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The Best NBA Food Cities: Eastern Conference Playoffs

Media designed for the oculus at Barclays Center by ESI Design
Media designed for the oculus at Barclays Center by ESI Design
Reading Time: 10 minutes

You might have thought to yourself that it would never happen, but the NBA postseason is finally upon us. We finally know the 16 teams fighting for basketball glory in the next two months. Earlier this week, I wrote about the best NBA food cities among the Western Conference playoff teams. In this article, I will be doing the same for their Eastern counterparts.

But first, let’s mourn the amazing food cities, we’ve missed out on in this year’s postseason: Miami missed it by only two games. Washington D.C, Atlanta, and Chicago never really had a chance – even in the weaker Eastern Conference. In the West, I would have loved to include Dallas, New Orleans, and even Memphis. Well, no luck this year. We still have a terrific lineup, worth a trip to support your team in an out-of-state series.

8. Orlando

Sometimes I feel like a broken record. There aren’t any losers on this NBA food cities list either. I joked in the Western Conference article that the cities in the East were easier to rank, but when I had to sit down and do it, I struggled. I decided to put Orlando in last place. Not because I think there isn’t good food to find in the hometown of the Magic, but because it isn’t known for it. 72 million tourists flock to Orlando every year. Most of them to visit Disneyland or the Universal theme parks. It isn’t a secret that the food around the parks is not the best, but downtown things are happening.

Downtown Orlando

Orlando has a growing number of Asian-American residents, who demand authentic Asian cuisine. If you’ve ever read Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh Off the Boat or watched the ABC sitcom it’s based on, you’d understand that this is a somewhat new development. The city is making waves in the culinary world with multiple local chefs receiving recognition by the James Beard Foundation in recent years. A new generation of dynamic chefs wants to change Orlando’s image of just being a city of chain restaurants. SoCo, short for Southern Comfort, is most often named as the hottest restaurant in town. Chef Greg Richie is combining traditional Southern fare with Asian and Hawaiian influences. Get involved, study up before you visit. Please don’t end up at a T.G.I.Fridays!

7. Milwaukee

The 5th to 7th position on our list are all reserved for Midwest and/or Rust Belt cities. Anyone one of them can undoubtedly take any of the other two’s spot. I put Milwaukee as the least developed food scene out of the three. But things are happening in Milwaukee, and as a basketball fan, you should be paying attention. The fact, that Giannis Antetokounmpo will most likely remain on the Bucks for the foreseeable future will make Milwaukee an NBA travel destination.

Milwaukee by Night
Source: Growler Magazine

Milwaukee has the reputation of being a food destination for cheese, bratwurst, and beer. But similarly to Salt Lake City, which we mentioned in the Western Conference article, Milwaukee’s culinary scene is evolving due to changing demographics. The city has a growing Latino population that makes up almost 20% of Milwaukee residents. Additionally, the progressive beacon in Wisconsin is majority non-white. Only 37% of Milwaukee residents are Caucasian. New taco places compliment the Brat houses perfectly. As long as the food goes well with beer and cheese, Milwaukeeans will embrace it. For a traditional experience visit Milwaukee Brat House. To satisfy your taco cravings, I’d recommend Guanajuato (known as GTO in Milwaukee), Kompali Taqueria, or the Taqueria Buenavista food truck.

6. Indianapolis

You might disagree, but Indy has repeatedly been listed as a culinary food destination by really credible sources. Zagat named Circle City among their hottest food cities of 2016 and 2017Food & Wine proclaimed it as one of their Favourite Food Cities in America, and Condé Nast Traveler crowned Indianapolis America’s Most Underrated Food City. The restaurant with the most global acclaim in Indianapolis has unfortunately never existed in real life and was closed when the world was introduced to it. I, of course, am talking about Charles Mulligan’s Steakhouse. On Parks and Recreation, in the episode “Indianapolis,” Ron Swanson is trying to eat “the best steak in the damn state” at his favourite establishment. The restaurant, however, had been shut down by health and safety authorities before his arrival. He, therefore, settles for “all the bacon and eggs” at a local diner.

I am not ready to let Parks and Recreation go just yet. The show just celebrated the 10th anniversary of their pilot this week, and Indy food plays a significant role in the series. In season 5, Swanson finally finds another steakhouse that is up to his standard. Only this time, you can taste their delicious steaks as well. St. Elmo Steak House is one of Indianapolis’ oldest restaurants having opened in 1902. It is a favourite among NFL and NBA players alike. For an upscale version of Ron Swanson’s “all the bacon and eggs,” visit Milktooth, an inventive breakfast and brunch place, which is the talk of the town.

5. Detroit

No large city in the United States has been hit as hard by the 2008 financial crisis as hard as Detroit. The Motor City even had to declare bankruptcy and install a city manager back in 2013. But a phoenix is slowly rising from the ashes and rubble. Detroit has become a home to swaths of millennials that were priced out of their hometowns. The home of the Pistons is a pioneer of the urban gardening/farming trend. It is also a destination sports fans should know well. Detroit is one of only six American cities with sports teams in all four major leagues, that play within city limits. You should know where to eat!

