America's Best Stadium Food
At the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, sports fans can taste the best of the borough: pulled-pork sandwiches from chef Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty ’Cue; tacos piled with beer-battered cod and mango salsa at Calexico, which began as a popular street cart; and smoky brisket dogs by Michelin-starred chef Saul Bolton.
“By tapping into the Brooklyn culinary scene and sourcing from local artisans and farms, the arena experience can be emblematic of a particular city or region,” says Chris Granger, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations at the NBA.
The Barclays Center’s concession stands, carts, and restaurants demonstrate how far food at stadiums and arenas across the U.S. has come since the days of industrial-cheese-drenched nachos and other standardized fare. Whether you’re rooting for football or baseball, soccer or hockey, your stadium food choices are likely to come from hometown celebrity chefs and local gourmet shops, and incorporate regional ingredients and twists.
At FirstEnergy Stadium, star chef Jonathon Sawyer’s Street Frites serves Cleveland Browns followers modern renditions of classics like the Carnegie Dip, made with beef brisket that’s been smoked at the stadium for three weeks and topped with caramelized onions, aged cheddar, and jus.
CenturyLink Field in Seattle, which hosts the Seattle Sounders soccer team as well as the Seahawks, has an outpost of Pike Place Market favorite Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, which doles out hot, bubbly servings of its famed mac and cheese, made with a blend of handcrafted cheeses.
It’s proof of what ESPN.com writer Keith Law considers the dominant approach at stadiums these days: “Food in a form that’s familiar but better quality.” Beyond the mac and cheese, gourmet versions of the burger serve as prime examples of the best stadium food on offer.
At Atlanta’s Turner Field, star chef Linton Hopkins’s H&F Burger serves the same notorious double-decker burgers that locals clamor for at his Holeman & Finch Public House. And TV personality and chef Andrew Zimmern brings his style of adventurous eating to Minneapolis’s Target Field with the AZ Canteen and its lamb-and-goat burger.
We surveyed sports writers like Law and and Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine as well as sports-obsessed chefs and restaurateurs to come up with the sports stadiums whose food can be as satisfying as the action on the field. Read on for the winners.
CenturyLink Field, Seahawks/Sounders, Seattle (NFL/MLS)
The Seattle Sounders soccer team has inspired a devoted following—and the highest average attendance among Major League Soccer. It may help that fans eat well at CenturyLink Field thanks to the representation of Pike Place Market favorites. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese doles out hot, bubbly servings of its famed mac and cheese, while Uli’s Famous Sausage prepares a daily sampler plate of its German-style links.
Wash It Down with: Pike Brewing’s Monk’s Uncle, brewed with organic malt and sugar, served at Craft House.
Turner Field, Braves, Atlanta (MLB)
Star chef Linton Hopkins’s Holeman & Finch Public House is infamous for selling only two dozen double-decker burgers nightly. But now, Atlanta’s most sought-after burger, prepared with house-made ketchup, mustard, and bread and butter pickles, and nestled in a fresh-baked pain de mie bun, can also be had at Turner Field’s H&F Burger (24 “Burger Fast Passes,” or a guaranteed burger “reservation” are available each game). Beef aficionados can also get their fix at Kevin Rathbun Steak for the hometown chef’s sirloin sandwich with horseradish cream.
Wash It Down with: SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, an Atlanta microbrew—and favorite of Rathbun—is on draft at Tomahawk Tavern.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Orioles, Baltimore (MLB)
Since it became the Orioles home in 1992, this stadium has been largely credited with starting the league-wide trend toward serving regional cuisine in ballparks. The Maryland crab cake sandwiches from Charm City Seafood are a perennial fan favorite, while newer regional offerings include Maryland rockfish tacos from Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant (partly owned by former Oriole Rick Dempsey), and a decadent hot dog topped with both mac and cheese and lump crab meat from Stuggy’s.
Wash It Down with: Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, the Maryland craft brewer’s exceptionally hoppy flagship beer, available at Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant.
