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Creative tacos abound at Agave

Trust Ashland's take on the taqueria to adopt for its slogan: "Where art meets food."

Agave may not serve the town's most visually stunning cuisine, but it vies with Talent's newer Inti restaurant for the Rogue Valley's most creative tacos.

So much more than tortilla-wrapped piles of meat, Agave's tacos feature duck confit ("pato"), lobster ("langosta") and grilled vegetables, along with more traditional carne asada, carnitas, chicken and fish. Any a la carte taco can become a full meal with rice, beans, chips and salsa for the additional price of $4.25.

Lobster sauteed in butter is sweet and succulent, if perhaps a subtle difference between Agave's fish version, which is less than half the price. But you can't beat the bragging rights that come with eating lobster on a tortilla.

More conventional tamales of pork, chicken, cheese or squash with mushroom boast uncommonly light and moist cornmeal casings. Dessert tamales are filled with pineapple and currants and topped with Mexican crema.

Nicknamed the "masa masters," Agave staff also make the restaurant's corn tortillas for tacos and cut them into chips for frying and serving with salsa. The labor justifies the snack's cost of $2.75, instead of complimentary for every table.

Even so, Agave remains a less expensive option than most other Ashland establishments and has seen very minimal price increases over its six-year run. Founder Andrew Chester, of The Black Sheep fame, intended to provide a lower-cost dining alternative in a "visually rewarding" atmosphere.

John Hinkle has carried on the model since purchasing the small, brightly painted establishment that doubles as a gallery space. Hinkle also makes his mark by donating bowls of hearty, spicy soups to the Empty Bowls Project, an annual fundraiser for local food pantries.

Recommended: Decadent duck confit or lobster tacos; winter squash-portobello mushroom tamale; vegetarian pozole and chicken-lime sopa; the "power lunch," a house salad topped with jicama, pumpkin seeds, Cotija cheese, chips and grilled steak, chicken or shrimp; flan as creamy and rich as creme brulee.

Alternative diets: Numerous vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items.

Beverages: Bottled Mexican beers; imported white and red wine by the glass and bottle; margaritas, tequila shots; horchata; Jarritos, other sodas and iced tea.

Price range: Tacos, $2.75 to $8.25; tamales, $4.25; appetizers, $2.75 to $9.95; soups, $4.50 to $6.50; salads, $3.95 to $9.95; desserts, $4.50.

Extras: Rotating art displays; prime location on Ashland Plaza, sidewalk seating in fine weather; parking in the Plaza or streetside.

Serving: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Info: 92 N. Main St., Ashland; 541-488-1770; www.agavetaco.net.