My oh my! Spring’s still barely sprung here in Seattle, and the Mariners are already off to a season we’ll just euphemistically call challenging. For those late to the game, the team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001, which stands as the longest postseason drought in major professional sports in North America. One way to look at this metric: We’re really winning at losing — beating not just other baseball teams but also football, basketball and hockey — and have been since 2018! Our playoff drought is now old enough to drink! A friend in the Midwest (a comparatively lucky Brewers fan) recently questioned whether the M’s are, in fact, a major league team — as in, at all. I’m pretty sure he was joking? Nonetheless: insult to (lots of) injury.

However, if Mariners fans know one thing, it’s how to look on the bright side. It’s good to have a team — as in, at all! I caught a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on an unseasonably cold early May night (though it wasn’t as chilling as the last away series wherein the M’s were swept by the Red Sox). We didn’t win — ha-ha! — but at least we didn’t lose our team entirely to Tampa Bay back in 1992 (which almost happened). Hereabouts, nowadays, we must celebrate what we can!

And when the bright side seems eclipsed at T-Mobile Park, rain or shine, consider this: Our franchise has pretty much led the league in building up stadium food — first recruiting local restaurant mogul Ethan Stowell to help more than a decade ago, then acquiring, season after season, a deeper and deeper roster of Seattle food favorites. In seasons that seem like recurring bad dreams, food counts — and beers definitely do, too. Management, very wisely, has been more proactive than ever on this score for 2022, not only bringing up new food options but reinvigorating extant ones with new coaching — and, in a huge development, introducing a lineup of $3 food items, while also adding more $5-$6 beers and hard seltzers. Understand, non-sports-fans, that at these prices in a stadium context, the Mariners are practically paying us to drink (which they, at this point, should). “Value games” are also on deck with cheap seats for just $10 (and nicer ones for $20-$30), making taking the whole family or gang out to the ballgame tenable again, win or … well, you know.

Herewith, a walk through your new T-Mobile Park eating possibilities, with some big hits and one that should be, without compunction, sent back down to whatever minor hell from which it came. Play ball!

MVP: With winning offerings that feature sustainable fish, local chain Just Poké’s new stadium offshoot is called Catch (located near Section 132, but maybe deliver some of this double entendre unto the outfield while we await Justin Upton?). While an overchilled California roll ($13) barely got on base without much taste, the ahi poke bowl ($17) served up a home run with fresh, nicely sesame’d and lightly spiced ruby-red hunks of fish; clingy, sushi-quality rice; firm but tender edamame; plus avocado, scallions, pickled ginger and seaweed salad for more variety of texture, color and flavor. A choice both healthy and delicious, at a price not out of line with the real world — let’s just say you’re not gonna get this in Oakland.

BASE HIT: We all know that those lackluster tortilla chips with the gluey orange cheese have their place, and that’s at a gas station or a stadium. If it’s the latter, let them cost just $3, which they do now at T-Mobile Park in the form of value nachos (located at various Rolling Roof concessions), and, on balance, that’s an absolutely not-bad thing. Enjoy, if you care to!

Advertising

DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT: New Fuku (located in the ’Pen) is a fried-chicken ghost-kitchen situation from very famous chef David Chang — one which actually made its Seattle debut last year in another iteration that expeditiously gave up the ghost. “Do not waste your time and money — go get a better chicken sandwich at Jack in the Box,” one Yelp reviewer advised of that operation, and you’d be way, way better off eating anything else listed here (even just dining on Red Vines). Chicken tenders ($13) achieved an acrid level of spiciness, with a carapace of densely packed, yet arid crust-crumbs encasing flavorless chicken with an unsettlingly fishlike texture. (No snobbery here: This is coming from a fan of grocery-store/grade-school/pretty-much-any-and-all chicken tenders.) Equally abysmal: Fuku’s fried chicken sandwich ($13), with an even more unappetizing presentation of a wrinkly bun with a disturbing sticking-out chicken-tongue. Even waffle fries suffered an unbelievably dry and strangely sweet demise at Fuku’s hands. Whatever level of coaching David Chang is doing for his franchise, he ought to be fired.

