Rice and beans are known everywhere as the international peasant food. And, by peasant, I also mean my fellow broke Brooklyn villagers. For pence and pesos, this classic dish has fed the poor throughout the ages, and seemingly every culture in the world has its own version. So, where should one go in Brooklyn to feast on this cheap, albeit delicious meal? Here are six restaurants where you can’t go wrong.
My favorite rice and beans dish comes from the Guyanese & Trinidadian Roti Shop in Downtown Brooklyn (144 Lawrence St.). This small restaurant can be reached immediately by exiting the Lawrence St. R train station at the Lawrence/Willioughby St. S.E. corner. The interior is painted in the warm greens and yellows of the Caribbean, and small plates of rice and peas, vegetables, plantains and stewed chicken will set you back only $5.50. If you can muster the extra expenditure, I recommend the medium sized plate of jerk chicken, rice and peas, and plantains for $9. I once lived on that hearty (and spicy) meal for two and a half days.
My second pick is the Mexican Le Fe Restaurant, directly across the street from the 36th St. train station in Sunset Park (941 Fourth Ave. at 36th Street). Possibly the best bang for few bucks, you can get a very large plate of either yellow or white rice with a cup of beans on the side for either $3 or $3.50, depending on who’s working the counter on that day. When I come here, I also get an order of maduros, fried sweet plantains, for an extra $2.50. It’s a very large platter chock full of huge, moist, glazed chunks of the fruit. I take this meal home, further slice these babies up over my rice and beans, and after dousing the concoction with hot sauce, I’m fuller than a bedbug in a Bushwick mattress. I’ve been known to stretch this meal out over a three-day period.
It’s well known to all of my Twitter friends that my favorite restaurant in Brooklyn is Bogota Bistro in Park Slope (141 Fifth Ave.). Bogota Bistro’s Colombian influenced yellow rice and red beans will set you back $6, or $3 per item. If anything, the rice and beans at this establishment is more along the lines of an appetizer rather than a standalone meal, but well worth it as a side dish to go along with a couple drinks on a penny-pinching night out.
At the suggestion of a friend, I checked out the Peruvian Super Pollo Restaurant in the corner of Sunset Park (4102 Fifth Ave. at 41st St.). The yellow rice is served with tiny bits of peas and carrots, and the red beans are stewed with large bits of pork. The total price of this meal came to $3.50 and, though not my absolute favorite, it amounted to a lot of food that could be eaten in roughly two sittings. The highlight was the green hot sauce that’s served on the side.
If you’re anywhere near the Gowanus or window-shopping along the Smith Street strip, I highly recommend actually buying something at the Dominican El Nuevo Portal (217 Smith St.), namely their $2 small portion of yellow rice mixed with pigeon peas. This little meal was the perfect size for me to be comfortably full, and you really can’t beat that for the price. The larger portion of either this or the red beans with white rice costs $6, and for the size and flavors, it’s definitely worth the expenditure. The large dish could definitely suffice for two meals.
In terms of accessibility, you can’t do any better than the “Caribbean Latina” El Yayo Nuevo (5823 Fourth Ave. at 59th St.) that literally sits at the top of the stairs descending into the 59th St. N and R lines. For $4, you get a full plate of rice and beans mixed together, infused with onions. I’m used to having the rice served separately from the beans, so that the gravy saturates the rice to my liking. Not so at this place. A cup of beans on the side would have set me back another $1.50. I was disappointed until I tried the food and loved it. The rice and beans, though cooked together, were still very moist and the portion size was large enough for leftovers.
I mentioned earlier that rice and beans is, traditionally, a low cost dish. What does it cost to make it quickly and easily on your own? At the aptly named Bravo Supermarket for Values, I found a 20 oz pop-top can of ready-to-serve beans for $1.99 and a 10 lb. bag of Goya rice for around $8. That really put the rice and beans restaurant markup into perspective. Although I loved the added touches from all of these places, instead of saving money by eating cheaply at restaurants, why not try making your own?