It used to be there was a slice joint on every block. These days, it’s almost beginning to seem as though there are just as many barbecue spots. And the Texan invasion continues, most recently in the Flatiron’s newest restaurant Tres Carnes, which follows old-school slice joint Maffei in its old Sixth Avenue and 22nd corner spot. Well, not quite Texan — Texas smoked Mexican fare, or "Texican" as it’s being called by its executive chef Sasha Shor.
While it’s sad to see an old-school slice joint go, any slice-seeking Flatiron office worker familiar with the hood’s lunch options would tell you there hadn’t been love put into any of Maffei’s food for years. Even as the once pizza-bereft neighborhood gained outposts of one pie institution after another (first Grimaldi’s, then Zero Otto Nove), pies veered from average to criminal, and steam table pastas behind the plexiglass were almost as sad as the state of the average New York City slice since $1 pizza became the norm. Maffei was tired and dirty. Its successor Tres Carnes is neither.
Behind the mustachioed glass door is a clean, well-lit quick-service dining room with counters lining the windows facing both streets, and a small kitchen with a smoker that seems too big to have gotten through the restaurant’s doorway as it stands now.
The menu? Think sanely sized burritos with Texan flavors, flavors Shor has had help developing from pitmaster Mike Rodriguez who worked at Texas' famous The Salt Lick for about a decade. You can "wrap, fold, or layer" 16-hour smoked brisket; adobo and lime dry-rubbed, smoked chicken; and barbecue pork shoulder in a flour burrito, white corn tortillas, or over rice — arroz verde (rice with cilantro, poblanos, green onion, and lime) or Mexican yellow rice (sweet red peppers, onions, and cilantro) — greens, and beans.
Speaking of beans, there are Mexican beer-soaked blackeyes, or pintos with smoked pork, chorizo, and chiles, which if you squint and imagine jalapeños in them, aren’t far off from the addictive complementary version at a small-town, locals-only barbecue joint called The Hard Eight that I’ve gotten addicted to when visiting Stephenville, Texas.
There are four salsas: the salsa fresca (mild), charred tomatillo (medium), fire-roasted tomato adobo (hot), and tres fuegos diablo ("XXX Hot"). And the fillings, street-cart esquites, roasted chipotle squash, and "smashed and smoky guac" are also featured as sides with rice and beans, and a brisket burnt ends chili that steals the show. (Seriously, stop in for a cup.)
There are four micheladas: "mariachi" (on rocks with lime), "de humo" (dark beer, rocks, lime, and chipotle purée), "chelada classica" (rocks, salt, lime, and Valentino hot sauce, Tres Carnes’ house hot sauce); and "spiked Mexican limeade" (rocks and housemade limeade). There’s Mexican Coke of course, as well as other Mexican sodas, along with two refreshing agua frescas: cucumber-apple-lime, and fresh agave limeade.
Sweet-seekers should stop in on Monday when Tres Carnes’ leftover double-smoked churro donuts get transformed into a slightly eggy, but beautifully crusted bread pudding.