Someday there may be cleverly named cafes for driverless cars, robots and bike lanes, but as Pittsburgh hurtles toward the future, those looking to open eating and drinking establishments branded with an immediate sense of place frequently draw from two metaphorical wells: local history and geography.
Founding fathers (The Commoner, Braddock’s), industrial titans and famous sons (Andys) have all had their names co-opted, not to mention all manner of industrial nostalgia, from blast furnaces (Dorothy 6) to byproducts (Blue Dust, Pig Iron Public House) to fairly generic titles (The Foundry, Industry Public House, Steel Cactus). There are peaks (The Summit, Hilltoppers, Bella Vista) and, of course, rivers (see: Casino, Club).
So when the folks behind reliably good local Mexican family restaurant Emiliano’s opened a cooler concept on the South Side, called Tres Rios — “three rivers” in Spanish — it was such a perfectly simple name it’s amazing no one had thought of this before.
Given historical regional demographics, how was there not already German schnitzel emporium dubbed Die Drei Flussen? Or an Italian house of sauce, Tre Fiumi? A Polish pierogi palace called Trzy Rzeki would be a layup, as would an Irish pub with the Gaelic name of Trí Aibhneacha.
But Tres Rios it is, and guests are greeted by a mural of a luche libre mask and a Warhol-esque triptych of colorful tacos. The interior is attractive and contemporary but still comfortable.
An initial visit shortly after the November opening left a bit to be desired — for instance, a pork belly taco that was not unlike this writer’s physique: full of fat but no meat. And although billed as a tequila bar, the selection was rather basic.
Both are since much improved. The latter is well-employed on a slate of creative agave-based beverages. The former mostly well-prepared Tex-Mex favorites with a little flair.
An order of the duck tacos (three for $12) yielded excellent soft shells with a light crisp, a tangy cream, crunchy slaw and juicy, tender and nicely seasoned meat. That was likewise the case with the barbacoa burrito ($13) with a deliciously marinated, roasted and shredded lamb and a light ancho barbecue sauce. The Mexicuban sandwich ($14) was an excellent and spicy bite of chorizo, ham, turkey, Swiss and a hot chile ancho mayonnaise on grilled ciabatta bread.
The shrimp ceviche ($12) was a miss, as it lacked any citrus taste.
However, that sourness was present in the service. Loudly complaining about customers — right in front of other customers (even if it’s merited, which in this case it was not) — as one employee did, is poor hospitality, not to mention you never know who might be listening.
But, everyone has a bad night. And just as the food and drink have improved at Tres Rios, no doubt this is a fixable hiccup as well. Plus, it has fried ice cream, so any future visits by Munch will end on a sweet note one way or another.
Tres Rios: 1719 E. Carson St., South Side; 412-930-0868; www.tresriospgh.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412.