Chef Octavio Diaz has worked in hospitality for 24 years, and his goal has always been to share the intricacies of Oaxacan cuisine. “I want to bring the flavors of my native homeland to my new homeland,” he says. He’s well on his way with the Agave Uptown, his second Oaxaca-centric restaurant, opening in Uptown Oakland this month. Here, he sounds off on how Uptown will differ from his original Healdsburg location, the dishes he’s excited to share, and the restaurant’s partnership with Oakland’s Kapor Center for Social Impact.
Tell us about your background. How have your previous cooking experiences informed your approach to Agave Uptown? I have been in hospitality for 24 years and I always strive to create a welcoming atmosphere where I work. I love to meet people and learn from them, and also teach them positive attitude and discipline. My goal has always been to bring the flavors of my native homeland to my new homeland.
What are you particularly excited to showcase, menu-wise? Do you feel Oaxacan cuisine is well- or under-represented in the Bay Area? We’re excited to share our traditional Oaxacan food with a specific focus on authentic mole and mezcal. We will be highlighting my mom’s mole recipes which have been passed down in my family from generation to generation. Our mole is an exotic and incredibly rich creation made from 20-plus secret ingredients I bring from Oaxaca several times a year.
Are there dishes, ingredients, or flavors that may be unfamiliar to diners? We will be cooking with avocado leafs, and most of our ingredients come from small markets and families that we know from Oaxaca. Mole will be showcased in the Mole De Oaxaca and the enmoladas – savory entrées featuring rotisserie chicken. Standout starters will be the shrimp and chicken tres empanadas. Additional highlights will be the tasajo (thinly sliced grilled beef with grilled onions, seasonal mushrooms, guacamole, black bean paste and rice), cecina (dried strips of beef or pork marinated in adobo with black bean paste and rice) and tlayuda (organic crispy corn tortilla covered with black beans, cabbage, queso Oaxaca and avocado).
How will this location be different from your Healdsburg restaurant? A diverse range of cocktails will highlight mezcal. The wine menu will feature varietals produced in Sonoma County, honoring my first Agave location in Healdsburg but building further on our connection to Mexico, Agave Uptown will carry a beer menu focused around Mexican craft beer – the first in the area to do so.
Tell us about the restaurant’s relationship to the Kapor Center. Why did this feel like a fit for Agave Uptown? We’re housed on the ground floor of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and as such we promise to become an integral part of the Bay Area dining scene while joining in their mission to narrow gaps in opportunity and access for underrepresented communities. Agave Uptown’s goal is to mentor diverse communities with hands-on culinary training. We hope to partner with schools and colleges to provide internships for those interested in the culinary field.