Cantina Agave, Shanghai’s Finest Mexican


Photo courtesy of T.

I’m not a hard core Mexican food freak like many Californians, but I certainly enjoy a good Burrito now and then, and up till now it’s fair to say that Shanghai has been lacking an authentic, good quality, value for money Mexican restaurant. Maya is excellent, but it’s not a casual dining experience, it’s not cheap and it doesn’t offer many of the Mexican staples I know and love.

Cantina Agave has recently opened on Fumin Lu (close to Chang Le Lu) and I’d heard good things about it from reliable sources, including Shanghaiist and frequent commenter T who has his own blog. And of course, Swiss James, always one to check out new places years before the rest of us catch up, also gave it the Swiss seal of approval, so you know it can’t be bad. And it wasn’t.

I’d heard it is a busy place with long waits, so I prepared a backup option (Haiku on Tao Jiang Lu) but didn’t need it as miraculously there was a vacant table in an otherwise crowded little restaurant.  It was full of Mexican looking customers and Californian ABCs (American born Chinese) which I took as a good sign.

The menu is simplicity itself. You choose your shell, you choose your filling. That’s about it. We started with nachos, just a half portion, and were asked to choose what toppings. I went with beef and pork and they were fabulous. – almost as good as TGI Fridays! The chunks of beef especially were chunky and moist and there was a huge dollop of guacamole and sour cream.

As I said, I’m not an aficionado so I went for what I knew, a burrito mamita, filled with a meat of my choice as well as beans and rice all wrapped in a flour tortilla. Wonderful.

It was a Sunday night so I didn’t sample any of the Tequilas they had on the shelves or any of the margaritas that almost everyone else was downing (the 3 girls on the next table were getting through a pitcher of passion fruit margaritas rather swiftly), but perhaps next time, with a larger group, it’ll have to be done.

All in all then, this joint gets the WoAi thumbs up as a great, (relatively) cheap and most importantly, delicious and authentic Mexican restaurant. A first for Shanghai and a nice change from all the pretentious, overpriced, underwhelming establishments that can’t justify themselves in these recession ridden times.

Total cost : 167 RMB for 2
Value for money : 8/10
Food : 8/10
Service : 7/10
Ambiance : 7/10

Cantina Agave – 291 Fumin Lu, Suite 01 A-2, near Changle Lu (富民路291号, 01 A-2, 近常乐路) Tel: 6170-1310, Hours: 11 am – 11 pm daily

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39 Responses to Cantina Agave, Shanghai’s Finest Mexican

  1. SHEinChina says:

    sounds good, I have to check it next time I’m in Shanghai. I tried Maya last time and although I was delighted with the food, it was kind of on the pricy side.. (although their dessert -pure HEAVEN!!!)

  2. WoAi says:

    SHEinChina – Yes, Cantina Agave is easy on the pockets although Maya is still one of my top 5 favourites in Shanghai (I love the blackened beef with new potatoes, and yes, amazing desserts). But it’s a totally different type of place.

  3. Penny says:

    Lovely ! I will have a try soon!

  4. WoAi says:

    Penny – Great, do let us know what you think, but be prepared to wait. And it’s very casual so no need for the sexy boots :-p

  5. T. says:

    I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  6. WoAi says:

    T – What are you talking about? I hope you don’t mind me publicising this place. It means you are less likely to find a vacant table when you visit.

  7. T. says:

    I’m not really sure. The lengua is the best meat, bee-tee-dubs.

  8. WoAi says:

    T – Have you been drinking tequila already?

  9. T. says:

    Aside from the fact that I don’t drink, yes.


  10. shopgirl says:

    my friends talks about it all the time, really need to go there

  11. WoAi says:

    Shopgirl – It’s a no brainer but be prepared as it’s crowded and busy.

  12. penny says:

    Woai , thanks for advice . But my sexy boots work everywhere .:P

  13. WoAi says:

    Penny – No I’m just worried everyone will be too busy eating to notice your boots.

  14. wancestyle says:

    A bit off topic – The other day a friend of mine treated me dinner (she had coupons!) at Cucina, Jin Mao Tower. It was the best Italian food I ever had in China. Their beef carpaccio and pizza were just outstanding. Same level of the best restaurants in Rome. Highly recommended, although quite pricey.

