Warm-Ups and Extra Innings: Where to Go Before and After Nats Games
Judging by how well the Washington Nationals are doing already, they are headed for a great season that will likely end with a run into the post-season. While not all of us subscribe to “Natitude,” you will be hard pressed to find a D.C. area resident who will turn down a trip to Nationals Park. The simple idea of watching the game, being outside, cracking peanuts, and drinking an ice cold beer holds universal appeal.
Unfortunately most of us do not have a diet centered around peanuts and stadium beer alone (Men’s Health will you freaking OK that for me? Enough with the paleo!). While there are no shortage of options once you are inside the park itself, the area around the Navy Yard (also known as Southeast, D.C.) is still undergoing redevelopment (a.k.a revitalization) and still lacks the multitude of options one might expect. Many fans will advise you to hit up the Half St. Fairgrounds, while others will suggest Gallery Place/Chinatown; however, if you know where to look, there are some great options nearby for good eats before or after a Nats game. Since I have long been a fan of the area (notwithstanding my loyalty to the Orioles), I took the pleasure of doing the scouting for you.
Eastern Market/ Barracks Row: Just a short jaunt from the Navy Yard, this strip of D.C. has developed into a happening scene of good neighborhood restaurants and bars. Not only does this stretch of Eighth Street, SE provide for some outstanding options for food and drink, but also an alternative metro (just wear comfy shoes for your walk).
Cave Mezze (527 8th St., SE): If you’re looking for a variety of small bites or are attempting a baseball date (I’ve seen it done with great success), this is the place for you. Cava, a fixture of the D.C. metro area since 2006, focuses on serving authentic Greek small plates using only the freshest local ingredients. I highly recommend going for brunch, as well, if you are attending a weekend game. The Cava Fries (hand-cut with oregano, sea salt, & feta) are fantastic and a nice compliment with the Spicy Lamb Benedict. Perfect, especially when dining on the roof deck!
- Matchbox (521 8th St., SE): Another staple, Matchbox toasts the competition when it comes to pizza in Eastern Market. While a visit to their Chinatown location often comes with a very long wait, you will find none of that here due to their larger dining room. You might just show up for a beer (their selection features award-winners and regional favorites like Flying Dog Brewery), but good luck sticking to that after you walk by the giant brick pizza oven set out alongside the bar. I walked in for a quick drink. I rolled out padded with pizza dough. If pizza is not your thing, you can always fill up on their renowned mini sliders (they even have t-shirts) and a cocktail made with infused vodka.
Lola’s Barracks Bar & Grill (521 8th St., SE): Her name was Lola … she was a showgirl … wait …that’s not right. Darn you catchy song. There’s definitely no Copacabana vibe (and definitely no Barry Manilow) to be found here; however, located directly across from the Marine Corp Barracks, Lola’s has a classic vintage feel that is increasingly hard to find in D.C. With three mahogany-laden floors and two patios, Lola’s has the capacity for everyone in your group. I highly recommend having a giant pint of Guinness and their famous “Badass Baja Fish Tacos.”
- Pacifico Cantina (514 8th St., SE): If “Badass Baja Fish Tacos” are not your thing, you could always stop by Pacifico Cantina for one of their “Big Badass Burritos.” This new edition to the strip just opened on June 14th and is hoping to establish itself as a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. Pacifico, the latest from the restaurateur behind Molly Malone’s and the Chesapeake Room, focuses on delivering Tex-Mex fare using only fresh (no frozen or pre-made) ingredients. My recommendation: grab a seat on the rooftop deck, order a plate of Surfer’s Choice Nachos, and enjoy the season with their “Endless Summer” cocktail (jalapeno infused Corralejo Blanco Tequila, homemade grapefruit soda, and fresh pressed lime juice).
Southwest Waterfront (Waterfront Metro): One metro stop from the Navy Yard or a 10-15 minute walk from National’s stadium is my favorite hidden gem of D.C. neighborhoods. The Southwest Waterfront, lying along the Tidal Basin and facing West Potomac Park, is another up and coming neighborhood that will soon be a regular stop for District residents. In the meantime, the Waterfront (or simply “Southwest” as the locals refer to it) has two great options for before or after a game.
Cantina Marina (600 Water St., SW): A tropical getaway within the District limits, Cantina Marina is unlike any other establishment in D.C. Situated at the end of a dock (Sittin’ On The Dock of the Basin?), Cantina is an outdoors getaway, but is only open during the warmer months of the year. Featuring a menu that focuses on Tex-Mex and Cajun-Creole dishes, it is hard to find an item that doesn’t compliment a sunny day. While I would not suggest you head here in case of a rain delay, I do suggest you order their famous Shrimp Tacos or their Thai-chili pepper tossed Firecracker Calamari. Thirsty? Wash either of those dishes down with a refreshing Coronarita (Corona+Margarita= happy if somewhat hazy memories).
- Station 4 (1101 4th St., SW): This upscale restaurant, literally steps away from the Waterfront metro entrance, offers “modern American cuisine” and caters to a diverse crowd of baseball fans, locals, and theater patrons (the Arena Stage is located a block away). With a kitchen that opens early for brunch and stays open late, you’ll be hard pressed to not satisfy your hunger pangs here. I highly recommend trying the Charred Octopus (with Tomato-Feta Tartar, Smoked Paprika Aioli, and Potato Confit) or the Station 4 Pizza (topped with Tomato Salsa, Pork Belly, Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Baby Arugula and a Fig Balsamic Reduction).
Navy Yard (Navy Yard Metro): For the moment, there is only one Navy Yard destination truly worth adding to your game day itinerary. If you forgot to wear your walking shoes or you are trying to wait out the metro lines, this is your nearest port of call at Navy Yard.
Justin’s Café (1025 1st St., SE): Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the metro is this café owned by a D.C. native shockingly (sarcasm) named Justin. Nestled into the corner of the Velocity Building, Justin’s Café provides a cozy place to grab a bite to eat and a drink before or after the game. While it is small in size, it makes up for it with ample servings of food and a beer menu that is truly impressive (offering a total of 33 different beers between draft, can and bottles). The Sweet Potato Fries (sprinkled with Cinnamon) had my companions eating off my plate, and the Bison Burger (served with horseradish cheddar cheese on an Onion Brioche bun) was among the better bison offerings I have seen in D.C. If you can grab a seat at this café, you will not be disappointed.
Do you have any favorite stops you like to hit up before or after a Nationals game? Let us know by leaving a comment! There is no such thing as having “too many places to go.”
Guest post by the newest Dining in DC Contributor, Sean O’Brien