Flatiron Lunch: Tres Carnes is Where Texas-Style Smoked Meats and Mexican Food Meet
Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
It has only been three weeks or so since Tres Carnes opened it’s doors, so perhaps a little early for a full post. But sometimes, we are impatient. Especially for places with huge lines out the door… and Mexican food… and Mexican food with Texas-style smoked meat.
Since I went around 2pm, the line was just out of the door and the total time was about 10 minutes to the register. While waiting, I noticed the mustache (or moustache) door-handle and the mustache on the logo. I get that mustache is a visual indicator for something cool… but how much longer can mustaches be cool?
I also had time in line to check out the wall mural. If you were to name or identify that “beast”, what would you call it?
On my first visit, I got the El Tres Bowl with BBQ pork shoulder ($9 plus $1 for toppings), arroz verde, Mexican yellow rice, “charros” cowboy pinto beans, blackeyed black beans, street-cart esquites, roasted chipotle squash, smashed and smoky guacamole, charred tomatillo salsa, fire-roasted tomato adobo salsa, crema, and cotija. Whew. That was exhausting just to type, but it accurately reflects my ordering strategy which add as much as possible within cost limits.
The bowl was pretty well layered, so I had the option of trying a bite of just one item if I wanted to try it or I could have a cross-section bite.
I hope this photo is a testament to the preparation of the meat (or at least the BBQ pork shoulder.) This doesn’t look like other “smoked” pork.
Not surprisingly, the arroz verde with cilantro, poblanos, green onion and lime, was more flavorful than the Mexican yellow rice with just sweet red peppers, onions and cilantro. I noticed the rice didn’t seem to have that addictive quality like Chipotle cilantro lime rice. But if I am being honest, I think most of that flavor comes from oil, salt, lots of lime and cilantro. By comparison, the Tres Carnes rice was dry, but probably much more healthy. Both beans were good, but I liked the black beans just a little bit more (shocking considering the pinto means come with smoked pork and chorizo!) For an extra $1, I was able to get the esquites (Mexican street corn salad), roasted squash AND guacamole. How could I not?!?!?
To transport my bowl back to the office, they were smart enough to put two rubber bands around my bowl and lid (which was especially good because the lid didn’t fit properly anyway.) They also have carry bags with a flat-bottom, thank goodness!
I was tempted by the aqua fresca and/or the agave limeade, and on the recommendation of the staff, I went with the limeade ($3), which was awesomely tart. This will be a life saver when the weather hits 100.
On my second visit, I ordered the soft tacos ($9.50) and with two per order, I had the opportunity to try the remaining dos carnes (brisket and chicken). They steam the corn tortillas to heat them up before filling them, which I find kills some of the corn flavor. Even though I loaded my tacos, I forgot to ask for lime wedges which were available along with other toppings and would have helped the taste.
The esquites on the brisket taco was a little bit over-powering, so I probably should have skipped it or asked for a smaller scoop. Otherwise, the brisket was worthy of a spot at the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party next month.
I find chicken at Mexican restaurants is normally underwhelming, but this was chicken was on par with the pork and beef. I think it would be really hard to pass up the brisket and pork shoulder, but it is a good option.
Normally, I would be all for the bowl preparation, because of value. The bowl gives you so much more food for the same price, and you can often get two meals out of the bowl. But with the tacos, I thought the quality and flavors of the meat could shine in the taco. But $9 for two tacos?!?! Come on, man.
THE + (What people who like this place will say)
- The smoked meat at Tres Carnes is legit.
- New Yorkers can no longer complain about the lack of good Mexican food.
- Great salsas!
THE – (What people who don’t like this place will say)
- Good Mexican tacos shouldn’t cost $9 for two.
- The rice is too dry to bother with it in the bowl.
- Limes should automatically come with tacos.
Tres Carnes, 688 Sixth Avenue at 22nd Street, (212) 989-8737