Detroit

Traditionally, Detroit is known for its square Detroit-style pizza. But the city has evolved. Neighbouring Dearborn, Michigan, probably has the best Middle Eastern food in North America, due to its sizeable Arab-Muslim population. Other than that, Detroit has developed a reputable fine dining scene. Restaurants like Lady of the House or The Apparatus Room are leading the charge in feeding Detroiters with disposable income. For visitor’s on a budget, there is a plethora of options across global cuisines to discover.

4. Boston

You probably should know a couple of good restaurants in Boston. There is a good chance if you are following your team to an away game, that in the postseason you’ll end up in Beantown. No other city has won more championships this millennium that Boston: 6 Super Bowls, 4 World Series, a Stanley Cup, and an NBA Championship. That means in this millennium, in any given year Boston was likelier to win a title than not. What holds Boston out of the top spots on the list, is the stringent environment that makes it hard for young restauranteurs to thrive. Rents are very expensive, but what sets Boston apart, are the exorbitant costs associated with attaining a liquor license.

Aerial View of Downtown Boston

Other than that, Boston is one of the best food towns in America. The North End has some exceptional Italian restaurants, while the rest of the city is an eclectic mix of global cuisines. Celeste is a celebrated Peruvian restaurant delighting the young and hip Somerville crowds. Puritan & Co. is redefining classic New England fare. And The Table at Season to Taste, helmed by Top Chef alumn Carl Dooley, must get its fair share of Harvard and MIT students when they’re getting treated by their out-of-town parents. For an elevated version of classics like a lobster roll or New England clam chowder, I’d recommend The Hourly Oyster House.

3. Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love has become one of the premier culinary destinations in North America. And the right time on top of that. Like Detroit, Philly is one of those cities with four sports teams within its city limits. And all of them are rather successful at the moment. The Eagles won the Super Bowl last year, the Phillies just acquired Bryce Harper for what feels like a century, the Flyers have a trendy mascot, and the 76ers might be good for the next decade.

South Philly Barbacoa
Weekend Barbacoa Tacos at South Philly Barbacoa

People used to visit Philadelphia or the Liberty Bell and the Rockie statue, but now tourists are coming to enjoy the food scene. Philadelphia has long been a melting pot of vibrant cultures and flavours. Today, the ever-changing population and cosmopolitan diners all but guarantee the success of mom-and-pop eateries celebrating every part of the globe. The best example is widely celebrated South Philly Barbacoa. A barbacoa taco place run by Cristina Martinez, an undocumented immigrant from Capulhuac, Mexico. She’s been named among Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants of 2016 and even had an episode of Chef’s Table filmed at her spot. But also traditional restaurants are thriving. Vedge is often called “the best vegan restaurant in the world” and Zahav, a modern Israeli eatery by chef Michael Solomonov, has put Philadelphia as a dining destination on the map. Craving a cheesesteak or scrapple? Stop by Dutch Eating Place for scrapple, and John’s Roast Pork or Tony Luke’s for you Philly cheesesteak.

2. Toronto

We didn’t want to put our hometown in the number one spot. Even though, for many that wouldn’t have been controversial. Chef, author and presenter Eddie Huang has called Toronto the best food city in North America and David Chang only puts Los Angeles ahead of the 6ix. This NBA postseason, the Raptors might hang around for a little longer. Lebron James has switched conferences, and therefore, Toronto won’t be called “Lebronto” during the playoffs anymore.

View of Toronto Skyline

As arguably the most culturally diverse city on the planet (don’t come at us London/New York), the culinary offerings are endless. Some cities have a Chinatown. Some cities have a really big Chinatown. Toronto has between 4-5 Chinatowns – downtown, in midtown and multiple suburbs. The local Carribean and South Asian populations have created new culinary genres, and young chefs with original ideas are making Toronto a foodie’s paradise. I won’t play favourites and recommend a bunch of places. Check out our DINE NOW section and you’ll book your flights soon thereafter.

1. Brooklyn, New York

No, you didn’t fall asleep and missed the Knicks making the playoffs. Maybe next year if they get a couple of free agents and Zion Williamson. No, the often belittled Brooklyn Nets were able to string together an impressive regular season and end up as the 3-seed. Manhattan is a great place to eat, we know. But the Nets play in Brooklyn, arguably a city of its own. Gentrification has brought about higher rents, but also some of the best restaurants on the continent.

Dumbo, Brooklyn

Diner is a Brooklyn institution which opened on New Year’s Eve 1999 in a Pullman car from the twenties on a corner underneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Frankie’s Spuntino 457 in Carol Garden serves some of the best classic Italian fare in America. Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick has become world-famous and just opened locations on the West Coast. Mile End is a nod to Brooklyn’s Jewish population, serving American and Canadian deli classics.

Russ and Daughter’s at the Navy Yard falls into the same mould. The original location on the Lower East Side of Manhattan will have you queue for literal hours. They also serve their mostly cured and smoked fish classics at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. The Brooklyn place is brand new and will give you a real taste of New York. I could go on and on and on… My advice: Walk until you’re tired, sit down at a place and eat. You’re most likely going to have a good experience.

Disagree with my ranking? Did I forget a place in your hometown? Let us know on our Facebook and Twitter.

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Written by Kevin Sachs

Kevin Sachs was born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland. As a former broadcast journalist for SRF, his previous works were featured in Haaretz, Le Matin, Tagesanzeiger, Süddeutsche Zeitung and AWE Magazine. With his passion for all things food and travel, it was only a matter of time until he ended up at DINE Magazine.

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