At California’s ballparks, the days of limp hot dogs on soggy buns have given way to an era of gourmet grub fit for a foodie—as well as improbable creations that seem to have been conjured by chefs who could moonlight as mad scientists.
Baseball is America’s most traditional sport, and for much of its history, ballpark cuisine has remained pretty basic, says Bennett Jacobstein, author of The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine. Then, in the 1990s and early 2000s, after a wave of stadium construction, a new generation of ballparks accommodating extra concession areas opened and teams began to make food a bigger part of the game experience.
“Nachos and garlic fries have become the new peanuts and Cracker Jack,” says Jacobstein, a retired librarian who now works in concessions at San Jose Giants games. “I’d definitely say that the selection expanded a lot in the ’80s, then after the 1994 strike, teams wanted to get fans back and started adding more selections. In the last 10 years they’ve increased both healthy selections and some that are as unhealthy as can be.”
With five teams in the majors, plus minor-league clubs in the California League and Pacific Coast League, California has a deep lineup of ballpark food—from the classics to the crazy. It’s a good reason to go to the ballpark early and peruse the concession stands before making a selection. After all, there’s only so much you can eat—unless the game goes into extra innings.
Here are the most notable dishes at some of California’s baseball stadiums, listed from north to south.
Atomic Hot Sausage
Oakland Athletics, Oakland Coliseum
Though the A’s gave the world the team-building innovations of Moneyball, the Oakland Coliseum concession sticks with an old-school approach to concessions.
Try the Atomic Hot Sausage, a flame-throwing pork-and-beef link from the East Bay’s own Saag’s Specialty Meats—a European-style butcher shop founded in Oakland in 1933. Paprika gives the sausage its kick, and the grilled onions and peppers on top make it a mouth-watering alternative to conventional hot dogs.
So is the stadium’s corn dog. “Handcrafted” is a term that gets tossed around loosely, but these corn dogs are made fresh—dipped in batter and fried while you wait—instead of simply being grabbed out of the freezer, then cooked.
Crazy Crab’z Sandwich
San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park
Crazy Crab—perhaps the most loathed “anti-mascot” in the history of American professional sports—may have had only a brief career with the Giants three decades ago, but this cracked crustacean has enjoyed an impressive comeback as a culinary sensation. In this food-mad city, Giants fans line up for the Crazy Crab’z Sandwich, which embodies a few great San Francisco flavors: heaps of Dungeness crab and sliced tomatoes on buttery grilled sourdough.
This being San Francisco, you'll also find more upscale options. Public House, helmed by James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins, is a sit-down sports pub with a large selection of local beers on tap, plus beer-steamed mussels and pork belly potato skins.
Donut Bacon Cheeseburger
Sacramento River Cats, Raley Field
Although many baseball fans would agree that burgers, bacon, and donuts are among the major food groups, few would ever combine all three into a single sandwich. But the Sacramento River Cats did, and now Raley Field is home to the state-fair-worthy Donut Bacon Cheeseburger.
This sweet-and-savory caloric collision features a third-pound patty of locally raised beef blanketed by sharp cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon, then nestled between two locally made glazed donuts that have been warmed on a grill. For a bonus round of indulgence, try the deep-fried cheesecake for dessert, with a side of blackberry dipping sauce.
Stockton Ports, Banner Island Ballpark
The Central Valley town of Stockton bills itself as the “Asparagus Capital of the World,” and to honour this hometown favourite, Banner Island Ballpark serves up deep-fried asparagus with dipping sauces at a cart along the first baseline.
If you crave more than vegetables at the ballpark, try the Stockton Ports’ latest hot dish: Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos. Taylor McCarthy, the Ports’ director of marketing, admits this dish came about accidentally while the team was testing recipes. After running out of buns, testers added pulled pork to tortilla chips from Stockton’s popular Mi Ranchito restaurant. From there, the concept evolved with more toppings, including chives and deep-fried onion straws.
