WASHINGTON – Deep into the capital’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, behind the megacorporations lining 14th Street lies a slice of the Dominican Republic.
Facing the left side of a one-way street and across from a church stands Los Hermanos, once the only Dominican restaurant in Washington D.C. until the family recently opened a second and the oldest restaurant in its neighborhood.
From the outside, it looks like any other mom and pop restaurant. The same kind of restaurant that finds itself struggling to stay alive in the age of trendy pop-ups and fast-casual joints.
Inside, however, is a family as hard-working as the Washington Nationals that they cater to nearly every week.
What is now Los Hermanos started as a bodega, a Latino grocery store, in 1995. It wasn’t until Mercedes Compres began cooking for her sons, Raymond and Aris, inside the bodega that a restaurant seemed possible.
“We were about 10 years old and we would help my parents out when we were on summer break,” Aris Compres told La Vida Baseball. “She (Mercedes) would cook for us here and people would smell the food. My mom would let them taste the food and that’s how the restaurant kinda took off.”
As you make your way from selecting arroz con gandules or arroz blanco, frijoles negros or pinto, a tostone or two, bistec or pollo, verduras, yucca or chicharrón and maybe a dessert to top it off, you’ll find Nationals memorabilia adjourning the inside of the counter.
Bobbleheads ranging from Jayson Werth to Juan Soto along with baseball cards of Victor Robles and signed balls from a plethora of Latino players are displayed.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of Soto, Wander Suero and Robles stopping by for a pregame meal or perhaps all three of them together.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Compres said. “This is a humble spot. This isn’t a fancy location. We’ve been here for a long time. Just them coming, connecting with their culture, something they’re used to back home. It’s huge for us.”
The restaurant is currently in its sixth season of catering food to Nationals Park. Their relationship started when visiting clubhouse manager Matt Rosenthal ate at the restaurant and proposed the idea to the family.
“He actually came to the restaurant, (we) had no idea who he (was),” Compres recalled. “He tasted the food. He was kinda wondering if we would be interested in catering for them.”
Since then, Los Hermanos provides the away team with home-cooked meals multiple times a day, several times a week, meaning nearly every National League player has at one point had a chance to eat their food.
“People are used to Latin food being tacos, burritos and stuff,” Compres said. “So, having that other part of Latin cuisine available to people, it’s awesome. It’s introducing our food to the world.”
The restaurant’s relationship with Nationals players starts with Yunel Escobar, who played his lone season with Washington in 2015.
“We would take food to him on a daily basis to his house,” Compres said. “They had a running joke that if he didn’t eat Los Hermanos, he would never hit the ball. It kinda started with him.”
Through Escobar, the presence of Los Hermanos spread like wildfire, and with the Nationals’ roster growing more diverse as the years have gone by, more and more players have come to call the joint home.
Before the Nationals clinched their first World Series berth by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, Robles and his mother, Marcia Brito, stopped by.
The night before, Brito had witnessed her son playing in the major leagues for the first time. Robles just had to take his mom to the spot that has kept him well-fed since he debuted in 2017.
“For me, the biggest honor is somebody bringing their mom to the restaurant to taste the food,” Compres said. “They compare it and [say] ‘This is just like mom’s food.’ So, they bring their mom. She has the food, she loves it. It means we’re doing something right. My son is being taken care of here in the city.”
He told Compres’ dad, Ramon, that it didn’t matter who they’d face next, Astros or Yankees, they were going to win.
You see, the Nationals’ Cinderella story from NL East bottomfeeders to a 2-0 lead in the World Series means more to the Compres family than most.
It’s the culmination of cooking hundreds of pounds of food every week. It’s the result of conversations with players during good times and bad. It’s late-night deliveries to visiting players craving food that is cooked by feel and the result of faithfully watching Nationals baseball games on the television mounted to the wall.
More than anything, it’s seeing representation on the grandest stage.
“The team represents my culture because I grew up near baseball,” Omar Guerrero, who occasionally works alongside his dad, said. “I see myself as if I was playing for the Nationals on the field.”
From dugout dance parties to reggaeton karaoke sessions, the Nationals have adopted multiple facets of Latino culture.
“It’s great,” Compres said. “People are actually immersing in our culture, which is what we want for people to experience (the) Latino culture and how exciting it is. … It just adds to the electricity of the city”
Guerrero added, “For me, it’s representation. They’re representing our country. They’re raising our culture high, it doesn’t matter which country, they’re raising it high.”
When the Nationals play the franchise’s first World Series home game on Friday and Washington’s first World Series game since 1933, the staff will be ready.
The in-house radio will turn down and the television’s volume up. Already, the staff had been told to prepare to cater multiple times a day. In addition, Compres had begun making plans to watch the games in-person.
“We have to go see one of the games,” he said. “We have to take our dad. That’s the biggest thing, being able to take your dad to see the World Series of your team. You don’t get to see that happen.”
Should Washington win, it’ll be a dream come true and would mark another title for a city that was once starved of championships.
“The Nationals are representing the city,” Guerrero said. “They’re putting DC on the map. … The women’s basketball team already won and now the Nationals are in the World Series. One more title for the city would be good.”
Still, the family at Los Hermanos understands that only one team will walk away with the Commissioner’s Trophy, and it may not be the Nationals.
“Everything up until this point is a win,” Compres said. “In our minds, we can’t ask for more. It’s a wild card team playing in the World Series. Whatever happens, happens. We’re pretty confident. It’s going to be hard to beat the Nats.”
Whatever does happen, Los Hermanos is proud of the community they’ve been able to develop.
“It’s putting two things that Dominicans are really good at together,” Compres added. “We’re great at baseball, and our food is great too. Just having those two things come together and us being involved in that, it’s like a dream come true.”
Inset images courtesy of Compres family
Learn more about Los Hermanos here.