Although the temperature is still in the 40’s in some cities, the 2019 baseball season is in full swing. It’s impossible to predict what will happen over the course of a 162-game season—that’s already evident, with the reigning World Series Champion Red Sox team having trouble finding a victory while the seemingly hapless (on paper) Baltimore Orioles have managed a winning record in the first week of play. They are forecast to win 58 games.
Speaking of the Orioles, ever since they opened Camden Yards in 1992 in downtown Baltimore, almost every team in Major League Baseball with an aging, outdated stadium has followed suit with an amenity-filled, comfortable, retro ballpark—a destination that can appeal to even the most casual fan. These new ballparks have concession vendors everywhere you look, restaurants, and bars with offerings that go well beyond hot dogs and peanuts, although those are still available, too. Here are our picks for the ballparks with the best culinary offerings.
Team: Atlanta Braves
Believe it or not, Atlanta is the only true southern city represented in Major League Baseball. Cincinnati and St. Louis have some southern vibes but are not the south. Texas, while southern geographically is not really “the South,” but rather it’s own country. And Florida—home to the Florida (Miami) Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays—is not the south either, not even close, despite being the southern most state in the lower 48. Needless to say, the Braves own the south in MLB. And much like Boston and St. Louis who have regional fan bases—much of New England, not just Boston, is Sox country—the Braves pull from all over the south. You would hope, therefore, that baseball’s newest park (SunTrust opened in 2017) would have the means of paying homage to the many nuances of southern cooking for their motely group of southerners who call themselves Braves fans—not just the urbanites in “The ATL.” Well they do.
While there isn’t one central location that features Southern cuisine in all its variety, stalls throughout the stadium offer dishes that highlight states where the Braves reign supreme. Examples include the Pimento cheese patty melt, served with caramelized onions and smoked paprika on rye (South Carolina), Smoked whole-hog barbecue sandwich, served on white bread with chopped southern slaw and vinegar sauce (North Carolina). Nashville hot chicken, served with bread & butter pickles (Tennessee), Blackened catfish po’ boy taco, served with slaw and comeback sauce (Mississippi) and Fried tomahawk pork chop, served on an “extra-large” potato roll with collard green slaw and white barbecue sauce (Alabama).
Of course, if you are looking for something a little more mainstream than catfish or a whole-hog smoked sandwich, they have you covered. “The Best Darn Steak Sandwich in Baseball” The Carvery now offers a sliced, herbed beef tenderloin sandwich on a brioche roll deemed “the Best Darn Sandwich in Baseball”. It’s topped with roasted Portobello mushrooms, fried onions, balsamic glazed arugula, and blue cheese sauce, and served with a side of truffle chips. Pair the sandwich with a bottle of cabernet in a souvenir carafe. Chicken and waffle boat. This boneless fried chicken is tossed in hot mango habanero sauce and comes served in a powder sugar-laden “waffle boat” topped with pecans and honey and a side of curly fries.
Oracle Park (formerly AT&T, SBC, Pacific Bell…)
Team: San Francisco Giants
Although the Giants have given us Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Mel Ott, and a substance-enhanced Barry Bonds—not mention 3 championships since 2010 and perhaps the best post season pitcher (Madison Bumgarner) ever—their greatest contribution to baseball may be garlic fries. Garlic fries were first introduced to baseball when the Giants new ballpark opened as Pacific Bell Park in 2000, and, in addition to becoming an instant classic at the park have spread to other stadiums across the country. At Giants games, the fries are sold at Gilroy Garlic Fries stands, which are named for the California garlic-producing town. Although garlic fries are extremely popular, do not get the impression that they’re for the faint of heart. They are loaded with garlic, more than you may have tasted in any single mouthful before. But this is what makes them addictive. So dig in and hope the kiss cam doesn’t catch you.
Many newer stadiums try to incorporate some local delights into their concession repertoires, and the Giants do this with California Wine Carts. However, the culinary highlight at AT&T Park may prove to be a couple restaurants—Mijita and Public House—helmed by star chef Traci Des Jardins (Jardinière, Commisary, Arguello) that replaced the chef’s ACME Chophouse back in 2012. Unlike other in-stadium restaurants, these joints don’t pretend to have good views of the field, and that’s probably how things ought to be. Fans who would rather be at a restaurant than sitting in the stands should probably just skip viewing the game altogether, and fans who’d like to take some quality carry-out to their seats should be given that option, too. No harm no foul.
Public House features an extensive beer list including cask pours, and as its name implies, high-quality pub food, like fried chicken, Anchor Steam battered fish and chips, and pulled pork sliders, plus the meatless Impossible Burger. Come on. This is San Francisco. Of course they have a meatless burger.
On the flip-side, Mijita expands on the related Ferry Building concept with more menu options, a 60-tequila bar (flights coming soon), and sunny patio seating on 3rd street.
As for the new favorite? Super Duper Burgers is making its first foray into the ballpark dining scene and will take over the former McGraw Grill space on the promenade level.
