The restaurant was bustling six miles north of Nationals Park on Friday afternoon. Spanish was the preferred language, mostly with a Dominican twang. A man in a Stephen Strasburg jersey placed an order starting with white rice. Another man, in a red Washington Nationals cap, sat nearby reading a Spanish-language newspaper. Reggaeton played lightly in the background. The only television was turned to a novela and was muted.
A few hours later, Washington would host its first World Series game in 86 years — long before the this area’s small Dominican community surfaced — and the patrons at Los Hermanos were ready to watch a few of their own shine on baseball’s grandest stage. None more so than Juan Soto, the young star outfielder becoming an American household name this October.
“It’s a dream come true. He’s like the next Big Papi for us,” said Aris Compres, one of the restaurant’s co-owners, referring to retired Dominican slugger David Ortiz. “He’s the local one because he’s here for the Nats.”
Compres owns the restaurant with his brother Raymond. The two recently opened another one, Mecho’s, on the northeast side of the city, but Los Hermanos is the staple.
Their parents, both from the Dominican Republic, moved to Washington in 1981. They were part of the initial wave of Dominicans to arrive; the first ones settled in the city in the late 1970s. They opened Los Hermanos in 1994, as the Dominican community continued growing, 11 years before baseball returned to Washington and 24 years before the Nationals developed a homegrown Dominican star in Soto. Alfonso Soriano, a Dominican native, was one of the franchise’s first stars after the team moved from Montreal, but he played just one season in Washington before signing elsewhere.
It took the Nationals so long to develop a significant Dominican presence on their roster because of a scandal that rocked the organization in 2009. A federal probe uncovered that a 16-year-old Dominican prospect named Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez was actually a 20-year-old man named Carlos Alvarez.
General manager Jim Bowden and Jose Rijo, his top adviser in Latin America, resigned and were fired, respectively. Three years earlier, the Nationals had given him a $1.4 million signing bonus. They wouldn’t come close to spending that kind of money on a teenager from the Dominican Republic until 2015 when they gave Soto $1.5 million.
Four years later, Soto, who turned 21 on Friday, is a beloved figure in his adopted city on a team with an unabashed Latino flair. Compres said Soto has visited his restaurant at least twice. Victor Robles, an electrifying 22-year-old center fielder, is a frequent visitor and others have shown up to get their fix. Compres said their orders are usually the same: white rice, red beans, and some meat.
“They don’t want any of the fancy stuff,” Compres said. “You’d assume they’d want a nice steak. No, they want the basics.”
The visits ceased in October, but the Dominican food has found its way to Nationals Park anyway. Compres said they’ve catered for visiting teams for the last five seasons, including the Dodgers. Los Angeles played three games in Washington in July and two more in the National League Division Series earlier this month. Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Julio Urias were among the players Los Hermanos fed.
Compres had already gone to the stadium Friday morning to deliver food to the Houston Astros and planned on bringing more later in the afternoon ahead of Game 3.
During the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals had him bring food to the ballpark three times a day. So Washington’s four-game sweep hurt the restaurant’s bottom line. Not that Compres was complaining. His team is in the World Series and one of its faces has his own beaming with pride.