First Look: Boxcar Tavern

Photo courtesy of Tricia Barba

I went to Boxcar Tavern the first day (night) it opened – just two days before the New Year. When staring in from the outside it was impossible to see just how crowded it was, but upon opening the door, the excitement surrounding the new establishment was tangible. There were a lot of people (think standing room only) and it was loud and lively.

Boxcar Tavern is Xavier Cervera’s fifth restaurant on Capitol Hill. His empire includes Molly Malones, Lola’s Barracks Bar & Grill, and Senart’s Oyster & Chop House. With just one glance, those accustomed to dining on the Hill can tell whose baby Boxcar is. It has that “Cervera look.” The restaurant, situated right next to Tunnicliff’s Tavern on 7th Street SE in the old Petite Gourmet space, is long and narrow, filled with maple and marble decor. From the entrance, to your left is an elegant bar that stretches almost there entire length of the restaurant and to your right begins an endless row of small booths. Basically, it looks like Senart’s, just a bit darker.

Another similarity to Senart’s is Executive Chef Brian Klein, who is now running Boxcar’s kitchen.  The menus look the same physically as well; content-wise, Boxcar actually serves a Seafood Lasagna – my favorite dish at Senart’s before, sadly, it disappeared.

Photo courtesy of Tricia Barba

When I ran into Cervera the Monday before Boxcar opened, he was the model of composure (even with a cast on his left leg) and couldn’t stop gushing about other projects such as Pacifico and Park Tavern. About Boxcar, he was excited to see what it could do to this side north of Pennsylvania Avenue. His belief is that the modest prices (nothing is more than $20) would be a huge draw.

Photo courtesy of Tricia Barba

Now on to the experience: I really enjoyed it – Boxcar is like an upscale tavern.  That said, the first negative I encountered was the silverware, which was dirty–and I don’t mean one inconspicuous spot. Moving that aside I started with the country pâté. For me, pâté is either great or forgettable. I liked it a lot–much, much better than I had expected. My dining companion ordered the fried oysters which she thought were fine, if just a bit bland. The relish aioli was the best part. The other appetizer downside was that my pet peeve occurred. I was asked, “Are you still working on that?” while truly mid-bite, with half of the dish still on the plate.

Photo courtesy of Tricia Barba

I had wanted to order the seafood lasagna, but they were out for the night (something that I wish I had know initially). My next choice was the tavern filet. When I asked the waitress if this was a good choice her response was, “I’ve actually only had one thing on the menu.” A bit discouraging, but at least she was honest. I asked for it medium rare and it came out perfectly. The potato croquette also stood out a lot here. My friend ordered the roasted organic chicken and said it was good, but nothing special. She loved the mushroom bread pudding it came with.

For dessert we had the baked apple crumb tart. We loved it.

Photo courtesy of Tricia Barba

Boxcar is a welcome neighborhood place with good, reliable food. I’ll be back to try the sandwiches (11 varieties).

Boxcar Tavern is located at 224 7th St. SE. The closest metro station is Eastern Market (Blue/Orange Lines). For more information, call 202.544.0518.

Tricia is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in Columbia Heights. She loves DC so much that she was only able to leave the city for one year after college and immediately came running back. Tricia works in PR during the day, and spends her nights trying out new restaurants in DC with friends or watching The Good Wife, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Tricia recently decided to eat her way though all of Zagat’s 2011 restaurants until she realized she would be old and broke by the time she finished. Follow her on Twitter and email her at Tricia (at)