Target Field, Twins, Minneapolis (MLB)
The three-year-old ballpark prides itself on community eats, including crisp, breaded walleye from an outpost of the popular St. Paul shack Mac’s Fish and Chips, and bratwurst and sausages made daily from hometown favorite Kramarczuk Sausage Company. Feeling more adventurous? Local television and food personality Andrew Zimmern’s AZ Canteen serves a lamb-and-goat burger.
Wash It Down with: Surly Furious, a hoppy, crimson-hued ale brewed in nearby Brooklyn Center, is on draft at the Twins Pub.
Barclays Center, Nets, New York City (NBA)
With 37 Brooklyn restaurateurs and purveyors represented, the new Barclays Center is as hyper-local as an arena gets. Head to Calexico for heaping tacos piled with beer-battered cod and fresh mango salsa; Fatty ’Cue for pulled-pork sandwiches; and Brooklyn Bangers for smoky brisket dogs by Michelin-starred chef Saul Bolton.
Wash It Down with: Brooklyn Brewery’s East India Pale Ale and Lager, brewed in nearby Williamsburg, can be purchased at concession stands throughout the arena. barclayscenter.com
Miller Park, Brewers, Milwaukee (MLB)
Miller Park is a bratwurst and hot dog lover’s dream—approximately 85 percent of food sales are from the two alone. While a spicy chorizo brat from Klement’s is an obvious choice, terrific non-sausage options include Guinness-marinated, two-day-roasted beer-can chicken at Ribbie’s Café.
Wash It Down with: Namesake Miller beers, midwestern craft brews, or wines from Wisconsin vintner Wollersheim, including its crisp Prairie Fumé, available at all Bar Carts throughout the ballpark.
Heinz Field, Steelers, Pittsburgh (NFL)
Primanti Brothers, the longstanding Pittsburgh institution created in the 1930s for local truckers who needed an entire meal on the fly, serves all its sandwiches—from its famed cheesesteak to its Capicola & Cheese—piled high with salty fries and crunchy sweet-and-sour coleslaw, nestled in between slices of thick-cut Italian bread.
Wash It Down with: Penn Pilsner, brewed at Penn Brewery, Pittsburgh’s oldest.
Citi Field, Mets, New York City (MLB)
Celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer, who has satellites of his popular Manhattan restaurants Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, and El Verano Taquería at Citi Field, isn’t the stadium’s only food empire builder. Pat LaFrieda now has a Pat LaFrieda’s Chop House inside the Delta Sky360° Club that features an exclusive Citi Field burger topped with crispy onion rings on a brioche bun, plus two outposts of Pat LaFrieda’s Steak Sandwich, which sell his super-popular namesake black Angus filet mignon steak sandwich nestled in a toasted French baguette.
Wash It Down with: Ommegang Hennepin, brewed in Cooperstown, NY—home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum—served at LaFrieda’s Chop House.
Arrowhead Stadium, Chiefs, Kansas City, MO (NFL)
The draw here is the ’cue, including the Chiefs’ Brisket Stack from Kansas City Style Barbecue: beef brisket slow-smoked at the stadium for 17 hours, and piled with onion straws and pickle chips on three slices of toasted bread. There are also outposts of the beloved Fiorella’s Jack Stack, known for its double-smoked burnt ends.
Wash It Down with: 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer from the Boulevard Brewing Company (located less than 10 miles west of the stadium), available at all Tailgate Grills.
Cowboys Stadium, Cowboys, Arlington, TX (NFL)
The largest domed structure in the world, built to the tune of $1 billion, is also a meat lover’s fantasy. Try the decadent Green Chili American Kobe Burger at the Clubs, as well as carnitas tacos and barbacoa burritos at Vaqueros concessions. This being Texas, there’s naturally barbecue, say, a heaping sandwich stuffed with brisket slow-smoked at the stadium by Bent Buckle Smokehouse BBQ.
Wash It Down with: The Cowboyrita, a frozen Texas-size (16 ounce) margarita prepared with 100 percent blue agave tequila, available at all of the Clubs and Bar Clubs, and at select Vaqueros concessions.
