Yo Nipper, I am a carioca da Gema…….

    You might need to sober up or head down to Blue Agave for Taco Tuesday…….3.50 Tacos…….extorsion you called it!!!…..Hilarious…….I Think the tacos specials and quesadillas 1/2 price wednesday are great for peole trying to save money………Honestly if you need 3000 calories for you average meal………My uncle has a trough…nearby…….for our pigs in Jacarepaqua……I am sur e we can make you a reservation……for one Big Brit………Bom appetite……querida!!!

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  23. RayT  April 5, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    My girlfriend and I visited Rio in the beginning of April and we stayed about a block away from Blue Agave. We stopped in there one night and it turned out to be our favorite bar in Rio. We had at least a drink there almost every night and ate there. I must admit, the food was great, and another couple we met from Michigan said the same. The owners Rich and Jason, as well as Alex, were all great guys, and all from the States. I’d highly recommend visiting this bar while in Rio, especially if you’re staying in Ipanema.

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  27. Cuz Lori, Michael and Susan  August 7, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    Congrads to Jason and Rich. We hear great praise about Blue Agave. Wish we were there. Love to the family. CA Cuz

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  32. Phil Buzzard  February 28, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    I lived in Mexixo DF for 3 years and as far as I am concerned,any Mexican food is too much food !!

    If the target customers are international people,(who are willing to pay a premium for beers etc) why not serve up some decent international favourites,like fish and chips,scottish breakfasts,or Italian pasta’s,of whatever Americans like ??Dont get this Mexican thing,but,I always support expat businesses as a point of principle.

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