by Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN Staff Writer
An NBA team plays 82 games (and a few more if they’re fortunate), but players eat hundreds of meals over the course of a season. The game might be the main event — but dinner is essential. When it’s time to pick a place, players consider a number of factors. Do they want familiar fare or haute cuisine? A destination or a chain? Here are 10 restaurants the league loves:
1. Nobu (Los Angeles, multiple locations)
For years, Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa operated a nondescript storefront on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles for show-biz foodies. Today, it’s the NBA’s favorite destination restaurant. Steph Curry has shut down the joint, Ron Artest watched a Lakers-Mavs game (from which he was suspended) in the Dallas location, and DeAndre Jordan frequents Malibu Nobu near his home regularly.
2. The Cheesecake Factory (multiple locations)
When the chain opens this fall in Toronto, The Cheesecake Factory will have a presence in all 28 NBA markets.
That’s good news for NBA players, who have a longstanding love affair with this ubiquitous chain. James Harden was eating at the Oklahoma City location at Penn Square Mall when he learned the Thunder had dealt him to Houston.
What’s the appeal for players? Enormous portions, roomy booths that can accommodate large bodies, and the security of knowing the offerings are consistent at every location.
3. Philippe by Philippe Chow (New York)
— The Hollywood Times (@hwoodtimes) February 11, 2016
For more than a decade, savvy NBA veterans haven’t been able to get enough of the chicken satay at this upmarket Chinese spot a block off Central Park. But it isn’t about the food at Philippe — it’s about the glitz and glamour of celebs holding court in the black lacquer and scarlet parlors. In February 2016, the Warriors took the place over after shellacking the Knicks, hosting nearly 100 friends and family.
4. Prime 112 (Miami)
Prime 112 is the default postgame dining location for any visiting NBA player to Miami. In both 2013 and 2014, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade & Co. hit the contemporary steakhouse after polishing off the Indiana Pacers in the conference finals. After paying the bill, ballers are on the doorstep to South Beach’s hot nightlife options.
5. Chipotle Mexican Grill (multiple locations)
— James Harden (@JHarden13) September 15, 2015
More popular with younger guys than with vets, the Mexican fast-casual chain is the NBA’s No. 1 go-to option on the road, where there’s sure to be a location in close proximity to the team hotel. Many player agents procure a Chipotle celebrity card for their clients, entitling them to a free meal every day. As fast food goes, the burritos and bowls are a comparatively healthy alternative to the chicken fingers that led the league in usage rate a decade ago.
6. Benihana (multiple locations)
A thorough investigation found that Pacers star Paul George leads the league in affinity for this Japanese steakhouse chain. There’s actually a Twitter feed dedicated to mentions of Benihana by NBA players. The place has several things going for it. The theater-in-the-square seating makes it conducive for group dinners. The hibachi steak, chicken and shrimp offerings make it a protein bomb in an increasingly health-conscious league. And NBA players admire the handles of the swashbuckling chefs.
7. Il Gabbiano (Miami)
After then-Miami Heat sharpshooter Ray Allen ripped out the Spurs’ hearts in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, coach Gregg Popovich insisted that the San Antonio Spurs keep their reservation at this white-linen Italian favorite in downtown Miami overlooking Biscayne Bay. The encyclopedic wine list, creamy risottos and veal chops provided a salve for the Spurs. But the just desserts came one year later following Game 4 when they were back at Il Gabbiano after grabbing a 3-1 lead over Miami with two perfect exhibitions of basketball.
8. Catch (New York and West Hollywood)
Location, location, location is the secret to the enormous New York flagship of this upscale haunt. Situated in the Meatpacking District, players can feast on seafood towers and sushi before heading upstairs to the rooftop bar. When ready to move on, they’re only four blocks from 1OAK, the NBA’s club of choice in Manhattan. Since opening last year, Catch’s West Hollywood location — also outfitted with an appealing rooftop bar — has become a magnet for NBA stars during their West coast swing and the offseason.
9. Fogo de Chao (multiple locations)
A churrascaria used to qualify as too exotic, but when athletes realized that it essentially translates into an all-you-can-eat meat parade served tableside along with unlimited salad and veggies, they began to flock en masse to this Brazilian steakhouse. NBA players like that Fogo takes reservations and will accommodate large parties in private rooms. In March, Jahlil Okafor treated a party of several dozen, including the entire boys basketball team from his alma mater in Chicago.
10. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (multiple locations)
We at Ruth Chris steakhouse and @jhard13 just asked the waiter did Ruth Chris really live here!! WTF hahahaahah
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) January 19, 2010
When eating on the road, NBA players fear the unknown, but they often want a more urbane experience than what The Cheesecake Factory offers. On those nights, they often head to this chain steakhouse that boasts a location in 27 of the league’s 28 markets (for visitors to Oklahoma City, we recommend Cattleman’s for authenticity, Mahogany for refinement). The BBQ shrimp appetizer is a favorite.