Cafe Reviews

BOBilicious!

It's late May, and there are 52 home games remaining in the Arizona Diamondbacks season at Bank One Ballpark. That's a lot of baseball. That's also potentially a lot of hours spent driving in circles and a lot of money wasted for sports fans unfamiliar with the best way to navigate the behemoth BOB experience.

There's the parking challenge -- almost 60 lots beckon nearby, with prices varying widely. There's finding where to eat and drink, both inside and outside the ballpark. And there's the question of tickets -- when BOB opened in 1998, folks snapped up season passes just to guarantee a seat at a few games.

The good news for fair-weather fans is that the bloom is off BOB -- attendance has dropped every year since the ballpark first opened its retractable roof. While that's not good for Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, for fans it means greater parking and seating availability. The slowdown also means that BOB management finally has taken notice of an important factor in the ballpark experience: the food.

This season, BOB's food service is under new management: Levy Restaurants, known for its four-star eateries such as Spiaggia in Chicago, restaurants for Walt Disney Company, and its management of food services for 32 sports stadiums nationwide (including Wrigley Field, Arlington Park and L.A.'s Staples Center). Manning BOB is a new executive chef, Dennis Borders, formerly of food services for Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago. Borders has raised the park's minimum standards for food purveyors, he says, and has retrained staff, down to concessionaires, on how to properly cook and store food until serving.

This year also marks the opening of several noteworthy dining choices outside the ballpark -- including a few that make venturing downtown worthwhile on non-game days.

Even fans with the skinniest wallets can find new choices inside BOB. Here's a guide for each level of experience, from frugal to flush.

The Cheap Seats:

Parking: Driving into downtown pre-game is a roadside blizzard of orange flags, with sweaty workers flapping and whirling like windsocks in a monsoon. Most close-in parking prices hover around $8 to $10. But keep driving south, to Lincoln Street. Here's a bargain paradise, and it's just three blocks from BOB's main entrance. Several lots between Second and Seventh streets charge $5, including the Tee Pee Tap Room Mexican restaurant, with a $5 park-and-shuttle service from its restaurant on the northwest corner of Seventh Street. The juiciest deal, though, is the lot serving the Phoenix Elementary School District's offices at Second Street -- and your $3 fee supports the organization.

Outside Eating/Drinking: A $2 hot dog, loaded. A $1 16-ounce bottle of ice water. A sack of peanuts, sunflower seeds or Red Ropes for another buck. Snacks outside cost almost a third less than they do inside. Vendors line the sidewalks all around the park, and, yes, it's legal to bring food and drink into the park. The rules: Coolers and lunch bags must be able to fit under a seat, a space 10 inches high, 16 inches wide and 13 inches deep. You're not allowed to bring in your own alcohol, however; the only liquids you can bring with you are sealed bottles of water or sealed juice boxes.

For my money, though, I'll show up early, and dine at one of the quality restaurants on the park's perimeter (operating hours vary, but all restaurants included here are open pre-game). Bombay Grill at 27 West Van Buren is a great choice for topnotch Indian food, with most plates priced under $10. Shrimp vindaloo is a favorite, the jumbo shrimp cooked with potatoes and chile peppers in a vibrant, spicy sauce.

Chary's Place is another ethnic gem -- just look for the mural of the Cuban seascape on the west side of the building at 20 West Adams. The painting portends authentic Cuban food cooked by real Cubans in an upbeat, colorful setting. Entrees average about $10, including a delectable picadillo habanero, lean ground beef blended with raisins, potatoes, stuffed olives and zippy spices.

The totally hip will get a kick out of MonRoe's Food & Fine Spirits. Seek out a small door at 3 West Monroe, saunter down weathered wooden stairs, and find a dark, cozy bar that on most nights rocks with live acoustic blues bands. A hefty menu features better-than-average bar sandwiches, burgers, big salads and specialties like green-chile stew, onion soup topped with garlic toast and provolone, pot roast, meatloaf with mushroom gravy, and fish and chips, almost all for less than $6.

Or, stay close to the action with Karim's Cobbler Shop & Deli at 333 East Jefferson, right next door to BOB's main entry. You can't spend more than $8 here, for a three-piece catfish plate brilliant with jumbo slabs served moist and mild in crisp cornmeal, along with fat fries and wheat toast. A barbecued-beef sandwich is another filling choice, mounded on an onion roll with lots of thick, sweet sauce. Great gumbo, red beans and rice, and fantastic homemade fruit cobbler, too. And check out the game-day special: a quarter-pound Vienna beef hot dog, chips and a 24-ounce water for just $3.95.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet