Smile Politely

Tres Nopales in Downtown Urbana serves affordable Mexican cuisine

On Race Street in Downtown Urbana, you’ll find Tres Nopales, a new restaurant in a historic building. Built around 1885, the building has recently been added to the Historic Downtown District and to the Imagine Urbana Tour this May 2021. Not that anyone needs an excuse to enjoy fine Mexican cuisine, but the self-guided walking tour is an added bonus. 

Don’t let the exterior of Tres Nopales fool you; the inside is roomier than you would imagine. The booths are roomy and comfortable. I am a person who places a premium on comfort. There is nothing worse than trying to eat when your gut is being pushed in by the table. 

The interior of Tres Nopales has many empty black booths, black barstools at the bar, and wooden, shiny tables. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

I counted seven booths, three tables, and 12 bar seats in Tres Nopales’ warm and inviting decor. There was some nice artwork, and I was drawn to the avocado art because avos are awesome. Now, let’s get to the food.

At Tres Nopales in Downtown Urbana, there are two cups of water with a lemon wedge, a white bowl of red salsa, and a basket lined with parchment paper and filled with tortilla chips. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

As with most Mexican restaurants, chips and salsa were complimentary at Tres Nopales. The tightwad in me hates to confess this, but I would gladly pay for these chips and salsa. The chips came out warm, salted, and perfectly crunchy, but what made this combo outstanding was the salsa. The salsa was made with fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic, onion, and cilantro. It had a sweetness to it at the beginning, followed by some heat at the end. I asked our server what made the sweet, but either he didn’t know or they are not telling! I would not blame them for keeping it a secret. It is truly a unique flavor of salsa, and I could drink a pint of it. 

On a light blue plate, there is a silver spoon and a white bowl full of tortilla soup with crushed tortilla chips on top. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

My wife ordered the chicken tortilla soup ($4.75). When it came out, we were both surprised how generous the portion was. You could have this soup as your meal, and you would be satisfied. It was a chicken soup with vegetables and black beans topped with cheese and tortilla chips. It included a lot of shredded chicken, and the flavor was excellent — with not too much heat. My favorite part was the delicious amount of poblano peppers. Even if you don’t think you like poblanos, I think you would in this dish. 

There are three corn tortilla tacos, one with carne asada, al pastor, and shrimp, on a blue plate on a wooden table. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

I ordered three tacos a la carte: carne asada ($3), al pastor ($3), and shrimp ($2.75). I chose double corn tortillas for my tacos. I loved all three tacos, with carne asada being my favorite. The corn tortillas were light and soft, and the tacos were perfectly seasoned. Each taco was served with onion and cilantro. I even ate the radish garnish! Cilantro is a love it or hate it ingredient. If you love cilantro, you will love these tacos. If you do not love cilantro, ask them to hold it or order one of their other many other options.

A chicken burrito covered in red sauce beside Mexican rice and pinto beans sits on a yellow plate on a wooden table. Photo by Carl Busch.

Photo by Carl Busch.

My wife and I split the lunch version of the chicken burrito with a side of rice and beans ($6.99) — which is code for I ate most of it, but, at least, I offered to share. The burrito was large and topped with cheese and red sauce on the side. The red sauce, like the salsa, was excellent and had a sweet element to it, followed by some mild heat. The inside had a generous amount of tasty chicken seasoned very well. 

We had a wonderful time, and our meal was $22 plus tip. My Tres Nopales go-to dish are the enchiladas verdes, but I decided to venture on some new items and was not disappointed. The service was prompt and friendly. 

Do yourself a favor, and enjoy some excellent Mexican food at Tres Nopales in Downtown Urbana.

Tres Nopales
114 S Race St
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. + 5 to 9:30 p.m., daily

Top image by Carl Busch.

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