Instead of Tailgating, Playing the Culinary Field

Stadium food has improved, yet no one's ever going to mistake a food-court burger with dim sum from a Michelin-starred chef. (Especially when the prices are eerily similar.) Next time you're heading to the stadium, consider a pre-game meal at these detours. They're worth the time—and you won't have to stop for Pepto-Bismol on the way home.

Arizona Cardinals

Restaurant: Barrio Café 2814 N. 16th St. (15.6 mi. from University of Phoenix Stadium)

This bustling, no-reservations neighborhood joint serves great traditional Mexican food, such as Oaxacan chicken with mole negro ($19) and poblanos stuffed with shrimp ($21). Get a Milagro tequila Bloody Mary ($13) with your huevos rancheros ($10), and save room for the churros filled with gooey caramelized goat's milk ($11).

Atlanta Falcons

Restaurant: Holeman & Finch Public House 2277 Peachtree Rd. (5.4 mi. from the Georgia Dome)

James Beard award-winner Linton Hopkins' latest restaurant features communal tables and a meat-centric menu. If you're not up for a brunch of souse (also known as head cheese) or glazed-lamb sweetbreads, the double-patty "Down Low Cheeseburger" ($11) is worth the trip. Wash it down with the Cloak and Swagger ($10), a lethal combination of gin, ginger liqueur, bitters, and lemon.

Baltimore Ravens

Restaurant: B&O American Brasserie 2 North Charles St. (1.8 mi. from M&T Bank Stadium)

Opt for the flatbreads—Neapolitan-style pizzas, really—with topping combinations such as asparagus, ricotta, and fried egg ($9). (The sweet potato gnocchi with lobster, $22, isn't bad either.) Located in the former headquarters of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the restaurant pays tribute to its history with details from old dining and railway cars.

Buffalo Bills

Restaurant: Schwabl's 780 Center Rd., West Seneca (7.3 mi. from Ralph Wilson Stadium)

Buffalo wings are a West New York staple, but so is Beef-on-Weck: slow-roasted sliced beef on a crusty salt and caraway seed kummelweck roll, dipped in jus and served with horseradish. Nobody does Beef-on-Weck ($11.25) like Schwabl's. When it's cold—and it will be—wash one down with a Tom & Jerry ($6.25), a hot rum and brandy cocktail.

Carolina Panthers

Restaurant: Customshop 1601 Elizabeth Ave. (2.1 mi. from Bank of America Stadium)

David Pasternack, of New York City's Esca, consulted on this seafood-centric Italian restaurant. Before the game, try the short rib and sweet potato hash with poached eggs, kale, and hollandaise ($13). And since it's the South, order a side of creamy grits ($3.50).

Chicago Bears

Restaurant: The Publican 837 W. Fulton Mkt. (3 1 mi. from Soldier Field)

Start things off with a Bloody Mary-and-craft-beer chaser combo ($7-$8), and go with whatever pork sandwich is on the menu. With luck, it will be the mortadella and fried-egg sandwich ($14) paired curiously, and fantastically, with peaches and Dijon mayonnaise. It goes great with maple syrup-braised bacon ($5).

Cincinnati Bengals

Restaurant: Tucker's 1637 Vine St. (1.3 mi. from Paul Brown Stadium)

Tucker's isn't much to look at, but the family-run establishment turns out excellent diner standards, such as Carla Tucker's chicken salad ($5), with meat and produce from nearby Findlay Market. Get there early; after noon, the kitchen starts to run out.

Cleveland Browns

Restaurant: Fire 13220 Shaker Sq. (6.7 mi. from Cleveland Browns Stadium)

Doug Katz is known as the Alice Waters of Cleveland for locavore tendencies such as tapping his own maple syrup, pickling his cucumbers, and curing salmon. On game day, try his braised beef tacos with black bean stew, cilantro cream, and mole sauce ($13) or lemon soufflé pancakes ($11).

Dallas Cowboys

Restaurant: Love Shack 110 E. Exchange Ave., Ft. Worth (19.8 mi. from Cowboys Stadium)

Topped with American cheese, wild boar bacon, fried quail egg, and Chef Tim Love's special sauce, the Dirty Love Burger ($6.24) is part chuck, part sirloin, and better than any stadium burger.

