Melding a vibrant modern interior and consistently raucous diners with the classic tastes of Mexico, Tres Carnales offers up a bright, flavourful dining experience that’ll simultaneously sucker-punch each of your senses. Exiting the restaurant into a sound-muffled, softly snow-covered Rice Howard Way is like leaving war-riddled England and stepping into the densely quiet Narnian winter. It’s disconcerting.

The restaurant really tries to pay tribute to all of the brilliance that has come out of Mexico. Bottles, figurines, and masks adorn the brightly-coloured walls and fill the restaurant’s shelves, while kitschy star lanterns hang from the ceiling. All of the artwork is lovely, although the Frida Kahlo portrait was definitely the cherry on the Mexican cake.

One of Tres Carnales’ major downfalls, though, is the size. There’s room for only a handful of tables in the restaurant; that, paired with the fortuitous Downtown location, makes it difficult to get seated during peak hours. Line-ups for a weekday lunch stretch outside of the door. While the popularity makes it more desirable, it also gives the restaurant a hipster-esque feel, as if the fuddy-duddy diners who like to take their time and enjoy quiet calm while they eat aren’t welcome here. And, to be fair, it was mostly a younger crowd I saw piling inside of the doors to escape the cold.

Tres Carnales’ tagline is “Real Mexican food.” In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’ve never been to Mexico and my primary experience with tacos comes from working in a Tex Mex restaurant for over 5 years. As a result, I’m partial to flour tacos and Tres Carnales only serves corn tacos. Normally this would be cause for dismissal, but it’s what Tres Carnales puts inside of those corn tortillas that makes the restaurant so well-worth visiting.

The Tinga Poblana tacos were on special during our visit, so Funmi gave them a shot. These tacos were filled with pulled pork and chipotle peppers, stewed and slow-cooked to tender, flavourful perfection. They were served with a light salsa verde for dipping.

I tried a Chorizo Quesadilla, filled with house-made mexican ground chorizo sausage and oodles of cheese. These were very tasty, although a little greasy. I’m a huge fan of Spanish chorizo, which isn’t as oily, but the Mexican iteration of the sausage went very well in the corn tortillas. They were served with guacamole, which was a little blander than the guacamole I make for myself at home (hint: I use lots of garlic, onions, tiny diced tomatoes, lemon juice, and salt, along with plenty of mashed avocado…and sometimes some dried chili flakes to spice things up). Nevertheless, it was nice to be able to complement the decadent richness of the quesadilla with a cool, fresh guacamole dip.

On a whim, Funmi and I ordered the Papas Fritas to share: a mound of Russet potatoes topped with guajillo chile mayo, queso fresco onions, and cilantro. This side is definitely a must-try; the chile mayo was rich and delicious without being too thick. A perfect addition to our corn tortilla entrées!

One of the owners, Chris Sills (el Surfo), made the rounds of the restaurant during our visit to ensure that everyone was enjoying their dining experience. I’ve read some reviews that disapprove of the restaurant’s minimal service policy (which means that diners usually order at the counter, just like at Famoso), but in the two times I’ve eaten here I’ve never found the customer service wanting.

For one of the owners to concern themselves with the happiness of the dining room means that this restaurant generally cares about the public opinion. No, they won’t be standing by with a white cloth on their arm, waiting to pour you a fresh glass of wine, but this isn’t the restaurant you go to for a fine dining experience. If Tres Carnales is anything, it’s fun, it’s vibrant, and it’s extremely low-key. And the food is pretty damn good, too.

Tres Carnales Taqueira
10119 100A Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 0R5
(780) 429-0911
*Note: does not take reservations