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D.C. Rank And File: The Best Eats In Town

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What are the five best local arena food options? We have the answers here.

The July 4th holiday brought with it the sights, sounds and delicious meals that make the event such an annual treat. Fireworks are always fun. Girls in bikinis are ... uhhh ... funner. But when the BBQ's start heating up, July 4th reveals its true colors. Ribs, burgers, chicken, corn on the cob, steak, potatoes ... the smoky goodness emanating from grills around the country this past weekend got me in a real culinary state of mind. So much so that I had to ask: 

When I attend my favorite local ballparks, which ones have the best food and what are those food items?

As any self-respecting tailgater would be, I am generally full when I arrive for the kickoff to any Redskins game. I have carefully grilled and devoured any combination of meats and sandwiches in the hours spent on that sacred asphalt. By the time I pass through the gates at Verizon, I have eaten and drank my fill at any of the local bars and restaurants. Even prior to Nats games, thanks to the magic of the rooftop decks at the nearby apartment buildings, we fill our guts with BBQ and beer before taking to the field.

Due to the astronomical costs of both beer and food at the ballparks these days, it just makes sense to ensure you don't enter into any stadium with an empty stomach or a thirsty liver. You will find yourself on the wrong end of that financial situation very quickly.

Yet, in each of these stadiums, there are a few offerings that cause even the most satisfied hunger to rumble a little bit. Here are my picks, from bottom to top:

No. 5 -- Starboard Bloody Mary Bar at FedEx Field: 

As any connoisseur of bloodies knows well, a good Bloody Mary is as much an entree as it is a drink. From the thickness of the preferred tomato juice to the copious amounts of seasoning, steak sauce, Worcestershire and Old Bay, this concoction drinks like a meal. The celery is not a decoration ... it is for dipping! 

If you have been to Dewey Beach, you are familiar with the hangover-curing Bloody Mary bar they boast. At FedEx Field, they have done a masterful job re-creating the experience, complete with a do-it-yourself fixings bar that features just about every ingredient you could want. If you are hurting on the way in to FedEx, the Starboard Bloody Mary bar is exactly what you need. I go gin instead of vodka, and I load up on A-1 Steak Sauce, Old Bay, garlic salt, cracked pepper and Clamato tomato juice. After I add a shot of Tabasco, some horseradish sauce and a little pickle juice, I feel like I could sell my drink back to the bar for a 500% profit. But I never do.

No.4 -- Pulled BBQ on the club level at Verizon Center:

Okay, so I am cheating a little bit with these club level dishes. But the Verizon Center kills me with their awful food. From the dried out Papa John's pizza that tastes like the cardboard box it is served in to the bland chicken tenders and hot dogs they offer (all of which I end up eating anyway), The Phone Booth is generally horrendous in the food department.

But if you manage to score a club level ticket, there is a stand that sells some amazing pulled pork sandwiches. How much does it cost you ask? I don't recall exactly, but I think it costs somewhere between "I'd pay three times whatever it was" to "Can I interest you in a no-holds-barred weekend with my girlfriend in exchange for some extra sauce?"

No.3 -- Phillips Crab Pretzel at FedEx Field:

If this is only offered on the club level at FedEx Field I apologize. It is my understanding that you can get it somewhere else in the stadium but I have no idea and I have zero recollection of where I purchased it last. All I know for sure is I ate two of them in the 2nd quarter of the blowout loss to the New York Giants this past season. I know this because I was the only one in the entire stadium that night wearing a Redskins jersey that had any idea what he was doing. I was the only one in the entire stadium that night wearing a Redskins jersey with a plan, with any sense of purpose and with any shred of dignity. Perhaps a shred of dignity is all I had left after I polished off the second Crab Pretzel ... that and a severely stopped system.

I think this particular choice is best utilized for its comforting abilities. In a tight game where there is actual suspense and drama, a Budweiser is your best choice. But when the only thing in doubt is how many Crab Pretzels you can eat in one quarter, then a Crab Pretzel is the way to go.

No.2 -- Hard Times Chili at Nationals Park:

Does it get any better than Nationals Park these days? I had a real hard time picking out my two favorite dishes served there. Now, I know chili is a hot dish best served ... in the cold, but a bowl of hot chili and a cold beer is hard to beat any day. I would not recommend it this week in 100 degree heat and oppressive humidity, but having access to name-brand chili at the park is enough to make me ignore the intestinal ramifications of such an order. Toss some onions, shredded cheddar cheese and some sour cream on top and you have the answer to the age-old question: "If God was a dude at a Nats game, what would he snack on between innings at Nationals Park?"

No. 1 -- Ben's Chili Bowl Half Smoke:

Was there really a question as to what would lead this list? Every stadium in America sells hot dogs and sausages. But only in D.C. can you get a legit (original) Half Smoke. The reason why the Half Smoke isn't the answer to the above question about God is that one can only assume that God eats Half Smokes for breakfast and lunch, and lays off of them for dinner.

What is in a Half Smoke you ask? Huh? I can't hear you ... I am too busy not worrying what is in a Half Smoke to even bother with the question. I eat Scrapple. I eat at the Waffle House ... regularly. I am not the dude who checks up on "ingredients", or "nutritional value tables" or "life expectancy charts". I can't tell you how many times I have been in line, and I hear someone say, "What is a Half Smoke made out of?" It takes every fiber of my being to hold back from yelling at the top of my lungs: "WHAT ARE YOU MADE OUT OF???!!!! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE ANYWAY...QUESTIONING THE HALF SMOKE? IF THE NEXT WORDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH AREN'T HALF SMOKE ALL THE WAY, WE ARE FIGHTING."

If the Half Smoke was a player, he would be a power-hitting center-fielder all summer and a ball-hawking safety in the winter. His name would be Frank and he would bring home more trophies than Hugh Hefner. All Hail the Half Smoke.