Among the lessons learned: $25 can go a long way when alcohol is not part of your equation; it pays to make a few choice purchases (such as a $2 bottle of water) before entering the park; the vegetarian options aren’t bad; be mindful of the lines at particularly popular stands; and shave ice quickly becomes sugar syrup soup on a hot afternoon.
Here’s how we made the most of our Nats Park dining experience.
— Matt Brooks
Cracker Jack used to be the only vegan delight at ballparks, but pigging out on plant-based treats is much easier these days. Falafel, grain bowls and veggie dogs are just a few options at Nats Park. I was skeptical about the “housemade” veggie burger, but it lived up to the hype, stuffed with chunky white beans and with nicely crisped edges. Meanwhile, fries smothered in vegetarian chili were enough to feed half a dozen of my omnivore pals. With an eye on dessert, I searched out a courtesy cup for water, only to discover they’ve been discontinued; in the end, I slurped up a scoop of gelato and reused the cup at the water fountain. Because you gotta have priorities.
Georgetown Grill housemade veggie burger ($9); Ben’s Chili Bowl fries with vegetarian chili ($8.25); Dolci Gelati “Natitude” raspberry gelato ($7). Total: $24.25.
— Kristen Hartke
It seemed like a good idea at the time: Customize my chicken sandwich with fresh toppings from the nearby nachos bar rather than choose from the over-salted offerings at Blue Smoke. But lines lasted longer at both of those vendors than the outing of Tampa Bay’s starting pitcher, so I watched the first 11 outs on an overhead TV screen as I waited. Be advised: El Verano Taqueria does not take cash. All shave ice flavors are super-sweet. A long bag of kettle corn, even shared with pals, is a take-home item. (P.S. Brought a recyclable plate from home because (a) food styling (b) beats eating out of a paper trough.)
Water from outside the stadium ($2); Blue Smoke chicken roll ($7); El Verano Taqueria avocado salsa ($2); green apple shave ice ($6); kettle corn ($7). Total: $24.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
I don’t drink much alcohol, making it easy to maximize my dollars and time. Snagging a potato knish at Kosher Grill was fast (alas, the knish was bland and mushy). The line at See. You. Tater. moved quickly, too, although I would have waited longer for the messy debauchery of tater tots with blue cheese, spicy chicken and corn (out of celery-carrot slaw!). I bypassed the long food queue at Shake Shack in favor of the C-Line, where I got a refreshing frozen custard concrete with toffee. It was plenty of food — easily enough for two.
Water from outside the stadium ($2); See. You. Tater. Buffalo chicken tots ($12); Kosher Grill potato knish ($5); Shake Shack concrete with toffee ($6). Total: $25.
— Becky Krystal
Despite all the fancy food distractions, a good hot dog and a good beer is what I usually crave at the ballpark. It’s laughable that a boring Nathan’s hot dog is the same price as Haute Dog’s standard, with its great snap from the grilltop and a buttery, grilled bun. The line moves swiftly (unlike at Ben’s Chili Bowl), and a pair was enough to fill me up for nine innings, with the help of the park-wide free toppings bar (featuring Old Bay and barbecue sauce if you’re feeling funky). On the beer front, I would have come in under budget by going with Bud Light, but I couldn’t stomach it. There are too many quality local craft beers on tap to settle for America’s most popular suds when you’re having only one — even if it forced me to ditch my outside peanuts ($1) and go over budget by a buck. Port City’s crisp, tropical Integral IPA hit the spot on a hot afternoon. Bring on the “beer snob” heckles!
2 Haute Dog hot dogs ($14); 16-ounce Port City Integral IPA from District Drafts ($12). Total: $26.
— Matt Brooks
My plan heading into the ballpark was to find something healthful and vegetable-based — I didn’t want the usual hot mess of nachos or cheesy dogs — but once I got within smelling distance of the fried foods, all bets were off. The warm weather called for a cold beer, and the budget required it to be cheap: Did you know you can get 25 ounces of beer for $12? For that price, I was completely satisfied to sip on a Bud as I sauntered a few steps away to pick up a large box of fries (fancy dipping sauce included), the aforementioned thoughts of finding something green forever banished. My meal may have seemed meager, but it was surprisingly satisfying. The quick-moving lines were the grease-stained icing on the cake.
Box Frites large fries ($9); 25-ounce beer from the Budweiser Terrace ($12); peanuts from outside the stadium ($2). Total: $23.
— Kara Elder