At America’s stadiums, Dungeness crab sandwiches, Kansas City ribs, and slow-cooked pork tacos take center field.
“If you’re gonna pay more for a hot dog or a burger or an order of fries,” New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer proclaimed in a recent phone interview about stadium food, “they better be damn good.” You can’t blame him for being passionate.
Meyer, a lifelong baseball fan, has partnered with the New York Mets to bring versions of his popular Manhattan restaurants to Citi Field, the team’s new stadium in Flushing, Queens. Mets fans can now get “Shack-Cago” hot dogs at his Shake Shack, Kansas City ribs at Blue Smoke (also by Meyer), and slow-cooked pork tacos with tomatillo-chipotle salsa at El Verano Taquería, a taco stand inspired by chef Floyd Cardoz, of New York’s Tabla restaurant.
“It became clear that New York was far behind the curve when it came to food options at sporting events,” said Meyer, who’s had Mets season tickets since 1986. “If we do our jobs well, the food will be yet another reason fans will become excited to go to the ballpark.”
Thanks largely to the Baltimore Orioles, baseball fans no longer have to endure soggy hot dogs and watered-down beer. Since the team introduced regional cuisine to Camden Yards in 1992—think pit beef platters and Maryland crab cake sandwiches—Major League Baseball stadiums across the country have been retooling their menus to reflect a taste of the home team.
At Minute Maid Park in Houston, for example, you can now sample sizzling beef fajitas at Tex-Mex favorite Rosa’s Taqueria, with grilled bell peppers, sweet onions, and fresh cilantro, on a soft flour tortilla made while you wait. At Seattle’s Safeco Field, fans go crazy for Ivar Dogs—deep-fried cod topped with coleslaw and tartar sauce on a freshly baked bun from popular seafood chain Ivar’s. And at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, hungry crowds line up for the roast pork–provolone–broccoli rabe sandwich from South Philly original Tony Luke’s.
“It’s imperative that ballpark cuisine have regional flair,” says executive chef Ed Lake, who oversees concessions at Citi Field, Citizens Bank Park, and Fenway Park in Boston and works with a team of culinary professionals to develop locally inspired menus that reflect a taste of the neighboring community.
So which baseball stadium has the best eats?We surveyed experts, including league officials, restaurateurs (Danny Meyer), chefs (including stadium supplier Aramark’s Ed Lake), and super-fans like Kevin Reichard, publisher of the go-to stadium news website BallparkDigest.com, and everyone agrees: AT&T Park in San Francisco is the champion of stadium food. “It’s got an amazing variety of local gourmet foods,” says Reichard, who’s visited every major ballpark in America. “Even the hot dogs are outstanding.” Among his favorites are the fresh Dungeness crab sandwich served on garlic butter–brushed sourdough, and Palo Alto’s own Gordon Biersch garlic fries made with fresh garlic and parsley. Meyer agrees: “AT&T Park propelled stadium food to the next level.”
And while he’s hoping fans will enjoy the cuisine he’s brought to Queens, don’t expect to see duck confit—or anything else too fussy—at Citi Field. “Not a chance,” says Meyer. “Just because you can shave black truffles on pizza doesn’t mean you should.”