Tonight, Portland's NBA team begins what it hopes will be a Cinderella season, ending with the Western Conference's eighth playoff seed and the right to get bounced in the first round by the Houston Rockets. On Saturday, the Blazers play their first home game in the building now known as the Moda Center. First-round draft pick C.J. McCollum will not be on the court, having broken his left foot for the second time this year. Meanwhile, the team has replaced the cherished tradition of gifting fans Taco Bell chalupas on occasions when it scores at least 100 points with a crass marketing gimmick involving McMuffins.
Yet there's hope in Rip City. Not only do the Blazers have the league's reigning Rookie of the Year, point guard Damian Lillard, their arena now has possibly its best in-game grub. During the offseason, the Mo's concessioner tapped Bunk Sandwiches, Fire on the Mountain, Killer Burger, Sizzle Pie and Po' Shines to take over food stands.
How do they stand up against the originals? Did Killer's peanut butter-pickle-bacon burger shrink to "girlie" size? Does Bunk's Cubano cost $75? Can Sizzle Pie blare Ride the Lightning at its cash register? We bought a pair of ear-pop seats by the old Pacific Division championship banners for a preseason game and tasted our way around the concourses.
Killer Burger, Section 105
Playbook: Just like at this local chainlet's regular locations, Killer Burger Mo makes burgers with mandatory bacon and an order of fries. The slimmed-down menu keeps the classic peanut butter-pickle-bacon burger ($7.95 normally, $10.25 here) and the Jose Mendoza with chilies and jack cheese ($8.95 normally, $10.25 here). New for the arena is a Blazer burger with serrano peppers, raw onion and barbecue sauce.
Execution: We were pleased to find they hadn't skimped on the Blazer burger's spicy serranos. The arena's cooks haven't quite mastered the Killer cooking technique that seals in the beef's juices with a thin hull of char, and the fries were a bit mealier than you'll get at a regular location, but this is a very large pile of very good food for $10.25 in a place with $9 beers.
Bunk Sandwiches, Section 321
Playbook: Following the same plan as the Bunk truck, there's a limited menu of rich sandwiches (Cubano, muffuletta and meatball) served with chips for $12.
Execution: We've had better and worse Cubanos from Bunk, which charges $9 for the sandwich at its regular locations. This one was light on pickles and mustard, though the arena fortunately has little kiosks with both, plus ketchup and onions. The sandwich is a small, dense pocket of deliciousness that lends itself well to in-seat consumption.
Fire on the Mountain, Section 119
Playbook: Fire on the Mountain makes the best wings in town (Ike's excepted), and now you can get them before, during and after the game.
Execution: On the plus side, they're the same great wings you know and love. And, if you get the Cajun-spiced Blazer sauce, they're tingly hot and ludicrously good. On the downside, it takes some time to get your order (we missed five minutes that included four exciting layups and one thrilling 3-pointer), sloppy eaters are likely to drip sauce in the hair of the fan seated in front of them, and that 47-percent markup (six wings are $8.75 at the Mo, $5.95 elsewhere) is very noticeable with a compact, bony foodstuff.
Sizzle Pie, Sections 122 and 113
Playbook: Above-average pizza by the slice, wrist tattoos, vegan cheese option, gluten-free crust option, Tom Clancy's old Army ball cap and 4 am closing time.
Execution: Pretty much the same, except a Hawaiian ham and pineapple slice with nice, chewy crust is $6.50, and the window closes around 10 pm most game nights.
Po' Shines, Section 115
Playbook: Mo' Shines is a branch of beloved North Portland soul-food joint Po' Shines, which is known for fried catfish, grits, hush puppies and barbecue. This restaurant predates the others and has kept prices low: A plank of fried catfish and a waffle is $11.25 at the game while the fried catfish breakfast plate with grits and toast is normally $8.95. The crew remains spirited.
Execution: The only real dud of the bunch, Po' Shines may need to increase prices to keep quality on the floor. The starchy waffle doesn't taste like it was made with butter and the overly salty and pallid catfish had none of the oiliness you expect and a crumb crust that tastes like crushed saltines with no herbs or pepper. Mo' Shines is, however, open Sundays as its cousin sits closed.