Issue 60: Basketball Arena Concessions, Ranked

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One of the quintessential parts of any basketball game is noshing on some food. Now, in our post-Covid world, attending a game in person is still pretty much off the table.

Luckily, we can recreate some of our favorites even if we have to enjoy them at home for a bit. Besides, it’s good to be prepared for the future.

So here it is—a definitive ranking of the concessions you’ll find at basketball games.

A few clarifying notes before we begin:

I’m only considering traditional “classics” for this list. There will be a future issue on more obscure dishes, so things like the Nuggets’ BBQ pork flauta or Spurs’ brisket potato waffle will have their day eventually. It just won’t be today.

Also, it’s just food here. Beer and soda will almost always be tasty and convenient but will be overpriced.

Finally, I’m ranking these items by considering three things: taste, convenience, and value. The last thing you want at a basketball game is something that’s below average, hard to carry, and costs a fortune. We’ve already got Nicolas Batum, amirite? (I’ll see myself out.)

1. Pizza

You’ll have to shell out a few extra simoleons to get pizza at a basketball game, but it’s probably the most filling item you can have. Most arenas have forgone individual slices in favor of a personal pizza, which seems like a better value. It also usually comes in its own little home (more often called a pizza box).

Plus, it’s very hard to screw up a pizza in this setting. Even a bad pizza is better than no pizza, and many arenas have partnered with successful establishments like Pizza Hut or Little Caesar’s, so you have an idea of what you’re getting.

Note: Your options are typically limited to cheese, pepperoni, and sausage, so for those out there that prefer something like a pineapple, anchovy, and banana pepper combo over a cauliflower crust, your mileage may vary.

But for me, pizza gets top billing at a bball game.

2. Nachos

The biggest deciding factor for nachos isn’t the type of chip or what toppings you can put on it, it’s the sturdiness of the container.

Nachos are inherently a heavy snack. You’ve got your chip base, but then that’s loaded with all kinds of add-ons, like chicken or beef, beans, jalapenos, sour cream, cheese, and, if you’re incredibly brave, accoutrements like a four-layer wedding cake and maybe a rack of baby back ribs.

Do you want all that in a flimsy paper container? No, you do not. But if the ‘chos are chillin’ on something with a little more heft to it, especially if it has a lid? I’m onboard.

3. Soft pretzels

I am not much of a pretzel stick fan normally, but if you soften up that pretzel and turn it from stick into a big old thing I can hold in my hand, I’m suddenly all about it.

Pretzels are usually on the lower end of the price range, and you can often add on some cheese for little or no money, so they’re not terrible value. The problem with soft pretzels is that they are either barely salted (which is actually not so bad) or they are saltier than someone who just lost a rap battle. There’s no in between.

Thankfully, they typically wait for hungry mouths in enormous glass cases, so you can pick whichever one look best. It’ll usually be the wrong decision, but at least you had the final say.

4. Hot dogs

As long as you don’t ever look up what hot dogs are made from, they’re a pretty solid choice at a sporting event. They’re perhaps the most overpriced food per square inch considering you’re only getting a hot dog and a bun, but you can be luxurious with the toppings. Ketchup? Sure. Mustard? Let’s do it. Relish? I relish the opportunity.

Bonus points for the big ol’ squirtable containers housing the condiments. There’s something satisfying about dousing your dog in mustard, though you will most certainly misfire and ruin your shirt one out of every three times.

5. Burgers

I will very rarely turn down a burger, but there’s one main issue at a basketball game: the potential for leakage.

Unless your burger of choice is strictly meat on bun, you may very well have mustard or mayo spilling out of the other side as soon as you take a bite. That leaves you with colorful pants that, sadly, are not of the parachute variety, so people will know they’re not supposed to have those unique patterns.

Some concession stands now offer plant-based alternatives. I’ve never sampled one, but it’s nice to have variety for vegetarians.

6. Fries

Fries by themselves are highly enjoyable. I ate some tonight, in fact. At basketball games, you’re probably ordering something more extravagant than plain fries. Go ahead and make like Fall Out Boy and light ‘em up!

However, know what you’re getting yourself into. While I normally prefer fries over nachos, at a basketball game, it’s nachos all the way.

A big reason why: fries will almost always arrive in the aforementioned flimsy container. It’s great if you want to spill on the person in front of you, but unless they’re a fan of the opposing team and you’re fine being totally rude to a stranger just because they root for a different squad, you’re gonna have a bad time.

7. Popcorn

I am not normally a fan of popcorn in any setting, though I would much rather prefer it at a movie instead of a basketball game.

At a movie, I can pair popcorn with an ICEE or a 64-ounce Dr. Pepper and just let the sugar jitters rush over me. At a game, I’ll probably spill half the bag before I even sit down, as I balance it alongside a misshapen beer glass.

I can’t prove this because I’m not a food scientist, but popcorn at a sporting event generally tastes inferior compared to movie popcorn. It must be the butter flavoring.

Popcorn is also an easily throwable item, and while I trust you are smart enough to not throw popcorn at other people (including players on the court), I have witnessed it happen on more than one occasion. I’d prefer my snacks not be used as projectiles.

8. Candy

Of course, this will depend on the candy that’s available behind the counter. I’m using this spot as a mashup of all the options: things like Peanut M&Ms and Sour Skittles will be at the top of the list, while items like Milk Duds and Dots are closer to the bottom.

Candy has the unfortunate tendency to get stuck in your teeth, too. Ain’t nothing worse than a Jujyfruit caught in between your chompers and gums.

So here’s an even better idea: Skip the candy at the game and just bring your own basketball-themed candy and chocolate.

9. Peanuts

Get out of here — this isn’t a baseball game. Peanuts are a lot of work for minimal reward, and this is coming from someone that enjoys them normally. Just bring a container of peanut butter and be done with it.

Plus, you leave peanut shells everywhere. That’s not very nice to the custodial staff.

Did I miss anything on this list? Do you wildly disagree? Hit that reply button and put me in my place.

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That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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