Welcome to Petco Park, Home of the Walk-in Beer Freezer
The inaugural edition of Stadium Food Tour, a new series in which I eat and drink my way through America's temples of baseball and gluttony.
I went to Petco Park in San Diego on Wednesday with my friend Lana to do a food tour of the stadium and the surrounding neighborhood. We wound up attending a 16-inning marathon the Dodgers eventually won. It was the longest game played in the last two seasons, because of course it was. Lana and I are no strangers to weird baseball. The last time we went to a long ass baseball game, the Dodgers beat the Red Sox in game 3 of the 2018 World Series. That game took 16 innings and 6 hours to complete. Both were records for the World Series. I mention this game because Dodger Stadium ran out of food and water. By the 15th inning, I was literally drinking bathroom sink water from a nacho helmet. Lana found an old vending machine on the club level and was last seen begging everyone for change. Things got bleak. I can’t locate any tweets from that night because I’m sure I was too hangry to tweet.
We had the opposite experience Wednesday night. If you’re going to be trapped in a stadium for five hours you want it to be Petco. For starters, the weather is contractually obligated to remain at 70 degrees for every out, no matter how long the game goes. I am always cold, and yet I never put on my sweatshirt. The other reason is the food is so good and abundant that it’s the perfect place for a second dinner. Even if the concession stands run out of food, and you’re forced to leave the park to forage for sustenance, you can easily take a five minute walk to a bar and grill or a burrito joint outside the park and enjoy great food with no fuss.
To beat traffic, we left LA around 1 pm for the 7 o’clock game and arrived in San Diego at 3. With four hours to kill before the first pitch, we began our culinary odyssey by splitting a California burrito with guacamole at Lolita’s right next to the ballpark. I first heard of Lolita’s years ago when Adrian Gonzalez brought burritos into the visiting clubhouse at Petco to feed his teammates pre-game. Honestly? It was one of the better burritos of my life. And I’m a nut who carries hot sauce in her purse. This burrito was so perfect the way it was it did not need any kind of sauce.
Lana tried to order an additional burrito for herself. I wouldn’t let her because I knew we had a ton of eating to do.
Our next stop was Tivoli Bar and Grill, the oldest bar in San Diego. It’s so old (established in 1885) that Wyatt Earp was once a regular.
I’m not sure if the food is any good because I’m not into eating at dive bars that have been around since before we had a cure for cholera. But the beer was excellent. I enjoyed a pint of Ale Smith’s .394 Pale Ale, in honor of Tony Gwynn.
We could have stayed at Tivoli and watched other baseball games on their TV until our game started, but we had work to do. The next stop was Half Door, an adorable bar that encompasses everything I love about pre-gaming outside Petco.
Hanging at the Half Door Brewing Co. made me so happy. We sat on barstools on the patio and enjoyed a perfect breeze and great people watching just steps from the ballpark. You won’t find regular beers here because they only sell stuff they brew themselves. This was not a problem. I went for the pale ale, while Lana enjoyed a Bat Flip to the Moon.
Pro tip: arrive during happy hour and order the truffle fries, flatbread pizza, or pretzel bites. We didn’t eat at the Half Door, but we stayed long enough to watch every table around us enjoy one of these dishes, and we regretted not having the stomach space to partake.
But we knew we’d be eating—a lot—once we got into Petco, so we carried on. Our first stop was Din Tai Fung, where I was able to introduce Lana to these magnificent pork dumplings.
Din Tai Fung is an incredible restaurant with locations throughout California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Five minutes into our culinary adventure inside Petco Park and we were already enjoying a meal that is superior to any food Dodger Stadium has to offer. (I’m not saying this to shade the Dodgers, it’s just that Chavez Ravine is my home park and the food is…not good. I am determined to do a stadium tour there and find the best possible food, anyway).
Just look at this beautiful bun:
After we digested the pork buns. we got in line for my #1 favorite ballpark food in the United States: the brisket cheese fries from Grand Ole BBQ. This is a controversial pick because GOBBQ replaced the fan favorite Phil’s BBQ earlier this season, which at first was a devastating turn of events. Then I tried the fries.
Whoever conceived of these fries somehow figured out a way to pile all that goop on top of the potatoes while ensuring they maintained their crisp. I am convinced this person should take over as president of the United States.
After waiting three innings and hydrating with two large Dasani water bottles each, our next stop on the tour were the Cardiff Tri-Tip Nachos from Seaside Market.
Locals compare these nachos to a drug I won’t mention here. If this food looks exceptionally tasty for a ballpark, that’s because it was. Stadium food is never this good because it doesn’t need to be. We drove two hours each way to Petco to see Fernando Tatis Jr. and Walker Buehler. But honestly the food is what justified the trek.
After eating enough food to sate five grown men, we lost the will for a Hodad’s burger, which is also better than anything Dodger Stadium has to offer, just edging out Shake Shack. I should also say that I’ve never stood in line for less than 30 minute at the Shake Shack at Dodger Stadium. We waited no longer than five minutes for any of our dishes at Petco Park, and the game was sold out. I can vouch for Hodad’s because it’s been my go-to for the decade I’ve spent attending games to Petco as a member of the baseball press.
After we finally left the stadium we checked out the sports bar Bub’s, which had a lot of TVs and tons of beers on tap but was a bit of a brofest nightmare—fine if you’re into that sort of vibe.
The one watering hole we did not make it to but is #1 on my list for next time is Fareweather Bar, a rooftop tiki pub with a view of the outfield at Petco. We considered it but we were too tired (and too full of brisket fries) to figure out where the street entrance was.
Overall, the food and drink in San Diego were excellent. This is the first in a series of stadium food tour write-ups I will do for this newsletter. Next up, San Francisco over Labor Day.