An aerial view of Dodger Stadium and downtown L.A. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
Whenever someone asks me if I want to do lunch, they always wonder if I have a favorite spot, and I always lie.
I tell them about a funky steakhouse in Glendale, a bustling Chinese joint on Broadway, a bright Mexican diner in Pasadena.
I never tell them the truth, because they couldn't handle the truth.
I never tell them about my real favorite place, because it's my place, my secret, my unvarnished connection with this city's sporting soul, my midday siesta among this city's sports dreams, the darn near perfect spot for a sportswriter and his peanut butter sandwich.
I also never tell them because they wouldn't believe it if I did.
My favorite lunch spot in Los Angeles takes no reservations because it has no tables. It has no menus because it charges no fees. It requires no parking validation because parking is free. It has no waiters because, well, it doesn't even serve food.
All you need is a brown bag and a giant imagination and, on this, the quiet final winter weekend before the loud return of the NBA All-Star game and the start of the Lakers' spring push and UCLA's rush toward March Madness, I figure it's a good time to celebrate our simplest of pleasures.
I do lunch in the upper deck of Dodger Stadium.
I love to sit alone in the blue seats and munch on my midday meal while staring out over the field and mountains and memories.
I do it, and you can do it, as easy as a Tommy Lasorda smile, as memorable as a Vin Scully vignette, and here's how.
Around midday of any day when there is not an afternoon game — summer, winter, whenever— drive to the main Elysian Park entrance and tell the guard you are going to the gift shop. (By the way, is this the last place in America where the sports store is still called a "gift shop"?)
The guard will wave you through, and you will follow the road around the entire stadium until you come upon Parking Lot P. (Yeah, you can see the letter on the old-fashioned baseball lamp post.)
Park, walk through the stadium's open door to the gift shop, and then make the most important move of your day. Instead of turning right into the store, keep walking straight to seats beyond it.
Within seconds you will reach the top row, look down and realize, suddenly, that you are standing inside Dodger Stadium and nobody is telling you to leave. Sit in one of the blue seats, spread out, and begin eating your lunch while pinching yourself that, still, nobody is telling you to leave.
Soon, it will feel as if you are sitting and munching at a Dodgers game, without the game, which, given recent events, is not necessarily a bad thing.
You get an incredible view of the field — it's dirt now, but usually not — without seeing Jonathan Broxton crumble on it. You can get lost in the green slopes beyond the outfield without watching an Adam Dunn fly ball land there. You can realize the enormity of the "Think Blue" sign on a day when, truly, the only blue is in your thoughts.
The dugouts are quiet, so you can imagine Kirk Gibson storming around there. The bullpens are filled only with that blanket of green foliage, so you can imagine Eric Gagne working there.
On Friday afternoon, when my companion and I were the only ones there, it was so peaceful you could hear a dog bark, a pigeon warble, and the wind whispering through center field.
What I really wanted to hear, of course, was what the Dodgers thought about folks just walking into their house and hanging out in the middle of the day, so I phoned club spokesman Josh Rawitch with the news.
"I want to tell you about my favorite place to have lunch," I said.
"Top of the park at Dodger Stadium, right?" he said.
"How did you know?" I said.
"You're not the only one," he said.
It turns out, other folks are aware of this place, and the Dodgers tolerate it for the good of the town.
"There are a lot of fans who refer to the top of the park as the best-kept secret lunch spot in Los Angeles, and it's hard to argue with them," Rawitch said. "While we don't openly encourage it, the fact that it has become known this way is a reminder of just how special Dodger Stadium is to our fans, even when it's empty."
These days, with the stadium in dire need of refurbishing, it's actually more special when it's empty. I've written that Angel Stadium is an easier, better place to watch a game, and my Dodger Stadium lunches simply reinforce that shame of that truth. Sitting atop an empty house reminds you of Dodger Stadium's simple majesty, and of the importance of making it more viable for future generations, lest some new owner foolishly move it downtown.
The Dodgers' policy is that they will not stop folks from eating lunch there except before day games or several hours before a night game. It is my policy to buy some trinket from the gift shop on my way out in recognition of the fact that there is no free lunch.
Maybe I'll see you there sometime. Just don't take my spot. Section 3, Row R, Seat 2. Best table in town.