Fans sitting in Wrigley Field‘s outfield bleacher section are bums no more. Sure, the goat-inflicted curse vanished after last year’s World Series win, so tickets now routinely top $70 for seats lacking backs or protection from the sun, but I’m talking about what you can eat. The bleacher section at Wrigley contains the best ballpark food in Chicago.
How can I be so sure? Just as we don’t know who will win Chicago’s Crosstown Classic (taking place Monday through July 27) until the Cubs and White Soxactually face off, I couldn’t just look at the menus and declare a winner. No, to decide who has the best ballpark food in Chicago, I had to actually visit each ballpark and eat as much as possible.
With some much needed help from co-worker and baseball fan Adam Lukach, I devoured essentially all of the concessions at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field and the White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field. I didn’t technically try every single item. I saw no need to waste time on the packaged snacks — like you need me to give you a serious review of Dippin’ Dots — and a number of the stands also serve the exact same dishes. So, no, I didn’t try a Vienna Beef hot dog from every single stand, but I did make room for every unique creation, which means I sampled over 100 different items. Lukach and I evaluated each dish based both on taste and how easy each was to eat while sitting and watching the game. (This also means that we avoided any restaurants in the parks where you can’t get the food and eat in your seats.)
If you haven’t been to a baseball game in 30 years, you might be shocked at what you can find at most concession stands. Gone are the days of choosing between peanuts and Cracker Jack. Now you can get filet mignon sandwiches and bison sausages, loaded baked potatoes and deep-dish pizza.
There may be, in fact, too many choices. What sounded like a fun excuse to watch baseball during work hours, turned into a forced march through vast sausage-stuffed and cheese-laden menus in the hot summer sun. Turns out, there’s a lot of bad ballpark food. Paying wildly inflated prices didn’t make the food taste any better. But there was no better way to see which park actually served the best food.
Before I began, the general consensus from co-workers, including Tribune restaurant critic and Cubs fan Phil Vettel, was that the White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field (and no, I can’t stand typing out that name either) had the better offerings. As a White Sox fan, I honestly kind of hoped that would be the case, too. It certainly has more of it. Walking around the lower concourse of the stadium, it’s hard to go more than 10 feet without bumping into a flashy food stall. I did find some worthy options at Guaranteed Rate, items I’d be more than happy to eat again. But the lows were really low.
The food at Wrigley Field was far more consistent in the main concourse, and dramatically better in the bleacher section. As Cubs fans probably know, those sitting in the bleacher section are allowed to access the main concourse of Wrigley, but not the other way around. You absolutely have to have a bleacher ticket to check out the food options in the bleacher section.
Wrigley bests Guaranteed Rate even when you exclude all of the chef specials at Wrigley’s Sheffield Counter, which includes a rotating menu from the likes of Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, Matthias Merges and others. Since the menu changes every few weeks, it didn’t make sense to include them here, because by the time this is published, there’d be another chef’s menu in its place.
As I stuffed my face full of sausages and molten cheese, I learned a few things about concessions at ballparks:
•Avoid anything served in an upturned plastic helmet. Sure, these gargantuan offerings look cool, but the food is inevitably messy and hilariously overpriced: $19 for nachos with unmelted cheese ?
•If it sounds too good to be true, it almost inevitably is. You can pick up a filet mignon sandwich at Wrigley Field, which sounds like some seriously gourmet ballpark food but also costs a shockingly high $17. The meat is tender, but it’s smothered in oily cheese and a sweet sauce. Save that money for an actual steak dinner at a normal restaurant.
•Avoid anything that’s pre-wrapped and under a heat lamp, especially burgers. At both Guaranteed Rate and Wrigley, these limp excuses for burgers looked haggard and spent.
•Just say no to the veggie burgers! I know you think they are the healthier option, but both options I tried were travesties I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
•Consider the messiness factor. Both stadiums serve Buona Italian beef, which is a totally solid option. But it’s still an Italian beef, which is one of the messiest sandwiches in the United States of America. Consuming one without staining your shirt is an heroic act.
Enough rules. Let’s get back to the competition. We already know Wrigley Field won the overall championship title, but let’s break down the specific performances into categories of five go-to ball game foods. Each winner is followed by numbers that correspond to the sections in the stadium where you can find the food.