Denver Broncos

Restaurant: Bistro Vendôme 1420 Larimer St. (2 mi. from Invesco Field)

Start off with a "Tall Napoléon" ($9.50)—a layered concoction of Benedictine and brandy, chartreuse, and cognac. For a savory dish, try the croque madame ($10), an open-faced grilled-cheese sandwich with ham, béchamel, fried egg, and served with fries; alternatively, the almond-crusted French toast topped with brûléed bananas will satisfy any sweet tooth ($9.50).

Detroit Lions

Restaurant: Slows Bar BQ 2138 Michigan Ave. (1.9 mi. from Ford Field)

The name is a nod to the slow food movement and the lengthy meat-cooking process, while the industrial décor places this five-year-old hangout firmly in the 21st century. Pair the Reason ($7.95), a pulled-pork sandwich with coleslaw and dill pickles, with a local lager by Atwater Block Brewing ($5).

Green Bay Packers

Restaurant: Kavarna Vegetarian Coffeehouse 143 N. Broadway St. (2.9 mi. from Lambeau Field)

The hot marinated artichoke wrap with black olives, provolone, tomato, and cream cheese ($7.45) is the best seller at this vegetarian spot. If meat is a must, Kavarna's owners recently opened Parisi's Deli in the same building. It boasts a spicy Italian sub piled high with mortadella, hot capicola, sopressata, and pistachios ($8.45).

Houston Texans

Restaurant: RDG + Bar Annie 1800 Post Oak Blvd. (9 mi. from Reliant Park)

A multiconcept restaurant with three different spaces and two sets of menus can be overwhelming. Order the "canned" fresh smoked oysters in a spicy lime-spiked cocktail sauce ($16) to go with your grapefruit margarita ($12).

Indianapolis Colts

Restaurant: Hollyhock Hill 8110 North College Ave. (10.4 mi. from Lucas Oil Stadium)

Family-style meals at this 1928 institution begin with pickled beets, relish, cottage cheese, and iceberg lettuce, and end with ice-cream sundaes. The famous fried chicken ($18.95) comes with huge servings of mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and buttermilk biscuits.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Restaurant: Biscottis 3556 St. Johns Ave. (5.1 mi. from Alltel Stadium)

Known for desserts—particularly its coconut layer cake and upside-down pecan rum pound cake ($8 a slice)—this coffee house also makes a killer prosciutto and arugula frittata ($8.50).

Kansas City Chiefs

Restaurant: Po's Dumpling Bar 1715 W. 39th St. (7.1 mi. from Arrowhead Stadium)

Head right for the authentic Taiwanese fare: Long, crepe-like emperor dumplings ($5.95) stuffed with pork and vegetables and cold sesame noodles made from a pasta machine ($8.95).

Miami Dolphins

Restaurant: Hakkasan 4441 Collins Ave. (16.9 mi. from Sun Life Stadium)

The restored Fontainebleau has Miami's best Chinese restaurant, Hakkasan, a Michelin-starred London export. The menu's real stars are perfectly crisped sausage-studded turnip cakes ($6), siew long bun ($6), and barbecued roast duck ($18). Finish with a Chinese Mule, a sake-spiked twist on the classic ($14).

Minnesota Vikings

Restaurant: Hell's Kitchen 80 S. 9th St. (1.2 mi. from Mall of America Field)

Don't be deterred by the red-and-black décor or the vulture mascot. The food here is serious. Kick off with Chef Omer Mahnomin's porridge ($3.75)—a hot, wild-rice pudding topped with berries, nuts, maple syrup and heavy cream—before devouring the Walleye BLT, a parmesan-crusted walleye filet with lemon-scallion tartar sauce ($14.95).

New England Patriots

Restaurant: Alta Strada

92 Central St., Wellesley (20 mi. from Gillette Stadium)

Chef Michael Schlow cooks top-notch Italian on Wellesley's main drag. Start with antipasti—homemade ricotta with sage and olive oil; garlic and red pepper-flecked broccolini; and eggplant capionata (three for $15)—and save room for the breakfast pizza with egg and pancetta ($13) or mushroom lune with truffle cream sauce ($22).

