NCAA March Madness is upon us, and with Selection Sunday already behind us, the match-ups are set. After the "first four" games at the University of Dayton Arena in Ohio, the remaining games will be spread out across 13 additional venues from New York to Washington State, and California to Iowa.
If you're lucky enough to be attending one of the tourney games, you're probably in full planning mode regarding your trip as far as tickets, flights, and hotels go -- but have you thought about food? The arenas are all located in cities with ample dining options, so guests shouldn’t limit themselves to only hot dogs, pretzels and domestic light beers.
Similar to our articles about restaurants near Florida and Arizona MLB Spring Training stadiums, we have compiled a list of the best eateries near each March Madness arena. This doesn’t mean each entry contains the best restaurant in each respective city, but the best that’s only a couple miles -- or even better, walking distance -- from the host venues. Make a little time before or after the game for a bite at one of these distinguished establishments of various types, and go [insert your favorite team here]!
Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Brooklyn has an unbelievable number of high-quality restaurants, and since the borough is so walkable, why not take a 10-minute stroll from Barclays Center to al di là Trattoria (one of The Daily Meal's 50 Best Italian Restaurants in America). Since 1998, chef Anna Klinger has served dishes rooted in Northern Italian cooking like stewed cuttlefish with oxtail, tripe in white wine, braised rabbit, boneless pork loin scallopine, and sliced hangar steak with balsamic reduction along with pasta options like homemade squash and mascarpone ravioli, Swiss chard and ricotta gnocchi, and black spaghetti with octopus confit. That's right, we picked an Italian place for Brooklyn; you got a problem with that?
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
If Cattlemen's Steakhouse is good enough for Charles Barkley, it's gotta be good enough for any NCAA basketball fan, right? It has also been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Man v. Food, too, which should seal the deal for any serious eater. In addition to boasting 106 years of history and 11 types of steak (including the giant T-bone, a favorite of President George H. W. Bush), Cattlemen's also features fried catfish, fried shrimp, broiled salmon, and their signature lamb fries. For dessert, we recommend one of the homemade pies from the restaurant’s own bakery. Cattlemen's is less than three miles down the road from the arena.
Dunkin' Donuts Center, Providence
Birch may only be a few years old, but we’ll throw our support behind chef Benjamin Sukle -- especially since the restaurant is an easily walkable 0.2 miles from the Dunkin' Donuts Center. The biggest draw here is the customizable four-course tasting menu that showcases Sukle’s unconventional and innovative take on New American fare, like warm broth of pork and sourdough to start, followed by grilled rutabaga (with radicchio, dulse, cheese, and beer), Rhode Island monkfish or pork, and a blue cheese cheesecake for dessert. All this for only $49 is one of many reasons birch was included in Bon Appetit’s list of the Top 50 Best New Restaurants in the Country in 2014.
Honda Center, Anaheim
When it comes to pre-game dining, The Ranch has things figured out. The 53,000-square-foot restaurant offers a three-course “pre-concert” menu for guests with a limited amount of time, which includes a seasonal soup or two salad options; mains like a Black Angus prime rib, maplewood-smoked chicken, or Skuna Bay salmon; and a vanilla bean crème brûlée for dessert. Of course there's also a full menu, but who has time for that? You've got a game to catch. Luckily for you, the Honda Center is only two miles away, which also makes THE RANCH's saloon a good postgame spot.
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville
With apologies to the sponsors of the KFC Yum! Center, there's a lot more to Kentucky than fried chicken. Instead, head to the Mayan Café, only a mile down the road from the arena. One of the pioneer restaurants of the now-famous NuLu dining district (and also a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement), the Mayan Café is run by chef Bruce Ucán, who prepares salads and ceviche that are influenced by his Mayan heritage, with other dishes including spaghetti squash, braised lamb, oven-roasted rabbit, slow-roasted pork, and wild-caught Kentucky striped bass.
NRG Stadium, Houston
In Texas, barbecue is king, so of course we decided to pick a Japanese restaurant instead. (Open your minds, people!) Uchi first debuted in Austin, and has since expanded to three restaurants with additions in Dallas and Houston, the latter of which (only a few miles from NRG Stadium) is ranked as the best restaurant in the city by Zagat. With chef Tyson Cole at the helm, Uchi of course has fantastic sushi (with options that include Norwegian mackerel, Spanish anchovy, striped bass, flounder, and spicy scallop with avocado), but there's also a 10-course chef’s tasting menu in addition to the regular (seafood-heavy) one and the extensive list of specials that change daily. And don't forget to browse the sake menu. When in Houston, right?
Pepsi Center, Denver
Seafood might not be the first thing you'd think of in a city that's a mile high, but Stoic & Genuine is fantastic, and it's only a mile from the Pepsi Center. "Fresh is everything" is the motto of Jennifer Jasinski and Jorel Pierce, and it applies to every dish, whether it's the scallop poke, octopus mortadella, oysters (from both coasts), crab legs, a whole Maine lobster, or the intimidating "Seafood Tower of Power." There's also a "Surf in Turf" option, which features New York Strip-wrapped Ahi tuna, and an extensive wine list with a surprising amount of sparkling options.
