Traditional Mexican food has never been more popular in Wisconsin than it is now. It’s easy to fall in love with a cuisine when the dishes are authentically prepared. If you love a taste of Mexico, you’ll find it at Blue Agave Restaurant and Lounge on Butler Street in downtown Madison.
The restaurant opened in December 2017 to a demographic hungry for what they had to offer. Instead of taking years to develop a well-rounded customer base, the broad appeal of the menu’s traditional family recipes and extensive bar selection immediately drew young and old, families and career-minded professionals, and foodies and those who love to dance. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., serving lunch and dinner, and from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights the main floor converts to a nightclub environment for dancing and live dj music.
Blue Agave is a family business owned by José Mata; his fiancé, Sandra Alamilla; and her brother, Fabian Alamilla. José, who manages the restaurant, worked at his father’s restaurants from the time he was 16 years old until his father’s death from a heart attack three years ago at age 49. This restaurant honors the dream of his father to someday own a restaurant in downtown Madison, something that he never got to do. The menu includes some of his recipes, and José has dedicated the restaurant to him and wrote a touching tribute that is featured in the menu and on the website.
The original recipes of Sandra and her mom, who are outstanding cooks, round out the menu to offer a delicious variety of Mexican dishes. The recipe origins represent different Mexican states. The mole sauce comes from Oaxaca, Mexico, and pollo Tapatio represents Jalisco, Mexico, where José’s father’s family is from. There are also a few dishes from Mexico City.
A guacamoliere custom mixes ripe avocados with other ingredients in a molcajete lava stone dish right at the table to offer a choice of three guacamole variations. The molcajete bowl is also used to serve a popular dish made with a variety of meats, including chicken, beef, and shrimp with bacon and chorizo, all marinated with red or green tomatillo sauce. It comes with a choice of warm flour or corn tortillas. Mexican favorites, such as guacamole, burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, tamales, seafood, steak, and chicken dishes, can be found on the menu. Almost everything served is made in house by chef Pedro.
Diners come on a regular basis to enjoy their favorite weekday specials. Margarita Monday, Taco Tuesday, Burrito Wednesday, and Fish Taco Friday are big hits. On weekends, children under age nine eat free with an adult meal purchase from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. On Sunday during football season, food and drink specials are offered during Packers games.
The Blue Agave restaurant is named after the Agave tequilana plant, commonly called blue agave or tequila agave. Due to its role as the base ingredient in tequila, it’s an important economic product of Jalisco, Mexico. José’s love of tequila and its connection to his heritage inspired him to select this as the name of the restaurant. Over 130 different types of tequila, mescal, handcrafted margaritas, and tropical drinks are served at the full bar, which also features local draft beer and imported beer by the bottle. Fabian is the bartender and mixologist who expertly blends the drinks for restaurant patrons. Happy hour is 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
A lounge featuring a beautiful wrought iron railing overlooks the restaurant and dance floor to allow guests to take in the festive atmosphere and colorful decorations below. It’s easy to feel like you’re part of the action and enjoying the ambiance with the other diners while observing from above. There are attractive couches that are welcoming and comfortable, as well as some tables where guests can grab a drink, relax, or hold a more private conversation. The space can also be rented out separately for a VIP area or small party.
A Friday and Saturday night dance club was added to the restaurant plans to take advantage of Fabian’s wealth of experience in working for a local Latin nightclub for over 14 years. The tables and chairs are removed from the ground floor level after the restaurant closes at 9:00 p.m. After a fast transition, the room is turned around by 10:00 p.m. to provide a fun nightclub atmosphere for socializing and showing off dance moves. Happy hour for the lounge is called the “power hour for the night life,” and is offered 10:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
In just one short year, Blue Agave has found their niche in downtown Madison. The secret that sets them apart from the rest of the pack is how the owners play to their strengths, follow their passions, and stay true to their heritage in all that they offer. They’ve found a great location with busy foot traffic due to a mixed crowd of people coming from around the city and region to work, play, and find entertainment in this destination location. With something for all ages, people have been seeking them out. The food is as popular with the lunchtime work crowd as it is with families on weekends.
“I fell in love with the atmosphere of the heart of Madison, and the restaurant building allows us to offer everything we wanted,” José says. “I’m a people person, and I get to meet a variety of people every day. There’s always something new to keep me learning and growing. I get to work with family, food, tequila, and people—the things I love the most.”
Lauri Lee is a culinary herb guru and food writer living in Madison.