If you're going to follow your favorite basketball team on the road in the regional rounds on the NCAA tournament, you might as well do it with some local flair. Chain establishments are successful for a reason, but there's nothing quite like soaking up the unique offerings you can't find at home. For fans heading to Chicago, Louisville, Philadelphia and Anaheim, here are some hotels, restaurants and breweries with a little character that are worth considering.
West Regional: Anaheim, Honda Center
Hotel Menage is a small resort hotel located near Disneyland, only a couple of miles away from Honda Center. It has a Hawaiian-themed outdoor bar, and its huge pool and spa area stays open 24 hours. The award-winning American Tavern Eatery & Drink is on location.
Despite its name, "the first thing you should know about Taco Maria is that it doesn't serve tacos, not at dinner anyway -- although you will find a killer michelada, beer spiked with spicy tomato juice, if that's your thing," writes Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold. There is a pre-fixe menu for dinner, but you can also order a la carte if you want. If you want the tacos, you'll need to come at lunch. The cooking of Chef Carlos Salgado is, according to Gold, "largely vegetarian, may feature Mexican flavors, but the spirit is distinctly market-oriented modernist." Taco Maria is located in the OC Mix complex of Costa Mesa.
The Bruery in Placentia offers more than 30 different taps in its tasting room. The Los Angeles Times writes that it is a "must-visit for dedicated beer lovers, especially if you have a taste for the sour beers."
South Regional: Louisville, KFC YUM Center
21c Museum Hotel
Located in Louisville's downtown arts and theater district, 21c Museum Hotel also functions as a contemporary art museum with changing exhibits. Each room is full of art, and has its own distinct flavor. If you are willing to break the bank, check out "Asleep in the Cyclone," a room which is an installation piece by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe.
J. Graham's Cafe
Widely regarded as the Birthplace of the Hot Brown, J. Graham's Cafe is a great lunch spot located inside the Brown Hotel. For those of you who don't know, the Hot Brown is an open-face turkey sandwich on Texas toast, topped with bacon, tomato, cheese and Mornay sauce.
Bluegrass Brewing Company
Bluegrass Brewing Company has three locations in town, with its newest spot being just a two-minute walk from the KFC YUM Center. Among its specialities is the Bourbon Barrel Stout, a dark, coffee, chocolatey-tasting beer.
Midwest Regional: Chicago, United Center
ACME Hotel Company
U.S. News & World Report cited the ACME among its six picks for hotels with cutting-edge technology: "In addition to Internet-ready smart TVs with Apple and PC-compatible hook-ups that let guests to view their own content, rooms are equipped with Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin wireless audio systems for in-room rocking out as well as 100MB bandwidth Internet for speedy connections." One Yelp reviewer was a fan of the hotel's vibe, writing, "This hotel does its best to market itself as a 'hipster' hotel, right down to the vinyl album covers in the elevator, glow in the dark lipstick kisses on the bathroom, adult lounge that serves 'craft cocktails' and the staff who wear their ink and piercings with pride.
The Art of Pizza
Deep Dish is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a food unique to Chicago. It was voted No. 1 Deep Dish Pizza by the Chicago Tribune in 2001: "The judges raved about Art of Pizza's near-perfect, golden-brown crust, a terrific base for a tomato sauce that had nice, herby flavors, and excellent cheese flecked with dried oregano." Art has maintained its quality since then, as it earned a No. 1 ranking in 2015 from Thrillist: "It just gets everything right, from the flaky crust to the brightly spiced tomato sauce on top."
Half Acre Beer Company
Half Acre Beer Company is among the elder statesmen of the craft beer industry in Chicago. In addition to two breweries, Half Acre also has a taproom at 4257 N. Lincoln Avenue. Although they have many unique beers, the Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is its signature brew.
East Regional: Philadelphia, Wells Fargo Center
OK, the Hotel Monaco is technically part of a chain, but the company, the Kimpton Group is known for being a pioneer in the field of boutique hotels. Located in the iconic Lafayette building in Center City, this Monaco has a classic Greek Revival style. In describing a room, Freda Moon of the New York Times wrote: "With its many mirrored surfaces, giraffe-print bathrobes, walls papered with images of grandfather clocks and peacocks, and a color scheme heavy in reds, blues and yellows, the décor was whimsical, as in Alice in Wonderland meets the Ringling Brothers." If you stand on the West side of the building you’ll have a terrific view of Independence Hall.
Jack's Firehouse is located in an actual 19th century firehouse -- the brass fire pole remains -- in the Fairmount neighborhood. You might have seen Chef Jack McDavid on The Food Network or featured in various culinary magazines. From a recent story by Danya Henninger on Philly.com: "Jack's Firehouse opened in December 1989. McDavid made a point to use as many local ingredients as possible way before it was trendy, filling his daily-changing menu with produce, game and seafood all sourced within 100 miles. He turned an old copper still into one of the region’s first wine cruvinets, and stocked his bar with more than a hundred bourbons. The dining room had white tablecloths and fine silverware, but also moderate prices and no dress code."
Yards Brewing Company
Yards Brewing Company opened in 1995 when it unveiled its Yards Extra Special Ale at the first Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival. Its Philadelphia Pale Ale earned a mention in the New York Times: "Lively, with very assertive hops aromas balanced by malt flavors." Tours are available. Business is doing well enough that the company is also looking for a new location.
-- Brendan Cole contributed to this report.