Family style

A lot of love, and time, goes into the meals at new mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant

On the table at Tres Maria’s: two seafood tacos (one fish, one shrimp) and the poblano relleno plate. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Unless a patron with the name happens to stop by, you won’t find anyone named Maria at Tres Maria’s. But, when the doors are open, you will be warmly greeted by co-owner Sonia Montes, who is happy to explain the name.

“These are the three Marias, although none of them is actually named Maria,” Montes offered without being prompted, beaming as she held up a picture that permanently graces her host station. “Me and my beautiful daughters—Sonia Elizabeth and Jocelyne Caroline.”

Tres Maria’s, which is housed in the space on Park Avenue where Sicilian Cafe was formerly located, opened in March, fulfilling Montes’ longtime goal of opening a restaurant with her husband, co-owner Jose Rios. Rios is a long-time chef with decades of commercial kitchen experience, while Montes worked for the last 35 years as a hairdresser. Their restaurant dreams were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and further complicated by storm damage sustained in late September that closed their doors for a few weeks.

The couple prepare all the food together and are the restaurant’s primary employees (they get some help with the dishes, Montes said). They run the place six days a week, making it a true mom-and-pop business. Though the staffing decision has financial benefits—important for any restaurant in its early days—Montes said it’s all about quality control.

“It’s too hard to find somebody to do the recipes the way that they need to be done,” she said. “Sometimes they want to make the recipes like they make in another place, or they say, ‘Oh, this way is more faster …’ She stopped cold and shook her finger in a chiding fashion. “No, no, no! Here it all has to be step-by-step and like the recipes say! These are our family recipes and we want them to have all the time they need.”

The three “Marias”: Tres Maria’s co-owner Sonia Montes holds a picture of her with her two daughters (none of whom are named Maria). (Photo by Ken Smith)

The interior of Tres Maria’s is simple, clean, uncluttered, and mostly decorated in shades of gray, though the neutral motif is offset by a tidal wave-sized splash of color filling one wall—a photograph of the colorful city of Guanajuato, Mexico. On my most recent visit, Montes was putting up Christmas decorations, including a full-sized tree decorated with pictures of the restaurant’s happy diners.

My partner and I visited a bit on the late side (relative to the eatery’s closing time) on a Saturday evening and found the restaurant uncrowded. The menu, like the décor, is simple, elegant and easy to read. All of the standards (tacos, burritos, quesadillas with choices of meat) are available, as are a number of unique main courses. The entries for the main course entree feature the region of Mexico from which the dish originates. They also serve wine and beer, and that night they offered select Mexican brews for $2 each.

We started our meal with the cuatro flautas ($12)—sumptuous shredded carnitas in cripsy rolled flour tortillas garnished with house-made salsa, sour cream, lettuce and cotija cheese—from the short list of appetizers. An excellent kickoff for the meal to come.

My date ordered the Del Mar tacos ($16)—two battered fish and/or shrimp tacos (she chose one of each) topped with salsa Bandera and chipotle crema. (It’s usually garnished with a Mexican coleslaw but she’s allergic to cabbage, so Rios in the kitchen substituted it with fresh shredded lettuce.) Rather than a few small pieces of fish, the fish taco was filled with a thick, perfectly fried filet. I took a few bites and appreciated whatever kitchen wizardry gave it a distinctive, garlicky flavor.

I opted for the poblano relleno ($17)—the namesake pepper stuffed full of cheese, battered in egg whites, and covered in a light and zesty tomato sauce. Chile relleno in any form is one of my favorite dishes in the world, and Tres Maria’s definitely competes with some of the best I’ve ever had. Here, as it is traditionally, it was accompanied by delicious sides of rice and beans.

I’m also a big fan of mole sauce, and Montes brought out a small bit of chicken drenched in the savory slightly spicy sauce made with dark chocolate that whetted my appetite for my next visit. It wasn’t until after our meal that Montes said their Mole Tres Maria is listed first on the menu because it’s their house specialty.

“It has more than 30 ingredients … all sorts of little pinches of this and that … and it takes us more than six hours to prepare,” she said. “At least two of those hours are doing this …” Montes stirred an imaginary pot with an imaginary spoon before feigning shoulder pain and laughing.

Another family favorite, which Montes said she makes for birthday parties and other holiday celebrations, is pozole—a traditional pork soup—which the restaurant just began serving on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through the winter months.

Tres Maria’s is a bit more pricey than most other local Mexican cuisine options, but well worth it for a date night or a splurge. The atmosphere is comfortable and cozy, the service is incredibly warm, and the food is next level. I’m eager to make my way through the entire menu.

Tres Maria’s
1020 Main St.
(530) 519-9949

Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

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