It starts out like any other day at the ballpark. But by the second inning, just as the fans are settling into their seats, I have already tasted a burger, two types of nachos, a barbecue sandwich, a pepperoni pizza, a burrito, three types of tacos, a grilled cheese sandwich and a heap of garlic fries.
And with garlic fumes trailing in my wake, I’m now headed toward the first base food court to sample some sliders, a corn dog, and a foot-long churro. After that I’m heading back up the ramp for an Angel dog, an ice cream sundae and some helmet nachos. So far, so good.
The biggest surprise at Angel Stadium comes early in the night at Shock Top Brew Pub, an indoor/outdoor gastropub formerly known as the Knothole Club. Nothing has changed since it was the Knothole except the name. The stadium sold the restaurant’s naming rights to a beer company, hence the switch. The decor and food are exactly the same as before but for a few minor menu tweaks that would have happened anyway.
The full-service pub is reserved exclusively for Club Level ticket holders until after the first inning, when they open the doors to everyone else on a first-come, first-served basis. But since most Angels fans don’t show up until the second or third inning, the hostess tells me they usually welcome the riffraff like me as early as the first pitch.
But back to that surprise. The first sign that the burger at Shock Top might be better than average comes when the waitress asks me how I would like it cooked.
“Medium … rare?” I say, punctuating my answer with a question mark to gauge her seriousness. She doesn’t blink. And when the burger arrives, I see right away that the brioche bun is top grade and the meat is a formed by hand and expertly cooked. The cheese is clearly real cheddar, not that bright-yellow artificial stuff.
For a moment I consider throwing in the towel. My mission here is accomplished. I’ve got the best seat in the house overlooking the foul line from the restaurant’s patio. My waitress is cute, and she’s just offered me another drink. And this burger … dang.
Alas, duty calls. I’ve got eight more innings and a pocketful of Tums. I’m on a mission to find more good eats.
“Do you want extra sauce with that?” asks the cashier at Smoke Ring BBQ as she hands me my brisket sandwich.
“Do I need extra sauce?” I ask, lifting up the bun to see what’s underneath.
“Most people want extra sauce,” she says, prodding me toward one of the squeeze bottles on the counter.
Noticing that the bun appears to be slathered already, I decline the offer and head back into the stadium, where I bring the sandwich to my face and clamp my teeth into it.
It takes only an instant to realize I should have read between the lines. It’s as if I’ve just stuffed my mouth with silica gel packets and cotton balls. Every microscopic particle of saliva evaporates as the sandwich turns to cement. I don’t think I have ever tasted a drier sandwich in my life. There’s not enough barbecue sauce in the world to make this brisket palatable.
Pretty much everything else falls somewhere in between, with a short-rib grilled cheese sandwich from The Big Cheese coming in just behind that gourmet burger.
I fully expected Oggi’s Pizza to be awful because pizza in stadiums is never good. But Oggi’s proves that theory wrong. They sell only two choices: cheese or pepperoni. Get the pepperoni. It’s a surprisingly good little pizza with a thinner-than-expected crust.
The funny thing is this: Sitting next to the register is a box of condiment cups filled with chopped onions. “What are the onions for?” I ask. “I have absolutely no idea,” says the cashier. Obviously some hapless employee has delivered the onions to the wrong concession. Elsewhere in the stadium there must be a hot dog stand with a box of condiment cups filled with red chili flakes.
The stadium’s ground-level, open-air food courts welcomed two new concessions this year. Burger Bites replaced Jack in the Box. It sells beef sliders crafted with King’s Hawaiian rolls and tiny patties made from certified Angus beef. They’re sort of like White Castle, if you know what those are, only not as good. But are they better than Jack in the Box? That’s debatable, but I’m going to say no.
The other newcomer here is Battered Up, which sells corn dogs and other county-fair-type foods straight from a deep fryer. The corn dog is actually quite good. But beware: For reasons I cannot fathom, this is possibly the slowest line in the park. Just don’t come expecting the corn dog to be on par with the ones at Disneyland’s Corn Dog Castle. Nobody’s are ever that good.
Before I know it, the eighth inning is here, and I find myself scrambling for a cocktail before they cut everyone off. I see a sign for the new Rita Cabana. The queue is 20 deep, but I go for it. The guy checking IDs tells me the bar is closing but I’m in luck. I’m the last person in line.
I wait my turn and gleefully plunk down $15.50 for a frozen strawberry margarita. I wanted lime, but the only flavors available are strawberry and mango. “It’s our first day,” says the bartender, shrugging her shoulders and glancing up at the menu that boldly advertises lime. “They gave us only strawberry and mango tonight.”
So I take a slurp of my frozen strawberry margarita, expecting to finish my mission with a big smile. Then it hits me. Something’s wrong. I look up. I failed to read the fine print. I failed to notice that the new Rita Cabana is sponsored by Bud Light. The margaritas are made not with tequila but with watery light beer – and the resulting flavor is as wretched as the notion of a margarita made with light beer sounds.
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. Check out my Comprehensive Dining Guide to Angel Stadium at OCRegister.com. That’s where you’ll also find my review of the ballpark’s exclusive Diamond Club restaurant. To view more of my work for the Register, check out the archives. I also invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.