There are plenty of reasons to visit Spectrum Center. Basketball fans have taken up residence there over the past month, between the Charlotte Hornets’ regular season, NBA All-Star, CIAA and now the ACC Championship games. Of course, it’s also the home to multiple concerts, including upcoming shows for Ariana Grande, Twenty One Pilots and John Mayer.
As a photographer, I spend most of my time either on the floor at sporting events or in the gray room with other photographers, which is where we wait between acts when covering concerts. But occasionally, I get to visit Spectrum Center as a fan, and when I do, I take some time to survey the food vendors and see what they have in store for my food hankerings that’s beyond just an $8 hot dog.
Spectrum can be overwhelming to a new fan or someone who rarely attends events. Rather than walking in a continual loop up and down the escalators all night looking for the best spots to eat, follow this guide instead.
If you have a box or VIP lounge access, scrap this guide and go enjoy your bougie amenities. For purposes of this piece, we’ve focused on the commonly accessible areas.
Here are 5 things to eat the next time you’re there:
(1) Carolina Moonshine Bar-B-Que
Lower level, section 101
Upper level, section 210
What to order: BBQ Nachos
Choice of pork or chicken, queso, sour cream, scallions and jalapeño
I attacked this with a fervor, finding no reason to separate the mild jalepeños from the pulled pork and the mystery cheese and the tortilla chips. The flavors combined to make this a top pick in the nachos category. It’s quite messy, so expect your clothes and face to be heavily invested in this enjoyable eating endeavor.
(2) City Grill
Upper level, section 208
What to order: Tofu wrap
Tofu with romaine, shredded cheese, tomatoes and pesto
I’m a carnivore that can appreciate a decent non-meat meal, and I really had to dig to find this or anything vegetarian, really. It’s so popular that it was sold out the first time I tried to order it. Perhaps Spectrum should take a note here — based on the wrap’s popularity, it may be time to rethink liquid cheese on everything in arenas and start focusing on healthier options.
(3) Goose Island Carvery Cart
Lower level, section 115
What to order: Carvery Sandwich
Carved turkey, aioli, arugula and tomato on ciabatta bread; comes with chips
This massive offering was suggested by patrons and workers alike over their tasty shrimp & grits, and seeing is believing: this sandwich really satisfies. “This is the best sandwich in the entire arena,” said Carvery’s Carrie Stewart.
(4) Trade Street Pour House Bar
Lower level, section 116
What to order this week: ACC Tea
Tito’s Vodka, Bojangles’ sweet tea, grenadine.
The Spectrum Center’s bartenders submitted recipes for consideration for this week’s ACC signature drink. Arena bartender Rick Archer said he was searching for the perfect mix between ACC and the South — and the addition of Bojangles’ sweet tea was a winner. It’s available starting today.
What to order after this week: The Hornet Stinger, the bright blue cocktail celebrating 30 years of Charlotte basketball.
Tito’s Vodka, triple sec, sweet and sour mix, sprite and Blue Curaco
(5) Twisted Loop
Lower level, section 113
What to order: Philly Cheesesteak sandwich on a pretzel bun
The pretzels here are handmade, so stop by this vendor if you’re craving one. They also offer cinnamon pretzels, so make sure you have two hands free when you get in line.
Of course, the standard foods are available everywhere: funnel cakes, cotton candy, nachos. Bojangles’ is at lower level, section 114, serving chicken strips and fries only — don’t expect any biscuits at this location. There’s a craft beer garden on the upper level at section 202 with high-top tables.
If you’re craving a hot dog, you have choices to make: The Hive at lower level, section 116 features a hot dog of the night with flavors based on the Charlotte Hornets’ opposing team. A Hornets employee told us Miami was his favorite — he got to enjoy a Cuban-themed dog that night. JJ’s Red Hots is at upper level, section 203. The Shock Top Cart, at upper level, section 228, features a bratwurst with grilled onions and sausages.
If you feel too full after eating your way through Spectrum Center, try a NASCAR-inspired route back to your seat: only make right turns, walking the long way around the arena. Ten minutes of calorie-burning and people-watching never felt so good.