BENCH WARMER: The value junior dog at T-Mobile Park could stand to improve its meat-to-bun ratio, but hey, it’s only three bucks. If you’re bringing kids to the game, that’s a home run (along with $3 fountain pop with free refills — hype ’em up!). Conversely, for grown-ups, the classic Mariner dog costs $5 more and rates as much better than eating three value juniors (though that sounds fun). Important grown-ups note: If it’s $5-$6 value beers you seek, there’s an app for that — MLB Ballpark. No wiener-finder app is yet available (insert Grindr joke here), but all value menu items are at Rolling Roof concessions, scattered around the stadium.

HOMETOWN FAVORITE: Seems like Seattle’s Marination should’ve been an al fresco option at the ballpark long ago (find them near section 119, and find their beloved Ma Kai location on our list of top 10 restaurant patios). Their aloha slider with kalua pork ($10.50) feels like a natural for a sunny evening, the soft meat both sweet and smoky, with colorful slaw for crunch. Get the kalua pork — or a very mild huli huli chicken for the kids, or tofu for the vegetarian — as part of a luau plate ($15) with macaroni salad (yay!) and more. Heads up: If you want Spam musubi, whether here or at Catch, hurry — a plank of salty meat seat-belted with nori to a pad of rice is apparently a new M’s fan favorite (and rightfully so), selling out in early innings. 

HALL OF FAMER: Also making the $3 value menu roster: Red Vines, with their inimitable Original Red flavor. The 4-ounce package comes in an ounce shy of the traditional movie-theater tray, but the contents are also arguably fresher tasting, and again, you can’t beat these prices (at least not at the ballpark).

ROOKIE LOOKING GOOD: Brand-new T-Mobile Park executive chef Javier Rosa — who, let me hasten to add, is a rookie only in the MLB sense, having trained at the Culinary Institute of America — is pulling off some nice plays at Edgar’s Cantina (located in the ’Pen). His updates include very messy, tasty, perfectly greasy pork tacos del barrio ($13), made with hot, fresh, doubled-up tortillas and a plethora of pretty toppings. And his shrimp tostada ($14) gets a little spicy kick that would make a good taco truck proud. Still in the ballpark here: the famous chapulines ($5), toasted grasshoppers with chile-lime salt seasoning (though by the sixth inning, ours were mostly bottom-of-the-barrel bits and pieces instead of whole bugs — sad trombone).

TAKE A FLIER: Chef Javier and his team have also fattened up the lineup at Holy Smoke BBQ (near section 105 and section 313), adding a rib combo platter (featuring a dry-rubbed long-bone rib), a 12-hour-smoked brisket platter, Holy Moly pulled-pork-and-queso-loaded kettle chips and more — all of which I sadly missed by leaving it ’til later innings, when they were completely sold out. Selling out of meat bodes well, though, as does an early game ambient meat-haze that drifted out high over the field, offering visual and olfactory evidence of some serious grill work going on.

In closing, “Louie Louie” must be discussed. The song that used to be played every Mariners’ opening-night seventh-inning stretch, following “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for 32 seasons (!), was replaced this year by Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.” I contacted the Mariners superfan whose video-captured reaction of total disbelief at the replacement of “Louie Louie” went viral, Devon Beck (with whom, oddly enough/full disclosure, I am friends). Beck’s been to every M’s home opener since the turn of the century (literally), including having his cutout represent in the stadium for the no-fan COVID-19 opener. He expressed that he “was hoping that having some new traditions would help produce some new outcomes,” but that “this season sadly feels really familiar so far …

“If the team isn’t going to provide the good times, the music, drinks and food are going to have some heavy lifting to do!” he concluded. Luckily, as the weather (finally!) gets summery, the new food options, value beers and Red Vines beckon — and with cheap seats making it easy, we will be there, hoping against hope and still having some fun, as true Mariners fans do.