It’s sometimes hard to tell with all the war, injustice, and intentionally incompatible phone chargers, but there are actually lots of good things in this world. Food, books, music, unmetered parking spots, and squirrels that eat acorns with their hands like bushy little humans are some examples that come to mind. Fortunately, there’s a place in Jamaica Plain where you can enjoy three of those things under the same roof. Tres Gatos is a restaurant that brings tapas, contemporary fiction, and ’90s hip-hop albums together in one place, and should probably win some kind of humanitarian award for doing so (someone check with Bono and Angelina Jolie to see if there are any left).
You feel better about the world as soon as you walk in for dinner here, most likely because the space was someone’s actual living room in the relatively recent past - Tres Gatos was built into the first floor of one of those old wood-frame houses that you’ll find all over Boston’s outer neighborhoods. But instead of a Grandpa sleeping on a faded leather recliner in the corner, you’ll find crowds of people eating and drinking around high-top tables while the music blasts. As you sit at the small countertop next to the old fireplace, you get the feeling that a cat is going to brush against your legs while you’re finishing off your shishito peppers.
You’ll find the books and records in the back, in a setup that looks less like a store and more like the basement of a friend who has a hoarding problem, but also good taste. And even if you don’t buy anything, you’ll get to experience the collection because instead of relying on Spotify’s Generic Cool Restaurant Playlist, Tres Gatos plays its records in the restaurant. The potential that you may end up listening to an entire Hootie and the Blowfish album (an experience that starts out terrible, becomes awesome by track five, and then comes back around to terrible 20 minutes later) adds a sense of adventure and even a little risk to your dining experience.
The food here is not going to blow you away, but there are a few lovable dishes that should hit your table. The lentils with shishito relish and a runny egg will be what you want to eat whenever the temperature dips below 40 degrees. And the chickpea fritters with a garlicky tzatziki are perfectly crisped. Most of the menu though - like the patatas bravas, which are ultimately just a decent snack - fall into the “gets the job done” category. But since the job requirements in this case involve providing you with good bites while you order another cocktail and discuss the soundtrack with the next table, you won’t be complaining.
Tres Gatos is a place that invites you in to have some good food, read books, and listen to music. Ideally, that would be the tagline for Earth, but since that place also burdens us with awful things like inequality and tortilla chips that break when you dip them into salsa, we’ll stick with Tres Gatos. Someone tell whichever UN committee that hands out awards for making the world a better place to come to JP.
How did raisins become the go-to dried fruit snack? Try one of these blue cheese-stuffed dates and you’ll agree - Big Raisin must be destroyed.
You already know that a runny egg makes everything better, now you also know that a runny egg mixed with spicy shishito relish makes a bowl of lentils the best dish at Tres Gatos.
No offense to ketchup, but hazelnut romesco and lemon aioli make for a way better condiment for fried potatoes. Someone get Heinz on the phone.
“Fritter” and “chickpea” are two of the most adorable food words we have, making this dish the tapas version of that surprised kitten video. It’s also really good.
These are served with salt cod “espuma” (that’s a fancy word for foam, and it turns out to be awesome) and “sea beans,” which are succulents that grow in marshes. Please use the time we just saved you from Googling those words in the restaurant to make the world a better place.
These probably should’ve been grilled a little more, because they lack those thin, perfectly charred Brussels sprout leaves that crumble apart in your mouth like you’re eating the Declaration of Independence. The mixture of labne, mint, and horseradish is pretty good, though.
It’s a lamb burger and it’s a little overcooked, but the za’atar aioli makes up for it.