The arrival of a good, cheap Mexican joint in Paris will probably hardly elicit a stir from many of you. But for those like me who are fellow lovers of Mexican or Tex-Mex food and are expatriated outside of the U.S., then I'm sure that you can understand my excitement! Rice and Beans, a newly opened California-style Mex joint (it used to a California-style sushi joint called, aptly, Rice and Fish) has been getting a good buzz from lots of Paris-based food blogs and restaurant review sites, both in French and English. So Luis and I went to check it out the other night. I tried not to have too high of hopes, fearing disappointment, but the moment that I saw the extensive selection of hot sauces, the mention of homemade corn tortillas and a molcajete that is actually used for making chili paste rather than just for decoration, I knew that the face of Mexican/Tex-Mex cuisine in Paris had forever changed...
But maybe all of this is changing. Even though most Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurants here are sad, unauthentic and watered down versions of the real thing made to suit unadventurous French palates (as is the case with most other "ethnic" restaurants here, with the exception of those hailing from former French colonies), there seem to be many glimmers of hope. A hole in the wall taqueria called El Nopal recently opened near the Canal Saint Martin. A Chipotle imitator called Cactus followed suit, in the 9th arrondissement. There's even talk of Chipotle itself coming over here!
And it seems that maybe, just maybe, the French are coming to realize that Mexican/Tex-Mex doesn't have to be guacamole from a jar or Old El Paso taco kits. Mexican cuisine was aptly declared by UNESCO as part of the world's intangible heritage, just like French gastronomy was. This year marks the Year of Mexico in France (Année du Mexique en France), which thus far has included a fortnight devoted to Mexican products at the food megastore Lafayette Gourmet and workshops and tastings of tequila, Mexican chocolate and other goodies. So I can just imagine that Rice and Beans, already pakced on a regular basis it would seem, is only going to get more popular!
With some cool grafitti-style window art, you get the feeling as you enter Rice and Beans that it definitely won't be your typical Parisian Mexican/Tex-Mex spot. A small but warm bar area (where eating is welcome!) and an open plan kitchen in the front room are decorated with an impressive variety of hot sauces, restaurant and neighborhood guides, chalkboards with the menu including the tacos du jour scribbled on and some cool posters. We were greeted with smiles (a rarity in Paris!) and seated promptly after a quick 5 minute wait.
The main dining room is small but filled with communal, cantine-style tables which I loved. Dimly lit with some neon fixtures (which unfortunately compromised the quality of most of these photos), the space is decorated with a few Frida Kahlo relics, some Mexican religious candles and funky art. None of the fake cacti and sombreros which typically make up Mexican decor here, not that I could see anyway. The tables were haphazardly stocked with different hot sauces and the biggest molcajete that I have ever seen (with a delicious house-made chili paste).
The menu at Rice and Beans is short but has got all the Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex basics. Guacamole and chips, ceviche and black bean soup as starters. Tacos (with house-made corn tortillas, at the bargain price of 3 euros each), burritos and tamales. A vegetarian version of everything, even the tamales! Cheesecake and Mexican chocolate ice cream for dessert. A decent selection of Mexican beers (and French wines). There's also a weekend brunch with huevos rancheros, chipotle benedict and other promising-sounding dishes.
We started with some guacamole and chips. Though I was expecting the worst, being a somewhat tough judge of guacamole (again, I grew up in Texas!), we were both pleasantly surprised. The tortilla chips weren't made on the premises, that was very apparent, but the guacamole was fresh and tasty. I typically like my guacamole to be a bit spicier (is this a surprise?) and chunkier than the version at Rice and Beans, with lots of tomato and red onion, but I can fully concede that guacamole is a very personal matter. We both agreed that Rice and Beans does a really good version. So far, so good...
My "el super" burrito filled with grilled vegetables, rice, beans, guacamole, salsa and crème fraîche (the closest thing we have to sour cream here) was just that...super! Fresh (everything at Rice and Beans is made to order), almost American in size and tasty fillings (especially with a bit of the nicely vinegary Tapatio hot sauce added on)...now that's my idea of a good burrito! Accompanied by a tasty cumin-spiced black bean and corn salad and chased down with a Sol beer (they were unfortunately out of Corona), it was perfect.
Luis opted for a taco combo with three tacos (one carnitas, one chipotle chicken, one grilled vegetable), served with rice and black beans. The tacos were indeed made with house-made corn tortillas and were zesty and delicious. Rice and Beans has additional, different tacos du jour each day (chorizo or grilled scallops on the day of our visit).
We were too full to try the dessert (and I had to bring half of my almost American-sized burrito home, as apparently my stomach is no longer American-sized), but we vowed to come back soon for that and for the delicious-sounding brunch. On our way out, we ran into the nice guy who makes the corn tortillas. Just in case you want proof that the tortillas are indeed made on the premises, here you go...Monsieur Tortilla in action! You can even buy a pack to take home.
Fresh and tasty, cheap (for Parisian standards), really nice and friendly service, a cool and funky vibe...this is Rice and Beans. For Mexican food-starved American expats (who are apparently already flocking there in numbers), Frenchies who are eager to try some real Mexican/Tex-Mex, visiting tourists who tire of eating French every day...definitely check out Rice and Beans, you won't be sorry that you did!
Rice and Beans
22, rue Greneta
Tel: +33 (0)1 73 70 46 09
Open 12-3pm and 7:30-11pm, Closed Mondays
Check out David Lebovitz's recent, excellent round-up of Mexican restaurants in Paris, including Rice and Beans, here.