SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re looking for a good meal before a Jazz game, the newly remodeled Vivint Arena has a wide variety of options — even if the selection is slim.
It’s probably best to think of the menus at the arena's eateries like sports highlights — patrons won’t get the full game, but they will get a sampling of the most popular items from the handful of local food establishments housed in the arena.
For Vivint Arena president Jim Olson, choosing which Utah restaurants to put in the newly remodeled space wasn't just a matter of getting good local restaurants, but also picking options that didn’t have a lot of other locations.
“We chose places that were not only what we thought were the best, but also the most unique,” Olson said. “We wanted it to be special.”
Trying to bring good, quality food to a sports and entertainment arena can be a challenge — people come to sporting events looking for old standbys such as hotdogs and nachos but, as food quality has improved throughout the country in recent years, people also have higher expectations, making local restaurants such as R&R Barbeque, El Chubasco, Maxwell's and Cubby's natural choices, according to Olson. In fact, Olson said, Vivint Arena's developers chose these restaurants because they fit into what they termed the arena's “four food corners:" hamburgers, pizza, barbecue and Mexican food.
And because this is Utah, with its love of sweets — last year, Utah finished in the top 10 states for ice cream consumption, according to the food website finedininglovers.com — Olson had to make sure the ice cream flowed like water — or beer.
“Most sports arenas serve a lot of beer — we serve a ton of ice cream,” he said.
And so, in the spirit of the game, we did our best to sample as much food as we could consume in the remodeled Vivint Arena. Here are our findings:
With roots in New Jersey and Italy, Maxwell’s East Coast Eatery set up shop in Park City in 2005 where it specializes in New York style pizza, Philly cheesesteaks and homemade pasta dishes. Maxwell's Vivint Arena menu offers cheese ($6) and pepperoni ($7) slices, whole pies ($30 and up, with a gluten-free option for $20 and up), cheesesteaks ($12) and chicken Phillys ($12).
Maxwell’s secret is in the sauce — its pizza sauce, to be exact — a nice robust red sauce (you can really taste that oregano) served on a New York style thin crust with a decent amount of cheese that never quite reached that heart-attack oozing level. The bread was chewy, with big air pockets that were just right for tearing into.
Cubby’s has seven Utah locations — Vivint Arena makes eight — doing brisk business around the state. The restaurant is filling the arena's need for food options that are what Olson called “healthy, but not too much.” Healthy or not, Cubby's tri-tip steak salad ($14) and an order of rosemary fries ($4) won our MVP award for the night.
The salad's marinated steak was freshly grilled on site and thinly sliced onto a bed of greens tossed with sliced almonds, cherry tomatoes, cheese, feta and cilantro swathed in a lemon cilantro dressing, with a handful of dried cherries thrown in for a sweet finish. Plus, the salad made it easier to down all of the rosemary fries since we could fool ourselves that the salad was light eating.
In addition to the tri-tip salad, Cubby's at Vivint Arena also offers two different burgers ($11), a spicy lemon chicken salad ($13.50), two sandwiches ($11/$11.50), Buffalo blue cheese fries ($6) in addition to their rosemary fries, mac and cheese ($4.50), a couple of shakes ($6) and a kid's burger ($4.50). If you order fries, don’t miss the chipotle or other fry dipping sauces.
Another Park City transplant, El Chubasco has long been a local favorite, being voted Park City's best Mexican restaurant every year since Park Record started the awards in 2013, according to elchubascomexicangrill.com.
When we received our nachos with shredded chicken ($10) — which you can also get with steak or carnitas — I admit that my inner food snob raised her eyebrows. The lurid yellow processed cheese and the thin drizzle of sour cream didn’t exactly inspire food confidence. But one bite in and I remembered two important truths: Processed cheese is delicious and nachos don't need to be pretty.
The shredded chicken was flavorful and moist, and the more we dug into the chip heap, the more goodies we uncovered: diced fresh tomatoes! Refried beans! Guacamole! Hello — is that more wonderful processed cheese? It was like watching Karl Malone during his heyday get stronger as the game went on.
In addition to the treasure trove of nachos, Vivint Arena's El Chubasco also offers its El Chubby Burrito ($12), street style tacos in beef, chicken or carnitas ($8), cheese tamales ($8), a salad ($13) and chips and salsa ($6). No matter what you order, be sure to head over to the salsa bar to pick from a selection of six sauces.
Meat lovers need walk no further than R&R Barbeque — one of the arena's four food corners — you have to admire an organization that puts Mexican food, pizza, burgers and barbecue as the four food groups. R&R is high-quality barbecue with an edge, which basically means that its sauce is slightly spicy, deliciously tangy and the meat gloriously fatty — which, when it comes to barbecue, is a good thing. Unlike most of the other Vivint Arena eateries, R&R has a pretty full menu, with pulled pork, brisket, chicken and ribs (all $18), sandwiches ($12), salads ($12) and all the regular sides ($5), plus cajun nachos ($12) that should not be missed.
If the measure of a good hot dog is how many condiments you can pile on top, J. Dawgs is a slam dunk. Dawgs come in either all-beef or Polish (a mixture of beef and sausage) served on a soft bun ($6), and a foot or two away stands their fixing cart, kitted out with dill pickle spears as well as sauerkraut, onions and a couple of different pepper options.
Small batch gelato in a sports arena? This is a new world we live in. An episode of “The Apprentice" inspired owner Maxim Morozoff to start Bon Bon, a gelato and ice cream catering company (remember Utah's ice cream consumption?) Bon Bon's gelato cart sells a rotating mixture of flavors depending on the event — boozy flavors on concert nights and more family friendly fare during Jazz games. The gelato is rich, creamy and delicious. We recommend the butter pecan. Sizes come in cups ($6) or bowls ($9).
With an 80-year Utah history and three ice cream shops around the state, local favorite Farr’s Fresh now has a home in Vivint Arena — and for the money, this is the arena's best deal. Ice cream lovers can get a good-sized bowl with two scoops of delicious ice cream for $5. Like all of the arena's restaurants, the selection is limited, with just five flavors, but really, how many options does a person need? We tried Double Dribble, a Vivint Arena-only flavor of chocolate and vanilla with real caramel swirls, and mint chocolate chip, which was wonderfully minty and rich. Sizes come in cups ($5), cones ($6.25) or souvenir bowls ($9).
A few things to note:
If you’re at a Jazz game, all of Vivint Arena's restaurants close in the middle of the third quarter, so plan your night accordingly. You can still get the sweet stuff and beer, but your food options will shrink considerably as the fourth quarter starts.
Bottles of water are $5 at Vivint Arena, and a can of soda will set you back $6. There are plenty of drinking fountains throughout the arena, however.4 comments on this story
There is ample, comfortable sitting and eating space at all of the four corners restaurants, including cozy nooks throughout the arena to duck into to eat, have a drink or just escape the roar of the crowd in the arena.
Full list of Vivint Arena eateries:
Farr's Fresh Ice Cream
Maxwell's East Coast Eatery
Zao Asian Cafe
Papa John's Pizza
Hires Big H
Smoke & Pour