  15. the idea of NOT having margaritas while eating “mexican” food is just sad . . . =(

  16. WoAi says:

    Wancestyle – Good food tips are NEVER off topic. Thanks for the recommendation and where do I get a coupon? I’m not against expensive meals now and then, I like to eat at both ends of the culinary scale.

    Angie – Well truth be told I am not a huge margarita fan, possibly because of my tequila allergy!

  17. wancestyle says:

    WoAi – Not sure about where to get the coupon. I think my friend got it from her company becuse they have some business relationships with Jin Mao Tower. She also has a memebership card that gives her 50% discount for all the other restaurants on the 56th floor of Jin Mao Tower. Can you get luckier than this? :)

    The bill was about 1,350 RMB for: one beef carpaccio; one pizza with Parma ham, mozzarella di bufala, rucola and tomatoes (very thin and crunchy crust, as I like); one schiaffoni (a large, tubular noodle similar to maccaroni) with bacon, ricotta and artichoke; one rack of lamb marinated with Chianti and accompanied with roasted potatoes; a bottle of Chianti; two desserts; and one espresso.

    I think it was not expensive considering the quality of the food and the service, and the spectacular view from the 56th floor of the JM Tower. I will definetely return.

    Damn, I am hungry now! Buon appetito!

  18. WoAi says:

    Wancestyle – Back in 1999 I bought their VIP card which means not 50% of, but one person (me) is free every time I eat there. So if there are two people, the bill is divided in two. If there are 10 people, you get 10% off. It might be the same thing. It cost something like 1888 RMB and so if you go often it “pays for itself”.

    I haven’t eaten in Jin Mao for a long time, partly because there are SO many other options now at that price range, but I may have to pop along on your recommendation, seeing as you should be a good judge of Italian food.

  19. Penny says:

    Woai , as experience of mine no one is interested in boots at restaurant anyway . I will try it this weekend i guess . And my backup option is GUYI on Fumin Lu. :)

  20. WoAi says:

    Penny – Good choice as back up. Actually there are lots around there. I think Saleya and 570 are close by too.

  21. T. says:

    That area actually has a huge number of restaurants in immediate surrounding. Otto, Embre, Nepali Kitchen, La Dolce Vita (horrible service, decent food), Des Lys, Mesa are very close.

    I find it more difficult to get into Guyi than Agave actually. There’s a really good Shanghaiese restaurant on Fumin which I can’t remember the name, but it has a Budweiser sign outside.

  22. wancestyle says:

    I heard from some Italian friends that Otto is excellent. Should check it out.

  23. WoAi says:

    T – Never heard of most of those, will add to the list, starting with Otto since Wancestyle also gives it a nod.

  24. T. says:

    Are you sure you live in Shanghai? Never heard of those? Maybe you’re too busy buying 8,000 rmb tables at Bar Rouge, I dunno.

  25. WoAi says:

    T – I think it’s more a testament to the huge variety and choice available. I bet I could name half a dozen great places you haven’t tried yet either. And everyone knows you can’t get a decent table at Bar Rouge for less than 15,000 RMB!

  26. T. says:

    Bring it! I’ll answer honestly too – as long as you keep it within downtown-ish Shanghai (Luwan, Jing’An, XJH)

  27. Swiss James says:

    Mesa is alright, but small portions.
    Des Lys is delicious- very rich though, you wouldn’t go too often
    La Dolce Vita- our buddy Ai Mei slagged it off so that one’s out
    Otto have great desserts (see! I remembered!)

    There’s a nice little Japanese place just the other side of Fumin / Julu, that’s my pick for that area. Don’t know the name though, so it’s no help.

  28. WoAi says:

    T – Here are a few to start with:

    Maya (Ju Lu Lu)
    Vedas (Indian)
    Masala Art (Indian at Da Gu Lu)
    Da Papa Mario (Italian at Ju Lu Lu)
    Casanova (Italian @ Ju Lu Lu)
    Anadolu (Turkish @ Hengshan Lu)
    Indalo (Spanish near Fuxing Park)
    Azul (Peruvian Tapas)
    Haiku (Californian style Japanese)

  29. WoAi says:

    Swiss – Yes, if Ai Mei says no to Dolce Vita, that’s good enough for me, move on.

  30. T. says:

    Maya – it’s inside this apartment complex, opened sometime in the summer. it’s what I call “tablecloth mexican” – although there are no tableclothes there. They serve a few cerviches – have a really good chicken tamale, but I find them overpriced – and lot more pan-latin american rather than specifically mexican.

