During my week of transitioning jobs, I had some free time to catch up with some friends in Pittsburgh. Before the $1 taco night at Patron Mexican Grill on Monday, I went to Tres Rios for lunch. I went with my friend Will, who I used to work with at Kennywood. We loved working in the rides department and have many memories together working the Thunderbolt and Raging Rapids. Anyway, Tres Rios (named for Pittsburgh’s three rivers) is located on 1719 East Carson Street in Southside. This is one of the newest Mexican kitchen and Tequila bars in the area.
As I waited for Will to arrive, I took note of the beautiful and stylish interior. I loved all the paintings (giant pictures of tacos! I may need something like that for my apartment), colorful walls, a chic looking bar, and the overhead lighting. I especially loved alternating lights fixtures above the bar.
When Will arrived, we did some catching up but most importantly decided on doing a #ClassicTacoSwap. The multitude of tacos here include pork belly, barbacoa, shrimp, beet, fish, pato (duck legs), chicken and carne asada. All the tacos are served in groups of three and include cilantro rice and charred tomatillo salsa. Will ordered the pato and I ordered the pork belly. Yes, I was branching out for once and trying duck in the taco swap.
I was thoroughly impressed by the presentation of the tacos on the wooden board. The tacos were dressed with so much color and the corn tortillas were filled to the brim. The corn shells looked different than any other corn tortillas I have seen. According to the waitress, the corn tortillas are handcrafted in house. They start as a dough ball and are hand pressed, grilled, and then fried real quick. The corn shells had a doughy crepe like appearance and had very rough, uneven edges. The cilantro rice was green so the red onion and tomatoes on top of the rice added an extra pop of color. The tomatillo salsa had the same consistency of applesauce and I could not wait to dip my tacos into it.
I was saving the duck taco for last so I tried the pork belly tacos first. The braised pork belly pan-seared tacos were tossed with a tamarind chile paste and topped with jicama slaw and grilled pineapple.
In case you didn’t know (because I didn’t) here’s an explainer on tamarind. Tamarind trees produce an abundance of long, curved, brown pods filled with small brown seeds. The seeds are surrounded by a sticky pulp that dehydrates naturally to a sticky paste. The tamarind seed extract is said to be sweet, but tart, and sometimes sour and usually mixed with sugar to mellow the strong flavor. Prepackaged tamarind paste can be soaked in water, strained and then easily added to stir fries, sauces, and curries. Tamarind’s natural acidity makes it a great marinade for meat, because the acid can break down and tenderize tougher cuts. I can now see why the pork belly at Tres Rios was so succulent and tender.
Jicama (aka yam bean) is a round, fleshy taproot vegetable of the bean family plants. Its underground starchy root is one of the popular edible tuber-vegetables grown in many parts of Central American, South Asian, Caribbean, and some Andean South American regions. By itself, it tastes like a bite into a savory apple-juicy and sweet, and has a distinct crunch. At Tres Rios, the jicama was used in slaw and made for a nice crunch to the tacos.
I dipped each bite of the pork belly tacos into the tomatillo salsa. The two complimented each other well with the sweetness from the pineapple and the tanginess from the tomatillo salsa. And since the pork belly taco did not have any salsa or sauce on it already, it worked out perfectly. I noticed that Will blended rice into his remaining salsa to finish it off.
My only complaint on the pork belly tacos was that there were strips of thick fat attached to the pork but I should have known that was going to be the case as that’s the nature of the cut.
Next, I tried the duck. The duck legs were marinated and braised in a pepper combination and fresh citrus juice, shredded and topped with mango salsa, jicama slaw and spiced crema. The duck was tender and a little fatty as expected. The spiced crema reminded me of a chipolte mayo dressing. Will actually liked the duck over the pork belly tacos and his reasoning was all in the spiced crema.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the cilantro rice. I am not sure I ever had cilantro rice before but now I love it. It was light, addicting and did not have a over powering cilantro taste.
Now next time I go back to Tres Rios, I would like to try another one of their remarkably prepared tacos, but maybe two meats that are not as fatty as a personal preference.
Price: $11-13 for 3 tacos, rice and salsa