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From taquerias to beer gardens, new dining options arrive near Nationals Park

El Bebe, a new taqueria and tequila restaurant from the owners of Circa Bistro, opened in Navy Yard in February 2019. (Photo courtesy of El Bebe) (Photo courtesy of El Bebe)

Baseball’s Opening Day is the time of new beginnings and new realities. Some teams have added players who they believe could put them over the top this season, while other clubs are dealing with huge holes to fill. The neighborhood around Nationals Park faces the same: Offseason arrivals have raised the area’s food-and-drink game, and big additions loom on the horizon. Meanwhile, while there have been some major losses.

New at Nationals Park for 2019: Steamed buns, pupusas and so many oysters

Notable openings since last season

Wiseguy Pizza: The best New York-style pizza in Washington comes from Wiseguy Pizza. The local chain’s fourth location opened in Canal Park in October, a day after the Nationals’ season came to a close. Choose from a variety of classic, foldable slices or sample the more unusual offerings, such as chicken paneer. The patio is next to the park’s spray fountains, making it a good spot for families, and the restaurant is open late for postgame snacks. 202 M St. SE.

Forget the trendy pizza shops: This low-key spot makes the best New York-style pie in D.C.

El Bebe and Circa: First Street’s Restaurant Row — home to Rasa, Roti and Declaration, among others — got a little more crowded this winter with the additions of Circa Bistro and its sister restaurant, El Bebe. Circa, which has locations in Chinatown, Foggy Bottom and Clarendon, is known for its flatbreads and salads, and is more upscale than its fast-casual neighbors. El Bebe, meanwhile, is a taqueria-and-mezcal joint that also serves burritos, nachos and queso fundido, alongside frozen and classic margaritas. 99 M St. SE.

Whole Foods: The Nationals’ new backpack ban has no effect on their policy allowing fans to bring their own food into the park in soft-sided coolers. The newest place to pick up a takeout meal is the “South Capitol Hill” Whole Foods, a few blocks north of the Navy Yard Metro station. Choose from the extensive hot and salad bars, pizza, sandwiches or chef Kwame Onwuachi’s Philly Wing Fry. (There’s also an avocado toast bar, if you want to be mocked by the people sitting around you.) Take advantage of the self-service wine bar while you browse. 101 H St. SE.

The hottest new dining destination in Navy Yard is a grocery store

Walter’s Sports Bar: The formerly-in-Petworth sports bar offered a brief, tantalizing preview during last summer’s All-Star Week. Its biggest draw will be the wall of 24 pour-your-own-beer taps, which will allow customers to pay by the ounce. The craft-beer-focused spot should open by Opening Day, but don’t expect the Buy One, Get One Free specials that have made sister bar D.C. Reynolds one of D.C.'s best happy-hour destinations — Navy Yard is a pricier neighborhood than Park View, explains owner Jeremy Gifford. 5 N St. SE.

Sandlot Southwest: Every year, a pop-up bar or restaurant sprouts on an empty lot near the stadium. This year’s new arrival is the Sandlot Southwest, an “open-air cultural and social experiential space” between Nationals Park and D.C. United’s Audi Field that will eventually become a mixed retail-and-residential development. The Sandlot is programmed by two founders of local events and promotion companies, Suite Nation and Rock Creek Social Club, and the corporate sponsors include Absolut Vodka and Lyft. Expect DJs, a bar made out of shipping containers and other surprises. It’s not open every game day, and hours can change from week to week, so check the schedule before heading over. 1800 Half St. SW.

On the horizon

Dacha Beer Garden: The wildly popular Shaw beer garden is getting ready to move into its new indoor/outdoor digs in the Dock 79 building, which is already home to the Salt Line and All-Purpose. The interior, with a 140-seat restaurant and 90-seat bar and lounge, should open in mid-April, while the 8,000-square-foot beer garden will follow a week or two later. Expect 26 beers, ciders and meads on draft, with a European sensibility. 79 Potomac Ave. SE.

Punch Bowl Social: Punch Bowl Social is “engineered for millennials,” its owner says: The Clarendon location, which opened last year, fills 25,000 square feet with bowling lanes, arcade games, and pool, foosball and shuffleboard tables, as well as multiple bars and dining areas. Washington’s first branch opens later this year — there’s no date yet — in a new building on Half Street, near the Metro station. 1250 Half St. SE.

Why do so many bars have pinball and video games? Because people want more than just drinks.

Offseason losses

Justin’s Cafe: The first permanent bar near Nationals Park closed suddenly in October after eight years in business. Its happy hour and pizza will be missed.

Aslin Beer Garden: Aslin’s pop-up beer garden at First and M streets, which sold beers from the lauded craft brewery, won’t return this year, while it focuses on opening an Alexandria brewery this summer. The space’s landlords have yet to announce a replacement.