    Vedas – upscale Indian on Jianguo (?) Lu – I’ve never gotten out of there for less than 200 rmb a person. More punjabi and northern – not a lot of Southern indian stuff (in fact Good Times on Dagu Lu is the only Southern Indian place I know of). It’s my favorite Indian place in town.

    Masala Art – I end up at Masala Art more than Vedas because its almost as good, and a hell of a lot closer. Again, more punjabi than southern dishes, and I really like the lamb bryiani here.

    Da Papa Mario – never heard of it, never been there.

    Casanova – Right above Velvet Lounge. Good pizzas. Overpriced pasta.

    Anadolu – I LOVE the sandwiches here. The kebabs are excellent. I first went on a recommendation from ispyshanghai.

    Indalo – went there once for a birthday party last December. Didn’t make a big impression on me.

    Azul – I’m pretty much here every other Sunday. Best brunch (and brunch value) in town.

    Haiku – It’s actually Haiku by Hatsune. I’m not huge on rolls normally, but since all my friends are north american chinese and haiku’s owners are from Hongcouver, we’re there a lot. They are always broadcasting baseball in the summer and the last time I was there, they had this HI-LAR-I-OUR video about how to properly eat sushi. I said I wasn’t a big roll fan, but what I do like is the MOTO-Roll-ah and the Philly Roll. Their fish, on the other hand, is pretty bad. Just go for the rolls.

    That’s 7 of 8 restaurants.

  31. WoAi says:


    I agree Maya is not that authentic but what they do IS very good. I love that table cloth Mexican description and until I went to Maya I didn’t know such a thing existed.

    Hatsune was by far my most favourite in Beijing so you can imagine my delight to hear they opened in Shanghai. Foolishly I was worried they wouldn’t survive in Shanghai because of the ubiquitous all you can eat and drink 150 rmb places, but I see I was a fool to doubt them. The SPIDER hand rolls are good too, soft shell crab in a roll.

    Da Papa Mario has been talked about a lot on the blogosphere. I’d say for the money it’s good but it’s more casual dining than fine dining so I can let you off for not having heard of this.

    So overall, I’m impressed and bow to your superior knowledge of Shanghai’s finer eateries.

  32. N aka Tommy Fan says:

    T – I think the Shanghainese restaurant on Fumin you are talking about is Baoluo. One of my most favourite Shanghainese restaurants.

    Woai – 15,000RMB for a table at Bar Rouge? We were virtually living at BR in summer 2006 when it was still a fun place and for the best table out on the terrace it was 3,000RMB. But maybe its because we lived there..

  33. an allergy to tequila?! that is so wrong on so many levels!

    (try having a margarita made with limon vodka and just a splash of cointreau along with the regular margarita mix (or lime juice and of course the rim of salt).

  34. WoAi says:

    N aka Tommy Fan – Interesting name you have! I was kidding about the 15,000 RMB. I’m not a big fan of Bar Rouge. Too much Eurotrash hanging out there with God complexes.

    Angie – I SEE tequila, I wanna throw up. If it goes anywhere near my mouth my throat tightens.

  35. i knew a girl like that in college, but it wasn’t tequila that would do her in . . .

  36. WoAi says:

    Angie – I think it’s the same issue, we both had bad experiences in the past, me with tequila and her with … well, whatever makes her react that way. It’s very much psychological I know. My brain is telling my throat “no, no, no”. Good to know you don’t share any such problems, Angie!

  37. N aka Tommy Fan says:

    Woai – How would one know you were joking when you were serious about buying a 20,000RMB table at Attica where there was as much Eurotrash if not more.. well after all Eurotrash is all over the place in Shanghai so gotta enjoy yourselves!

  38. WoAi says:

    N aka Tommy Fan – Firstly I am very touched that you have been paying attention to all my posts! The Attica table was actually 10,000 RMB minimum in the end, but with 40 plus people that didn’t work out to be too bad, plus it was a big occasion rather than a normal Friday night.

    You’re right about the Eurotrash though, but given the choice between Attica and Bar Rouge, somehow I found the Eurotrash at Attica much less annoying and obnoxious.

  39. N aka Tommy Fan says:

    Woai – As I said I did enjoy all your posts ;-)

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