So, why would anyone eat dinner at the San Jose Arena? I’ve been doing it for over 14 years, and, if the lines are any indication, so have a lot of other people.
I started having dinner at the Arena as a matter of convenience. My children were very small when I started going to the 7:30 pm, games, and it was just easier to get a sitter to come at 6:30 or 7:00 and give them clean, fed babies to watch. Also, the traffic on the highway near me peaks about 6:30 pm, so you spend less time on the road the later you leave the house. After a couple of years, eating at the Tank (another name for the Arena, because the San Jose Sharks ice hockey team plays there) has become a deeply entrenched habit. The cheers of the crowd, the vibrations of the loud music, and the salty-sweet taste of junk food washed down with diet soda all go together for me now. Roaming around looking for something to eat gives me an excuse to walk around the arena. Sometimes, I can also use an excuse to take a break from the intensity of play, especially when Detroit is in town. At the last game, I asked the people around me why they ate Arena food, instead of eating at a restaurant in downtown San Jose before the game started. There were one or two purists in my section who always eat in a restaurant before the game, but for many of the people around me, junk food was part of the reason they came out in the first place. Hot dogs, fried food, and peanuts, Popcorn and sport peppers, fried shrimp and garlic fries—lowbrow eaters of the world, unite!
Here are some of the things there are to eat, with prices as of January 2008. The holy trinity of American fast food—burgers, fries, and a Coke—costs $12.00 at the Grillworks (2 locations at the San Jose Arena). A jumbo dog costs $4.50, and they are of good size and available at the 4 ‘regular’ concession stand locations, but you can get a better dog, and much better toppings for $6.50 at the one location that serves Chicago and NY hot dogs and baked potatoes. You can get a really good cardboard tray of nachos at Una Mas with crispy triangular chips and beans, salsa, guacamole, mild sauce and good melted cheese, for $7.50, at 2 locations, or a really bad plastic tray of nachos, with thick, cardboard-like circular chips and orange cheese sauce, next door for $5.50 , at one of the same 4 general concession stands that sell the jumbo dogs. You can get a 20-oz Corona beer for $11.00, and a 12-oz “beer of the world” for $6.00. Good “kettle chips” brand potato chips can be had for $2.50, sold along with the international beer. Beer is the most commonly available food at the Arena, I counted 14 separate places that sell it in different size cups and plastic bottles. If you want to eat something halfway healthy, there is sushi and edamame at Tengu, and caesar salad wraps and decent sandwiches at Coffee Caffe and Chinese chicken salads at Tied House but you have to know where those places are. Get a map at the information desk at the South Entrance to guide you, and stay away from the chicken strips at Fowl Play unless you like really salty chicken strips.
As a general rule, the better food is upstairs, where there are high tables to stand at, and tall chairs as well, you don’t have to look hard for napkins and utensils, and there are lots of TVs so you don’t miss any action. There seems to be one anchor–the BBQ place, which changes hands every few years but stays BBQ. The rest of the food up there changes. One week there is a carvery in a spot next to the Smoke Tiki Lounge BBQ, and the next, there will be pulled pork and meatball subs in the same place. Tengu Sushi has been serving the healthiest food at the Tank for at least 5 years. The nicest surprise I ever got was at the Smoke Tiki Lounge, where their pretty good coleslaw actually had some fresh ginger in it that made really good coleslaw. A semi-romantic dinner is available at the Arena Grill, down on the club level, where the most expensive seats are, but service there can be as slow as traffic on 101, it’s REALLY expensive, and tablecloths and hockey jerseys just don’t go together for me very well.