Atmosphere: Plain carryout.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday; noon to 7 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
Price range: 75 cents for a red bean taco to $6.20 for shrimp catalanes; most dinners in $3 to $4 range.
Credit cards: None accepted.
Special facilities: Parking in lot adjacent to restaurant; entrance is not easily accessible to wheelchairs; no booster seats or high chairs.
Every family needs to know the name of a good plumber, a good doctor and a good carryout. If the carryout, in addition, has tables where you can plunk your family down and avoid even the smallest amount of cleanup, so much the better.
In most people's neighborhoods, the carryouts run from fried chicken to Chinese and back to chicken again. But if you live anywhere near Hyattsville or College Park, you have a Spanish alternative.
Casa Baez is a family-run establishment offering Spanish/Cuban food equivalent in quality to what is offered in some local restaurants for twice the price. Dishes are made from scratch and you can order a single taco or a complicated paella--or create your own smorgasbord by ordering separate items. Making your own combination plate of tamales, taco and fried plaintains, for instance, would cost less than $3.
All entrees come with generous servings of traditional Spanish accompaniments: black beans and rice. You won't leave Casa Baez hungry, and the food is uniformly delicious and inexpensive. Except for three dishes containing pricey seafood, nothing at Casa Baez costs more than $4.
At these prices, Casa Baez is strictly a no-frills operation. There are a few plastic-topped tables in a plain room harshly lit by fluorescent light.
You place your order at the counter and claim it when you are called. Dishes and utensils are plastic. Expect to pay extra for bread and butter. If you want comfort, you probably ought to carry your food home. But either way, you will get a delicious, stick-to-your ribs meal.
Most items on the menu are self-explanatory, but the young man behind the counter just inside the door will explain the preparation and seasoning of a dish.
Two very popular ones are masitas de puerco ($3.45), nicely roasted pork morsels served with a mound of sauteed onions, and ropa vieja ($4), which translates literally "old rags." This seasoned shredded beef dish is deservedly a traditional favorite.
Spanish food is not highly seasoned. If you like something spicier, try Mexican style chicken ($3.05) or Mexican chicken enchiladas ($3.30), both large servings of tender shredded chicken dressed in a piquant sauce.
Unlike the enchiladas served elsewhere, Casa Baez's are rolled, crisp corn tortillas with the filling served on top instead of inside. Cuban Tamales ($1) are similarly served with their delicious filling atop soft corn meal rolls.
A beef taco ($1.40) contains shredded beef, much like ropa vieja, instead of the more usual ground beef. Our 11 year-old daughter prefers what she is used to and thought the shredded beef too chewy for a taco.
We blew an extra $1.10 sampling pasteles puertoriquenos, a combination of shredded plaintains, pork, garbanzo beans, olives and seasonings, shaped into a rectangular loaf and apparently steamed. It was hearty and good, but not a must for next time.
Spanish custard (50 cents) and bread pudding (55 cents), Casa Baez's desserts, may be purchased in individual cups or in family-size pans to take home. The custard is exceptionally good. And don't pass up the chance to sample Ironbeer, a delightfully refreshing Cuban soft drink that tastes like a light cream soda.
Then smile all the way home, because a delicious dinner out cost you only $4 a person. Five of us had dinner, dessert and drinks for $20.15, tax included--much less than either the plumber or the doctor would have charged.