Citizen’s Bank Ballpark
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
With the off-season signing of Bryce Harper to a record contract (at the time) as well as several other all-star caliber players, the Phillies are all of a sudden the high rollers of Major League Baseball. Their concessions, however, are more blue collar. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Philadelphia is a city rich in sandwich history and culture, and Citizen’s Bank Ballpark has admirably tried to incorporate many of the hoagies that make Philadelphians proud into its concession offerings. This is evidenced by a centerfield outpost of the Philadelphia classic, Tony Luke’s, at which you can get a roast pork Italian (pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe) or a cheesesteak with Cheez Wiz. Next to Tony Luke’s, Planet Hoagie satisfies similar cravings. Or, for the truly serious eater, there is The Schmitter, sold at a stand with the same name, which is a cheesesteak topped with grilled salami, lettuce, tomatoes, and secret sauce (a.k.a. Russian dressing), served on a sandwich roll. And although Philadelphia is not well known for its barbecue, the open-air Bull’s BBQ makes decent pulled pork and grilled kielbasa. The best concession options in the stadium are located in the outfield, however the Phillies’ outfield fences are so short that it’s possible to have a decent view of the game while standing in line for food.
This stadium has received accolades for its vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free options, but vegetarians are sure to miss out on the true Citizen’s Bank Ballpark experience.
T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field)
Team: Seattle Mariners
Safeco Field affords guests dramatic views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Besides the usual concession stands, local chowder house Ivar’s slings halibut fish and chips and salmonwiches. Local microbews are served for $6.75 to $8.00. (For New Yorkers who think this sounds reasonable, this is nearly twice the price of a quality pint in a Seattle bar.) Pan-Asian stands also exist. Get an ichiroll and sake at the sushi bar. Note that a baseball game is not the best place in hipster-friendly and family-friendly Seattle to find good food or decent nightlife. The restaurant and bars in the stadium can be skipped. Those truly in the know will hit up Skillet’s tasty street food outside the park before the first pitch.
It’s all about the beer though at Safeco, excuse me, T-Mobile Park. And while you can find literally dozens of pale ales, IPA, Kolschs and Lagers on tap throughout the park, the beer cart at section 129 continues to operate as the headquarters for serious beer geeks. You will find three impressive beers on tap at each game, one of them cask-conditioned. These are the kind of beers you’d expect to find at top-notch beer bars, not a ballpark. Breweries involved in this year’s cask program include Double Mountain Brewing, Maritime Pacific Brewing, Reuben’s Brews, Machine House Brewery, Diamond Knot Brewing, Sumerian Brewing, Stoup Brewing, Georgetown Brewing, and others.
Team: Colorado Rockies
The food from the concessions at Coors Field is largely conventional, with a bit of a rocky mountain flare. Fans can dare each other to try rocky mountain oysters, and buffalo hot dogs and brats are available. However, this field is really just a great destination for casual fans—people who just want to drink a microbrew in the summer mountain air and not worry too much about the score. Some Denver residents even suggest skipping the late innings of a blowout by drinking a beer on the upper deck concourse and viewing the stars. The Blue Moon Brewery at The Sandlot is attached to the stadium, a Breckenridge Brewery pub lies adjacent to the field, and Fat Tire amber is available at various dispensaries throughout the stadium. The best food in the stadium is probably at the Mountain Ranch Bar & Grill, a restaurant in right field with a decent menu of sandwiches and entrees.
Team: New York Mets
You no longer have to visit a labyrinthine Chinese food court to get decent food in Flushing. When CitiField opened in 2009, the most discussed thing about the stadium may have been its Shake Shack stand. Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group runs several stands in a section behind centerfield called “Taste of the City,” a Shake Shack outlet among them. All New Yorkers are familiar with Shake Shack’s superb fast food-style burgers, hence the long lines. If you can’t stand to wait, that’s OK, your consolation prize may be Kansas City Spare Ribs from Blue Smoke (also Danny Meyer), Belgian fries from Box Frites, or chicken mole tacos and Cuban-style corn on the cob from El Verano Taqueria.
“One of the most important things to our team in bringing these offerings to CitiField was that they remain consistent with what our guests have come to know and love from our existing businesses,” says Robb Garceau, Executive Chef of Hudson Yards, Union Square Hospitality Group’s catering and sports and entertainment events business. “CitiField diners can expect the same delicious ShackBurger and Kansas City Ribs as they have come to love at the original outposts in Manhattan.”
You can wash it all down with a Widmer Hefeweizen or Leffe Blond from Big Apple Brews. CitiField also has bars with decent bar food and the Acela Club, a high-end Italian-influenced restaurant run by Drew Nieporent. While the food at the Acela Club may be very good, the restaurant is in no position to take risks with its menu. Too many places exist just a short subway ride from CitiField at which one can get a good skirt steak or cut of porchetta, and the restaurant is situated in left field, somewhat far from the action on the field.
Although the bars are better positioned, behind home plate, they also suffer from their proximity to Manhattan. A baseball stadium bar may be a good destination for a night out in a smaller city, but not in New York. The only real problem with the Taste of the City stands is their location—unless you are sitting in the outfield, it’s a long walk to get there. Either get to the game early and get in line, or expect to miss an inning or two. The best thing about eating at CitiField is the cost. The Mets made sure that all of the stadium’s concessions are relatively inexpensive.