An outstanding new restaurant in downtown Leesville reflects the changing flavors of small town Louisiana
by Chris Jay
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When Rico Sanchez and his wife, Brenda, moved to Leesville recently, they noticed something.
“We didn’t see a variety of restaurants here,” Rico said. “We saw a lot of Mexican restaurants, but most of the Hispanics here were Puerto Ricans. My wife loves to cook, so we started selling lunches from home. From there, my wife decided to follow her dreams and to open the restaurant.”
Brenda’s Kitchen Puerto Rican Cuisine opened at 114 S. 3rd Street in downtown Leesville on Sept. 27, 2021. The casual restaurant has been a hit with Hispanic and non-Hispanic audiences alike, serving Puerto Rican favorites like mofongo, carne frita, arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), scratch-made empanadas (including the fantastic-sounding pizza empanada), and more. They stock the Puerto Rican sodas Coco Rico and Kola Champagne, and serve three varieties (cream cheese, vanilla, and coconut) of Brenda’s rich, velvety flan for dessert. Salsa music plays on a stereo as music videos cycle on a pair of wall-mounted flatscreen televisions. Mardi Gras masks and Puerto Rican flags decorate the tables.
The restaurant’s location—a charming downtown address that originally opened as Leesville Sandwich Shop in 1922—adds to the enjoyment of the remarkable food. An antique Leesville Café sign that hangs above the entrance to Brenda’s is “like a trademark for the city,” Rico said.
“Even though we have the Puerto Rican flags outside of the restaurant, I’m leaving the Leesville Café sign there. Lots of our customers have memories of when they ate here when it was Leesville Café. That’s the reason I’m not taking down the sign, it’s something out of respect for the people around town.”
And how have the people around town responded to Puerto Rican cuisine?
“Most people here are crazy about beans and pork,” he said with a laugh, alluding to the two things that Puerto Rican cooking arguably does best. “They can taste all of the seasonings, the rich flavors in our beans, rices, and meats. Everybody that comes will find something similar to wherever they came from.”
Rico said that Brenda’s culinary prowess comes from her grandfather, a revered cook named Nitin Acevedo.
“Brenda came from a place called San Lorenzo, in a city called Morovis in Puerto Rico. Her family is from what you might call a ‘hillbilly’ town. Her family is very dedicated to Puerto Rican cuisine; they used to roast whole pigs and do all kinds of rices, and Brenda would help her grandfather cook. So she has a lot of experience.”
The highlight of my meal was the carne frita ($15), a platter of golden fried chunks of marinated pork that are almost like tender cracklins served with pigeon peas and fragrant yellow rice. I ordered vanilla flan ($3), which was outstanding, before learning that cream cheese flan is Brenda’s specialty. I’ll have to try it next time.
Brenda’s Kitchen Puerto Rican Cuisine (Facebook page)
114 S. 3rd Street
3 thoughts on “Review: Brenda’s Kitchen Puerto Rican Cuisine”
Oh, WOW! I might just be tempted to drive to Leesville for that … and really good flan is my passion! Giddy-up, SidFord … AWAY!
Thank you, Sylvia! If you’re anywhere near central or southwest Louisiana, it’s worth a detour or even a road trip. Please report back RE: the cream cheese flan LOL. -Chris
Oh man, you’ve got me salivating now Chris!
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