Surprise and singularity

Tres Hermanas

2416 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 443-6919

Tres Hermanas is a brand-spanking-new experience for at least one Sacramentan. Never on the radar. So it’s full-on tabla rasa.

The restaurant has been on SN&R’s radar, though. To the left of its front door near 25th and K streets is a shrine of four plaques, over a span of years, designating Tres Hermanas variously as “Best Mexican” and “Best Mexican Not a Chain.” With respect to the normally visionary management who write the checks, the concept of food at a chain Mexican restaurant being good, let alone exemplary, seems inconceivable unless talking about Lalo’s, which has opened a second eatery in Rio Linda.

And maybe it’s the authenticity of Lalo’s and exposure to an ever-broadening spectrum of Mexican eateries that makes Tres Hermanas yeah, OK. Yeah, the quirky, well-worn interior is unique albeit a bit distressed—and not always in a good way. There’s a woven thatch-work ceiling, array of white fans, chipped wood beams, colorful bigger-than-it-appears back room with a line of Kelly green booths, a cozy patio, a small coffered-front bar whose weight appears to sag the floor of the old house Tres Hermanas once was. And there’s a vibrant Tiki Room-size necklaced parrot clutching a Corona perched above the center of the front room. Could see the joint transplanted to Puerto Nuevo in Baja.

OK, the tomato-chunk-accented romaine salad—if bathed in the house cilantro dressing with its close-to-a-stout-tomatillo zing—is memorable. And, yeah, the salsa roja provided with the chips jumps up and bites. But it doesn’t have the heft or inventiveness of, say, the habanero salsa at Palenque Cocina Mexicana over on Alta Arden that tingles the lips for 30 minutes afterward—but pleasurably so because it’s leavened with pineapple and orange. Requesting Tres Hermanas’ chile de arbol salsa drives both the flavor and Fahrenheit up significantly.

Even so, nowhere near as many options as the salsa bar at El Meson Mexican Grill in Elk Grove, just to choose one place.

The enchiladas verde—chicken, cheese, beef, carnitas—could be filled with cardboard and the sauce would make it palatable, however. Yeah, a cup of the beefy brothed albondigas soup has a meatball so big the large chunks of carrot, celery and zucchini and tiny bits of onion must be shoehorned around its girth. The server-recommended carnitas quesadilla is OK, although its design—a giant soft taco laid on it side—is intriguing. But the carnitas are kinda salty, the cheese inside isn’t cotija and more diced onion, a heavier dusting of cilantro and some lime wedges would be welcome. Yeah, entrees are accompanied by rice and beans and both are OK. But no mas.

The tacos al pastor are “new,” the menu says, and have an endearing smoky, pineapple-tinged flavor. But nowhere on the menu are lengua or cabeza or tripe, stalwarts at any number of taquerias around town. They’ve got the team waitering concept down to an art form. Whoever takes the order isn’t—often isn’t—the person who brings the salad, soup or entree to the table. There can be breakdowns in the system. A request for the chile de arbol from one of the gents is forgotten but the waitress, on a subsequent visit to the table, wonders if the salsa ever showed. There are some vegetarian options.

Tres Hermanas has an attraction that’s obvious. It’s a known quantity with a utilitarian delivery of traditional Americanized Mexican food. Its location is convenient to both Midtown and downtown. By day, it isn’t terrifically expensive. The place has been delivering the same fare for a decade and, therefore, it’s created a certain comfort level among its patrons. At Tres Hermanas, there are no surprises.

But in a city—and state—with so many south-of-the-border eating options shouldn’t surprise and singularity be the gold standard?