I don’t own a pink hat. I don’t own a blue one either. Growing up in New York, it wasn’t the Red Sox or the Yankees but the Mets, and the only reason I owned a hat then was that some fast-food chain gave them away to kids as a promotion. I’m not much of a baseball fan. I wonder how many people, like me, moved here to discover a level of sports fandom they never knew existed, essential to the very being of the place.
This year marks my 20th in Boston, and it isn’t possible to live here this long without any kind of sports osmosis. So once a year or so I find myself at Fenway Park, ideally in the excellent seats of the season ticket-holding co-worker who probably laid out this page (hi, Bill), and it’s a thrill. Part of that thrill involves the ritual partaking of the franks, and each time I’m surprised by how not really great they are — file under “stuff I ought to know by now,” along with a ludicrous number of other things. Anyway, I don’t really care if they’re great, or good, or passable. They’re mandatory.
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Those franks are about the baseball experience, not hunger. Hunger is something else entirely. If I’m going to spend several hours chanting in unison with my fellow humans, doing the wave under the beating sun or in the unseasonable chill of a gray drizzle, I am going to be hungry after. Maybe before, too. I’ve been to some legendary games (and some fizzlers), but generally all I remember is that Big Papi hit homers like he was swatting flies, and what I ate with whom.
There are a lot of great places to tame hunger in the Fenway neighborhood. Here are my game-day favorites — different, slightly, from my everyday favorites. For me, these places pair particularly well with baseball, atmospherically, logistically, or both.
If I had to pick just one, it would be Eastern Standard. I like this restaurant at all times — for brunch, late at night — but maybe best on game day. There is a rhythm to the doings, a swell and excitement, as the staff steels itself, ramps up, and is then immersed in the onslaught of customers. (This makes the bar a particularly enjoyable place to watch a game on TV too.) With its marble bar and burgundy banquettes and swank brasserie vibe, it feels festive. A platter of oysters, a good salad, a cheeseburger, a well-made cocktail: These all spell victory, even after defeat. 528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9100, www.easternstandardboston.com
To fortify before a tough battle, or repair after one, turn to complex spices, piquant chutneys, fluffy rice, and pillowy breads. India Quality serves a fiery vindaloo that girds the loins and clears the sinuses. There are also curries fragrant with coconut, dishes made with tender goat and fresh shrimp, and ably rendered takeout favorites like chicken tikka masala. And vegetarians fare as well as meat eaters, feasting on creamy paneer and smoky eggplant. 484 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-267-4499, www.indiaquality.com
ZARA TZANEV for the Boston Globe/file
Shrimp vindaloo at India Quality.
Members of Food Truck Nation first took to Mei Mei as a wheeled canteen, serving up Double Awesome sandwiches, kale salads with poached eggs, and pulled-turkey rice porridge. It was kind of like a sausage cart in spirit, but with modern Chinese flavor. Their brick-and-mortar restaurant is a perfect stop. What could be more all-American than mozzarella spring rolls, kung pao chicken dip, dry-fried pork rib tips with maple chile-garlic sauce, and mac and cheese with pork and gochujang?
506 Park Drive, Boston, 857-250-4959, www.meimeiboston.com.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Glo
At Mei Mei, the Fat Schantz sandwich, rice porridge topped with Chinese crullers and a poached then fried egg, and beef dumplings with rice.
I worked in the neighborhood when El Pelon Taqueria was new, and it was a big deal. Lunchtime options were suddenly, deliciously, expanded. It’s not hard to find fish tacos now, but it was then, and I will always have a fondness for the place that gave me easy access to crisp cod folded in tortillas with spicy mayo. There is warm-weather magic to eating chips and salsa, tacos, and burritos at one of the wooden picnic tables outside, something ineffably summery and happy-making. It has this in common with baseball. Maybe that’s why El Pelon’s food just feels right before or after a game. 92 Peterborough St., Boston, 617-262-9090, www.elpelon.com.
Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
Fish tacos at El Pelon Taqueria.
In the same strip of restaurants as El Pelon is Rod Dee 2, a cash-only Thai restaurant painted swimming-pool blue. The regular menu is so deep, and the daily specials so enticing, you could eat here every day of the season and still want to keep coming back. When you’ve been to one of those games that leaves you chilled to the bone — physically or spiritually — a bowl of Rod Dee’s khao soi is the antidote, a rich curry soup with chicken, noodles both crisped and boiled, pickles, and chiles. On a hot day, try something like the spicy grilled beef salad yum neau, with its myriad of exhilarating flavors. 94 Peterborough St., Boston, 617-859-0969, www.roddeethaicuisine.com.
A natural game-day choice, and a total crowd-pleaser, is Sweet Cheeks for barbecue. Operated by Tiffani Faison of “Top Chef” fame, it’s got pulled pork sandwiches, trays of ribs and pork belly, all the usual and some unusual sides, and the best biscuits in town. And if you’re celebrating, there’s a drink called the Damn Yankee: bourbon, maple liqueur, black walnut bitters, and vermouth. It doesn’t . . . stink. 1381 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-1300, www.sweetcheeksq.com.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Pulled pork sandwich from Sweet Cheeks; fish tacos at El Pelon Taqueria; and shrimp vindaloo at India Quality.
Devra First can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.