New Orleans Saints

Restaurant: Cochon Butcher 930 Tchoupitoulas (1.5 mi. from Louisiana Superdome)

Donald Link's butcher shop is a meat counter-cum-wine bar with ready-to-grill items and pork-centric sandwiches—such as pork belly with cucumber and mint ($10) or the buckboard bacon melt with Swiss cheese and collard greens ($9). Burn it off on the walk to the Superdome.

New York Giants and New York Jets

Restaurant: Laico's 67 Terhune Ave., Jersey City (10.5 mi. from New Meadowlands Stadium)

Sure, new Meadowlands Stadium has revamped its food offerings. For authentic Jersey red sauce, though, head to this 60-seat joint, which has been serving monster portions since 1971. Giants fans should order the hearty veal cutlet francese ($18.95), while die-hard Jets fans might try spicy shrimp fra diavolo ($18.95).

Oakland Raiders

Restaurant: Bellanico 4238 Park Blvd. (5.2 mi. from Oakland-Alameda Coliseum)

Skip the infamous colossal dog in favor of homemade pastas, such as the bacon- and jalapeno-spiked tagliolini pepati ($13). On Sundays, the menu also includes Italian-inspired brunch fare, like the bomboloni ($7) with sage custard.

Philadelphia Eagles

Restaurant: Village Whiskey 118 S. 20th St. (4.6 mi. from Lincoln Financial Field)

There are more than 130 whiskeys on the menu, as well as cocktails divided into Prohibition and Repeal. Soak it up with the Whiskey King burger, loaded with foie gras, bacon, and blue cheese ($26), and duck-fat fries with cheddar ($7).

Pittsburgh Steelers

Restaurant: Dozen Bake Shop 3511 Butler St. (6.4 mi. from Heinz Field)

The local chain recently added to its repertoire brunch items like bacon and asiago quiche ($7) and cream-cheese stuffed French toast ($8.50).

San Diego Chargers

Restaurant: Saffron 3731-B & 3737 India St. (6 mi. from Qualcomm Stadium)

The 65-seat restaurant offers curries, noodles, soups, and sates, but traditionalists should order chicken with peanut sauce and red rice. The chicken marinates overnight in almond milk, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass chilis before being roasted on a spit for two hours ($8.50).

San Francisco 49ers

Restaurant: Bar Tartine 561 Valencia St. (6 mi. from Candlestick Park)

For brunch, the focus is on hearty, delicious sandwiches such as the foie gras-and-red wine jam panini ($16) and bacon and egg croissant with sweet herbs and greens ($12).

Seattle Seahawks

Restaurant: Cafe Flora 2901 E. Madison St. (3 mi. from Qwest Field)

Opened in an old laundromat nearly 20 years ago, Cafe Flora has been turning out inventive vegetarian dishes such as black-eyed pea fritters with a chipotle aioli, collard greens, and grits ($10.50) and a mushroom, chèvre, and egg-stuffed pastry with red wine sauce ($12).

St. Louis Rams

Restaurant: Brasserie by Niche 4580 Laclede Ave. (4.7 mi. from Edward Jones Dome)

Gerard Craft's third and most recent installment in St. Louis' Central West End is a traditional brasserie. Stick to the French onion soup ($6)—thick and rich but not sweet—and roast chicken with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms ($18).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Restaurant: BT 1633 West Snow Ave. (3.2 mi from Raymond James Stadium)

At this French-Vietnamese bistro, try mussels in a lemongrass and basil white-wine broth ($10); duck dumplings ($8.50); or cognac-seared filet mignon over watercress ($11). And don't miss the kaffir lime and lemongrass martini ($11).

Tennessee Titans

Restaurant: Burger Up 2901 12th Ave. S. (4.5 mi. from LP Field)

The Woodstock burger ($11)—a 1/3 pounder topped with bacon, white cheddar, and Jack Daniels ketchup— is the way to go. If you're in the mood for something less meaty, try the beer-poached prawns with Bloody Mary cocktail sauce ($8).

Washington Redskins

Restaurant: Mussel Bar 7262 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, Md. (17.9 mi. from FedEx Field)

The moules frites ($16) come served several ways, from the classic to the less traditional (spicy Thai). The restaurant is also fanatical about its beer. Try the house pilsner, the Brabo Pils ($7). Whatever you do, don't ask for a Bud Light.

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