AT&T Park, Giants, San Francisco (MLB)
There’s something for everyone here, from Cracker Jacks to the famed Gilroy garlic fries to offerings by local star chef Traci Des Jardins. At her Public House, try the pulled-pork sandwiches topped with cabbage onion slaw followed by Humphry Slocombe ice cream; at next-door Mijita, there’s an array of soft corn tortilla tacos, with fillings like braised pork and tomatillo salsa.
Wash It Down with: Any one of the stellar local craft beers on draft at Public House, such as Bear Republic Racer 5, brewed in Healdsburg, CA.
FirstEnergy Stadium, Browns, Cleveland (NFL)
In 2012, club levels got an upgrade in food options with new concepts by local celebrity chefs. Head over to Sawyer’s Street Frites (from Jonathon Sawyer) for modern renditions of Cleveland classics like the Carnegie Dip, made with beef brisket that’s been smoked at the stadium for three weeks and topped with caramelized onions, aged cheddar, and jus. At Michael Symon’s B Spot, all burgers are made with a Pat LaFrieda blend; the Fat Doug is topped with pastrami, coleslaw, and Swiss cheese.
Wash It Down with: The outrageously decadent Vanilla Bean Apple Pie Bacon Shake at B Spot.
Minute Maid Park, Astros, Houston (MLB)
Celebrity chef Bryan Caswell is often spotted wearing an orange Astros cap in his kitchen, so it’s fitting that the die-hard fan now has concession outposts of his popular Houston restaurants El Real and Little Bigs at Minute Maid Park. At the former, try the Freddy Fender (chorizo wrapped in a crispy paprika corn tortilla with tequila-braised onions); at the latter, the Caz GrandSlam features a half-pound burger with all manner of toppings (including corn chips and refried beans) on a toasted challah bun.
Wash It Down with: Milkshakes prepared with ice cream from Texas’s favorite creamery, Blue Bell, and sold at Prince’s Hamburgers.
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, D.C. United, Washington, D.C. (MLS)
Sure, hot dogs and nachos can be had at RFK Stadium, but the real appeal lies in its wide variety of Latin and South American foods, including handmade pupusas and carne asada at the grill stands, jerk chicken at the Jamaican stand, and El Salvadorian sausage at an outpost of Logan’s Sausage, a family-run operation since 1987. Prior to kickoff, local food trucks assemble at Lot 8; try the spiedies (skewered meats grilled over an open flame) at Bada Bing and oyster and catfish po’boys at Willie’s Po’Boy.
Wash It Down with: Fresh-squeezed lemonade at the funnel cake stand.
Madison Square Garden, Knicks/Rangers/Liberty, New York City (NBA/NHL/WNBA)
One of the most welcome changes of the Garden’s $850 million refurbishment was the overhaul of its dining experience, which now includes notable local chefs and restaurateurs. Take your pick among the cheddar-stuffed bratwurst topped with Riesling-braised weinkraut at Andrew Carmellini’s Sausage Boss; a burger layered with bacon-and-onion jam at Drew Nieporent’s Daily Burger; and an organic chicken sandwich with house-made pickled cucumbers and sambal mayo at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Simply Chicken.
Wash It Down with: Sixpoint Brewery Sweet Action, the Brooklyn craft brewer’s malty flagship beer, found at the Daily Burger and at the Garden Pub.
Safeco Field, Mariners, Seattle (MLB)
The famed deep-fried cod fillet sandwich topped with coleslaw and tartar sauce known as the Ivar Dog has been a longtime staple at Safeco Field’s two locations of Washington seafood chain Ivar’s. Newer food options include star chef Ethan Stowell’s grass-fed beef burgers at Hamburg + Frites, sweet and savory crêpes at La Creperie, and fresh corn tortillas filled with carne asada and Cotija cheese at Home Run Porch.
Wash It Down with: The Zac Margarita, created by mixologist Anu Apte for Edgar’s Cantina, prepared with artisanal mezcal, Cointreau, and agave syrup.