City: Portland, Oregon
Foodie: Ben Golliver, Blazersedge.com
Venue: Rose Garden
Team: Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)
Address: 1 N Center Court St, Portland, OR 97227
Like any giant corporate arena, the Rose Garden is more than adept at pulling the dollars out your pocket. No matter your budget, you’re probably going to walk out of the RG feeling like you spent too much money. But more than likely you’ll be full. Which is kind of the point.
The best food options at the Rose Garden break down into 3 tiers just like the seats. I call these tiers "Big Ballin," "Sorta Ballin" and "Budget Ballin." Hey, it’s a recession, so if you made it to the building, no matter what, you deserve the title "baller." First, the best places in the RG to ball on; next, the best places for the sports fan around Portland.
If money is no object, No doubt the place to eat in the Rose Garden is the Courtside Club. Open only to those with 100 level tickets, VIPs, and occasional VUPs (very unimportant people, like your friendly blogger), the Courtside Club provides some of the best service in a city that’s not nearly as concerned with top-class service as most places east of the Mississippi. The staff is courteous and quick to remember a face (and your favorite drink) and does a good job of managing the large crowds that gather pregame. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the Blazers Dancers, a member of the team’s management or a local big shot car salesman stroll through with dime pieces on their arms. Get there early.
As for the food, the menu is mostly burgers and pasta, I usually go with the Southwest Chicken Penne but you’ve got options. The Club also has a full bar with most top shelf liquors, lots of beers (including the famous local microbrews) and they are very considerate about not caring if you get completely blasted. So I’ve been told.
The best section of the 200 level in the Rose Garden is, far and away, the Lexus Club Level. It requires that you sit in certain areas of the arena (along the two sidelines, not along the baselines) but your tickets, which are slightly more expensive, include access to a full pregame buffet and full bars as well. All food and non-alcoholic drinks are free, so you can literally eat 25 pieces of pepperoni pizza and 14 cokes and absolutely no one will stop you. Pretty sweet. The buffets have a lot of options – usually there’s some pork, seafood, salads, dips, teriyaki, you name it. Great place for young couples to go on a date and make out in the bathroom or something. The bars are stocked similarly to the Courtside Club but many knowledgeable fans simply bring a flask and get a free soda to use as a mixer. Much cheaper than 5-8 dollar drinks.
The rest of the arena offers your typical overpriced arena food: burgers, hot dogs, popcorn, Subway sandwiches, etc. I’m partial to the Chicken Strip dinner because they don’t skimp on the Chicken or the fries. You pretty much get your 8 or 9 dollars worth and it’s always hot out of the oven.
Another super popular option for the masses to gather pregame or postgame is Schonely’s Place, a makeshift bar/restaurant near the south/west entrance to the Rose Garden. The focus at Schonely’s Place (named after longtime Blazers radio announcer Bill Schonely, a local legend) is burgers and beer. Indeed, the Blazers Burger (two patties with optional bacon) is the best you’ll find in the stadium. It runs something like 10 dollars but it’s well worth it. Again, tons of local beer selections, popular with locals and tourists alike, can be had here.
Outside the stadium
Far and away my favorite sports restaurant in Portland is Nick’s Coney Island in SE Portland. In high school we would drive something like 20 minutes to go there in order to select between a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a chili burger, a single hot dog or a double hot dog. Literally that was the whole menu. Oh yea, they did coleslaw too. We’d marvel when the owner would park his big old Cadillac in the middle of traffic, come in to buy us (usually the only customers) a round of sodas (RC soda mind you, not Coke or Pepsi) and then talk sports. The place is decorated with all sorts of old-time pictures, many of them autographed, and tons of framed newspapers going back 50 or more years. In the last few months, Nick’s was sold to a new owner who has modernized it a bit, but I’m told it’s still worth the trip. The place is no-nonsense, very affordable and located a few miles from the Rose Garden in Southeast Portland.
A few other places worth checking out before or after a game are: Fire on the Mountain (famous for their wings and beers specials, located very close to the Rose Garden), Henry’s (one of the places “to see and be seen,” has a lot of flatscreens and a HUGE bar but closes early and is across the river from the RG), The Agency (brand-new place owned by the son of a Former Blazer, they do cool things like offer 10 percent discounts to customers that name-check BlazersEdge.com, also located across the river), and On Deck (the prototypical sports bar with outdoor seating, kind of sucks during the rainy season but could be a great playoff spot, assuming the Blazers ever make the playoffs, also located across the river).
Never to be overlooked in a Portland food article is Jake’s, which is a local institute famous for seafood, strong drinks, and top-class service. It really doesn’t have much of a sports tie-in (other than some Blazer autographs on the wall) but it’s a must for anyone visiting Portland.
Two other “can’t forget to mentions”: Huber’s (a favorite hangout of Blazers about 10 years ago and the occasional Blazer today, very private feel inside and is known for its famous Spanish Coffees) and Portland City Grill (located on the 30th floor of a downtown building, it’s one of the classiest places in the city and is purportedly Nate McMillan’s favorite spot in Portland).
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