PNC Arena, Raleigh
Just a few miles from PNC Arena is Mandolin, a restaurant run by Raleigh native Sean Fowler, who was previously a chef at the AAA 5-Diamond Fearrington House (another great local option). The cuisine is Southern with influences from around the world, which equates to dishes like smoked trout salad, oysters, chicken and waffles or dumplings, grilled pheasant, and bourbon-marinated mushrooms. The menu changes daily, as most of the meats, poultry, seafood, produce, and specialty products come from numerous North Carolina farmers, ranchers and artisans.
Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Want to get psyched up for your team to destroy their opponent? Stop at Death in the Afternoon before heading to the game. Chef Nick Martinkovic offers ethnically diverse options like steamed buns, falafel, chicken or turnip miso ramen, a burger, and smoked turkey, grilled fish, vegetable, or Cubano sandwiches -- all on the same menu. If the weather is nice, grab a seat on the expansive patio and see if you can resist ordering one of the uniquely-named cocktails (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Sin Is In, Grounds for Divorce, etc.) before making the half-mile walk to the Scottrade Center.
Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena
Clinkerdagger has been a Spokane mainstay for over 40 years, and the best part: It’s right across the street from the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Of course, you’d probably much rather have a view of Spokane River or the city’s skyline -- both of which are possible at this restaurant. A classic American grill, Clinkerdagger’s menu often changes, but past dishes have included some fantastic Alaskan seafood (cod, prawns, halibut, and salmon), three surf and turf choices, and meat options like rock salt-roasted prime rib, braised boneless short ribs, BBQ baby-back ribs, and bacon-wrapped meatloaf, along with a few pasta options. The restaurant’s cocktail and wine list is quite impressive and extensive well, and with the arena so close, there’s no need to drive.
United Center, Chicago
When checking out the games at the United Center in Chicago, fans will be surrounded by an endless amount of delicious culinary options, but we went with Monteverde -- located only a mile from the arena. Chef Sarah Grueneberg (formerly of Spiaggia) prepares small plates featuring stuffed cabbage, artichoke and sunchoke crostini, and wok-fried chicken livers; a wide selection of pasta dishes; and mains like skate wing schnitzel with caper salsa verde and a 23-ounce bone-in ribeye. However, we're most impressed by the restaurant's pastificio that's fully on display and its batteria wood barrels for aging Monteverde’s traditional balsamic vinegar.
Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Although there's some solid fine dining in Des Moines, what if you're craving something a bit simpler before or after the big game? If you’re thinking pizza or Chinese, allow Fong's Pizza to make the decision for you: Both! Only a half-mile from the Wells Fargo Arena, Fong’s offers pizzas in varieties like crab Rangoon, Hunan pork, sweet & sour chicken, mac and cheese, taco, and 20 other options, in addition to sandwiches, salads, and starters like “Chinese cheesesticks” (mozzarella sticks in egg roll wrappers). In addition to the already odd fusion theme, Fong’s also has a kid’s menu, and the restaurant doubles as a tiki bar -- so it's OK to order an umbrella drink.
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
Philly cheesesteak joints are a dime a dozen in the City of Brotherly Love, so why not check out a French restaurant instead? And not just any French restaurant, but Laurel, the Nicholas Elmi eatery that’s often referred to as one of the best places in the whole city. Although technically strictly French-influenced, the ever-changing seven-course tasting menu’s entries of cocoa-cured foie gras, wild Burgundy snails, and duck breast says differently. Past dishes have also included braised pork cheek with squash and Jersey scallop with ginger. A few words to the wise: First, the restaurant is BYO, so come prepared. And second, the 26-seat dining room fills up quickly, so come early. As it’s located only two miles from Philly’s Wells Fargo Center, this shouldn’t be an issue.
University of Dayton Arena
When it comes to Dayton, you can basically pick anything with “club” in the name (Dayton Racquet Club, The Oakwood Club, Treasure Island Supper Club, Paragon Supper Club) and not go wrong. We went with The Pine Club because it's less than two miles from the University of Dayton Arena and has been an institution in Dayton since 1947 (the appearance hasn’t changed since). The Pine Club offers at least half-a-dozen types of steak, with many including a larger “double” or “extra heavy” option. There are also ample seafood options, like oysters, scallops, lobster, shrimp, herring, and trout. Looking for a less fancy post-game option? Grab a burger or sandwich, served with the restaurant’s signature onion rings. If you need any further convincing, The Pine Club was once selected as one of the top two steakhouses in the nation by Food Network, was named “One of the World’s 10 Greatest Traditional Dining Establishments” by The New York Times, and was USA Today’s “Favorite Steakhouse in the US,” among other past accolades.