Housing Prices in U.S. Cities Rise by Most Since Early 2006

Near the end of Elm Street, on the very edge of Porter Square, a bright orange and green storefront announces the local Mexican restaurant, Aguacate Verde. The small eatery is instantly inviting - the door remains propped open in mild weather, allowing the sizzling sounds and enticing flavors emanating from the tiny kitchen to greet visitors as they approach. Once inside, the sun-soaked tables, each topped with a bottle of hot sauce, encourage patrons to stay, take a rest and order one - or several - of the restaurant's excellent dishes.

Agaucate Verde, which translates to "green avocado," is aptly named. The flavorful fruit is incorporated into many menu items, making it the restaurant's signature ingredient. Chief among the avocado dishes, however, is the guacamole - the crown jewel of Agaucate Verde. It is not to be missed. This legendary guac is unmistakably fresh with hints of onion that add a refreshing crunch to the otherwise smooth and sweet dip. While it makes a wonderful side to most entrees, if you would prefer to have your guacamole as an appetizer or a stand-alone dish, be sure to ask for tortilla chips with your order (they are not automatically provided, but can easily be requested).

While the menu does give an excellent selection of familiar dishes, such as guacamole, tacos and burritos, Agaucate Verde stands out thanks to its other dishes. The menu offers many healthier versions of traditional items, with diet-friendly options marked by a heart-healthy symbol on the menu. For instance, the vegetarian quesadilla is heavy on the veggie fillings, and light on cheese, making this beloved tortilla dish more like a wrap than the Mexican classic.

Furthermore, menu items such as gorditas - a hamburger-shaped grilled sandwich, stuffed with beans, lettuce and avocado held together between warm corn tortillas - and pupusas - a kind of grilled corn pancake with cheese and meat fillings baked into the center - may be unfamiliar to many patrons. Aguacate Verde does a wonderful job with most items and provides ample opportunities for patrons to step outside their comfort zones with their effortlessly fresh and exciting options.

While some dishes, like the pupusa, may be bland at first, they're simply an excellent excuse to use that bottle of hot sauce liberally. Other selections, like the decadent leche asada - a baked dessert somewhere in between cr?me brulee and pudding - are perfectly satisfying and served straight from the oven. These dishes are where Agaucate Verde shines.

While the food is certainly tasty, Agaucate Verde does have its drawbacks. The restaurant seems to quickly run out of popular items like flan or advertised specials, even early on in the evening. The eating experience, too, is overwhelmingly casual. Customers order at the kitchen counter and are sometimes called up to retrieve their own dishes, which are served in plastic baskets.

This atmosphere, however, can be relaxing and friendly. Aguacate Verde quickly fills up around 5 p.m. with famished and enthusiastic locals looking to kick back and enjoy a quick bite. But there is absolutely no need to dress up for a night out here. Whether this laid-back feeling enhances or detracts from the meal depends on the preferences of each dining party, and also their expectations for the meal. Arrive at Agaucate Verde hungry, ready for a simple meal and a fresh taste of traditional Latin American cuisine and you won't be disappointed.

Agaucate Verde is located at 13 Elm Street and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose in August from a year ago by the most since February 2006 as stronger demand boosted values.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property prices in 20 cities increased 12.8 percent from August 2012, more than forecast, after a 12.3 percent gain in the year ended in July, a report from the group showed today in New York. The median projection of 28 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 12.5 percent advance.

Tight inventories have boosted prices as buyers compete for a limited number of properties for sale. While housing continues to be a source of strength for the economy, higher mortgage rates and limited improvement in the labor market and wages risk slowing the pace of progress.

“There’s still decent enough demand with little supply so home prices continue to perform,” Kevin Cummins, an economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, said before the report. “It’s unclear how much rising mortgage rates in the last few months slow housing sales in the near future.”

As of August, average home prices in the U.S. were back to their mid-2004 levels, and the 20-city index was up 22.7 percent from its March 2012 low.

Retail Sales

Another report today showed retail sales excluding motor vehicles rose 0.4 percent in September after a 0.1 percent gain, indicating households were sustaining the economic expansion before the government shutdown this month shook confidence. The Commerce Department’s figures showed total sales dropped 0.1 percent, restrained by the biggest decrease at auto dealers since October 2012, as purchases early in the month were included in the August data.

Stock-index futures rose, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed to a record, as Federal Reserve policy makers begin a two-day meeting. The contract on the S&P 500 expiring in December climbed 0.1 percent to 1,761.1 at 9:07 a.m. in New York.

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from year-over-year home-price gains of 11.6 percent to 12.9 percent. The S&P/Case-Shiller index is based on a three-month average, which means the August figure was influenced by transactions in July and June.

The July reading previously was reported as a year-over-year advance of 12.4 percent.

Monthly Gain

Home prices adjusted for seasonal variations rose 0.9 percent in August from the prior month after a 0.6 percent increase. That compares with the Bloomberg survey median of a 0.7 percent increase.

The month-over-month price gains were led by Las Vegas, followed by Los Angeles and San Diego. Property values rose in all 20 metropolitan areas.

“The monthly percentage changes for the 20-city composite show the peak rate of gain in home prices was last April,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “Since then home prices continued to rise, but at a slower pace each month. Recent increases in mortgage rates and fewer mortgage applications are two factors in these shifts.”

Unadjusted prices climbed 1.3 percent in August from the previous month.

The year-over-year gauge, which uses records dating back to 2001, provides a better indication of price trends, according to Karl Case and Robert Shiller, creators of the index. Earlier this month, Shiller was one of three economists awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for research on how financial markets work and assets such as stocks are priced.