High Desert Mavericks, Mavericks Stadium, Adelanto
Like the designated hitter, the Dude Burrito is an acquired taste that some people may never actually acquire. It’s a beast of a burrito that teams an unlikely and lengthy collection of ingredients—scrambled eggs, french fries, bacon, cheese, jalapeño, and guacamole—all packed into a single unsuspecting tortilla. And, for good measure, there’s maple syrup on the side.
Aficionados swear that it all comes together and that the Dude Burrito is delicious. Don't believe it? Then try the (slightly) less extreme SoCal Nacho Dog, a Hebrew National frank smothered with chili, cheese, onions, and tortilla chips.
Loaded Tremor Tots
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, LoanMart Field
“Loaded Tremor Tots” may sound a bit ominous, especially considering that this concoction is served at Rancho Cucamonga Quakes games—and in a ballpark formerly known as The Epicenter. And indeed you may feel the earth move after trying these minced spuds topped with nacho cheese, bacon bits, sour cream, and green onions. The key to a good tater tot, of course, is the interaction of a crispy crust and soft interior, and despite the copious toppings, Tremor Tots do retain their structural integrity. If it all sounds like too much, consider having the more reserved regular Tremor Tots, served with sliced avocado.
Brooklyn Dodger Dog
Los Angeles Dodgers, Dodger Stadium
For all the renown of Dodger Dogs, Dodger Stadium executive chef Jason Tingley says his personal favourite is actually the stadium’s Brooklyn Dodger Dog, which he lauds for its smokehouse flavour, rich seasonings, and that snap of resistance when you first bite through the casing. “I’ll put it up against any hot dog in major league baseball,” he says.
Tingley and baseball-fan foodies also love the stadium’s Think Blue BBQ stand, where the beef brisket is smoked for a half day or more over a hickory wood fire. Eater LA hailed the brisket sandwich, which comes with pickles and red onions on a potato roll, saying that it “can stand on its own against some of the better ’cue joints in the city.”
Bacon-Wrapped Frog Legs
Inland Empire 66ers, San Manuel Stadium, San Bernardino
San Manuel Stadium could just as easily be dubbed a Palace of Pork, thanks to the ballpark’s Bacon Me Crazy stand. Indeed, if you’ve been wondering just where you can watch minor league baseball while eating bacon-wrapped frog legs, here’s the ballpark for you. Ambivalent about amphibians? Go for the stand’s Grilled Cheesus sandwich, packed with chopped bacon, then finish your meal with a nice big scoop of ice cream piled high with—you guessed it—more bacon.
Halo Dog and Short Rib Grilled Cheese
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Angel Stadium
Considering that the Angels manage to squeeze two different cities into its team name, it’s only fitting that you’ll have to choose between a pair of all-star food items.
The first, a Mexican-style street dog called the Halo Dog, is a blissfully unholy mess. Somewhere under layers of charro beans, Monterey Jack, pico de gallo, and, appropriately, roasted Anaheim chile, you’ll find an all-beef grilled dog wrapped in bacon.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Register food critic has raved about the beef short rib sandwich found at The Big Cheese, a gourmet grilled cheese stand that always draws big crowds. Chomp into the crunchy crust and reach the combination of gooey cheddar and savoury short rib, and it will be worth any line you encounter.
Mahi Mahi Tacos
San Diego Padres, Petco Park
In a town fabled for fish tacos and craft beers, you’ll find plenty of both at Petco Park. Leading local brewers Stone Brewing Co. and Ballast Point operate beer gardens, while the fish tacos range from classic Baja-style at Rubio’s to grilled mahi mahi at Rimel’s Rotisserie, on the roof of the Western Metal Supply Co. building along the left-field line. A 2016 finalist in USA Today’s competition to determine the top food at major league ballparks, Rimel’s tacos are both flavourful and healthy: corn tortillas with mahi mahi cooked over a wood fire, then topped with salsa fresca and cabbage, plus an irresistible green chile garlic sauce on the side, for that final touch.
Want some beef with your beer instead? Don’t miss the locals’-favourite burgundy pepper tri-tip at the stadium’s outpost of Cardiff Seaside Market, a gourmet grocery based in the beach town of the same name.