Traveling to Chicago Cubs' spring training? Plenty to sink your teeth into
MESA, Ariz. -- Just saying the words "spring training" can make any baseball fan feel warm in February.
Pitchers and catchers for the Chicago Cubs report here Tuesday, and they'll hold their first formal workouts at the Sloan Park facility Wednesday.
Fans who are sick of winter and are hungry for baseball begin flocking to Arizona even before the games begin just to watch the workouts. The Cubs open Cactus League play Feb. 25 with a home game against the Oakland Athletics and a split-squad game in Scottsdale against the Giants.
Baseball and warm weather are just two of the attractions in Mesa and the neighboring towns of Tempe and Scottsdale.
At some point, you gotta eat.
In my first 19 years of covering Cubs spring training, I've come to love several local places in the Valley and one in the Superstition Mountains (or the "Superstitious Mountains," as former Cubs manager Lou Piniella called them) that sit east of town.
Here's a glance at a few of my favorite places in no particular order of preference:
The Blue Adobe, Mesa:
Mexican cuisine is big in the desert Southwest, but one of the first things I learned in 1998 -- my first year on the Cubs beat -- is that New Mexican cooking is a great alternative.
New Mexican cuisine makes delicious use of Hatch chiles (called "chilis" in some restaurants), and few do it better than the Blue Adobe on Country Club Drive in Mesa.
This place doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside is where the good stuff happens, and the Blue Adobe is a favorite of Cubs fans and even team staffers.
My favorite: the "stacked enchiladas." You can get them with red sauce or green sauce. If you can't decide, get them both -- the Blue Adobe calls it "Christmas style," with the red and green.
Another favorite of Cubs fans and staffers, this place provides good Italian comfort food and Chicago-style pizza for those looking for a taste of home. The pizza is indeed really good.
My favorites are the lasagna and the eggplant parmigiana. Vito's is on the corner of Lindsay and McKellips, a few miles east of Sloan Park. Be prepared to wait on the weekends unless you get there early. Vito's also has a location in Scottsdale.
Superstition Restaurant and Saloon, Tortilla Flat:
The town of Tortilla Flat is about as long as the Cubs' dugout at Sloan Park, but the drive through the Superstition Mountains is worth it.
Head east from Mesa and wind your way up the mountains through some great scenery. Be prepared to stop at the one-lane bridge -- picture yourself driving a red barchetta -- on the way. Once you get to the restaurant, you'll notice the dollar bills stapled to the walls and the saddle bar stools. The burgers and chili are the real attractions here. It will take you about an hour from Mesa to get there.
The Chuck Box, Tempe:
Pull up an orange crate and enjoy a charbroiled burger at this little hole in the wall in the heart of the Arizona State campus.
They grill burgers over an open flame at the Chuck Box. The "Big One" is a one-third-pound burger, and the "The Great Big One" is a half-pound. Get it with jalapeño Jack cheese and then head to the "fixins bar" for whatever toppings you like.
Black Mountain Coffee Shop and Cafe, Carefree:
Yes, there is a Carefree Highway, and I dare you not to have that Gordon Lightfoot song going through your head as you travel north from Mesa and Scottsdale to Carefree.
The Black Mountain Coffee Shop and Cafe is tucked away in the Spanish Village Shopping Center is open from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. The omelets are great, as are the burgers and chili. For best results, grab a table outdoors.
Carlsbad Tavern, Scottsdale:
Head up McClintock Road in Mesa as it turns into Hayden Road in Scottsdale and stop at this cave for some New Mexican food.
I like the "Cowboy Meatloaf," which contains "ground veal, pork, chuck mixed with jalapeño bacon, smoked Gouda, roasted onion, garlic and Hatch green chile finished with red chile prickly pear BBQ."
Of course, this meatloaf is served with mashed potatoes. Sample a local brew with your dinner.
Los Dos Molinos, Mesa:
Head south on Alma School Drive after a game at Sloan Park and take a gander at a storefront place with the words "Some like it hot" on the window.
Los Dos Molinos is a longtime favorite of Cubs people, and, yes, the food is hot, hot, hot. The restaurant's website says they don't even know how to make mild sauce.
Years ago, I remember a Cubs player fanning his mouth the morning after enjoying a Los Dos meal.
My recommendation is the relleno de carne adovada, a green Hatch chile stuffed with carne adovado (think pulled pork).
This place is really good, but you definitely want a cold beer and a pitcher of water to go with your food.
T.C. Eggington's, Mesa:
If you just want breakfast, head a little farther south on Alma School Road to T. C. Eggington's, a longtime favorite of Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams.
The "Cheeses Galore" (with bacon) and "Western Union-Jack" omelets are favorites. If pancakes are your thing, try the "Cobble-Stone Trail," an "inventive blend of nuts and dried fruits all tucked into cakes to make a crunchy work of art." You won't be able to finish this one, so ask for a take-home box.
On the Web:
For menus, directions and more, visit these websites: