Tres Hermanas: 805 Second St. Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Price: $ of $$, grad student/alum $10 to $15; Ambiance: 3 stars of 4; Food: 2 stars out of 4, Better than my roommate’s cooking)
If you’re going to label yourself as a Mexican restaurant, you really need to deliver. You need to prepare meals that are of far higher quality than a standard taqueria – dishes need to be more creative and carry more complex flavor profiles.
Tres Hermanas, if you’re going to charge $13 for two soft tacos, they better be damn good.
Opened this past September, Tres Hermanas replaced Pasta ?, becoming one of the only Mexican places in Davis to offer a sit down and catered restaurant experience. Which means, you are essentially paying $13 for a plate of slightly elevated taqueria food. And at times, the food is far worse than what you could get for half the price.
First thing’s first: chips and salsa to fill our stomachs before we actually feast. On one occasion, the salsa came out completely void of any flavor or texture. The brown, slightly thickened liquid had only one dimension: heat. But on the next visit, the salsa was absolutely delicious – vibrant red with layers of flavor and its wonderful heat maintained.
While I was pleased to be enjoying some chips and salsa the second time around, the experience also unfortunately revealed some grave inconsistency in the kitchen. But perhaps it was indicative of dining at Tres Hermanas in general – the food is sometimes good, often just okay and occasionally truly disappointing.
The giant plate of carnitas – fried pork seasoned with citrus for $12.99 – was tasty and satisfying. But honestly, it’s probably difficult to make fatty, fried pork actually taste bad. The side of guacamole – chunky, delectable and unfortunately a tad too small – livened up the slightly dry serving of meat.
The carne asada also had a nice flavor, kissed with an unusual sweetness. The thin, tender slices of Niman Ranch sirloin are grilled with onions and, like the carnitas, are served with guacamole, pico de gallo and a couple of tortillas for $12.99. As a stand-alone entrée though, the carne asada portion is certainly on the petite side.
Given the cost, a lot of the portions at Tres Hermanas seem ridiculously small. The dinner entrée of two tacos, for instance, is $12.99 when you could easily get a similar meal at Taqueria Guadalajara for $7.99. If I’m paying roughly $6 per taco, I expect greatness. While the carne asada tacos were nice, they were definitely underwhelming for the price.
Continuing with the less than thrilling experiences, the steak fajitas ($12.99) were bland and uninspired. The strips of sirloin were slightly too well done, while the red and green bell peppers were not cooked enough. The chicken mole ($13.99) began with excitement – the sauce of chocolate, peanuts, spices and seven kinds of peppers revealed new flavors with each bite. Halfway through, however, the mole became a bit too rich and smoky.
The low point of the meal was certainly the chili rellenos ($12.99). The chilaca peppers are dipped in batter, stuffed with cheese, cooked and topped with Ranchera sauce and more cheese. The absolutely excellent flavor coming from the pepper and sauce was unfortunately rendered nearly inedible due to the textural disaster occurring on the plate. The pepper – small and slender – is dipped in far too much breading, becoming soggy under the heavy downpour of Ranchera. Served next to refried beans, which are also soft and covered in melted cheese, virtually the entire plate consisted of mush.
But there was also a high point; a point so high that I would consider returning to Tres Hermanas in attempts to encounter other forms of greatness on the menu. Diners have a slew of options for a plate of two enchiladas ($11.99 or $12.99 to mix and match) – fillings are either cheese, chicken, beef or carnitas and can be topped with mole, verde or roja, a mild red sauce made from chiles. The verde sauce, made from tomatillos, jalapenos and Serrano peppers, is an absolute gem. The spicy green lush compliments the tender, succulent shredded beef beautifully.
All entrées come with not only the standard beans and rice, but a choice of salad or the soup of the day. A noodle soup with tender carrots in a slightly tangy broth made from tomatoes, peppers and onions was simple but tasty. The salads, however, proved to be a repeated problem. Obviously hurriedly prepared, lettuce leaves continually had water droplets clinging to them, diluting the dressing’s flavor. The house creamy cilantro dressing probably once contained subtle notes of fresh herbs, but that was all drowned out by the puddle of water left at the bottom of the bowl.
Tres Hermanas also offers a good deal of options for pescatarians, such as shrimp fajitas ($13.99) and tilapia ceviche tostadas ($12.99). Vegetarians have nine entrées to choose from, with some featuring bounties of vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers and squash. But the pricing on some vegetarian items are outrageous – a cheese quesadilla with tomatoes, onions or pico de gallo for $9.99? Seriously?
Yes, Tres Hermanas offers something no other Mexican joint in Davis has: a pleasant dining experience equipped with friendly servers, a lively bar, festive murals and even Moroccan star lanterns. But in general, the atmosphere can’t make up for the faults in the food and the food doesn’t justify its prices.
JANELLE BITKER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.