Where to Eat and Drink When Columbus Hosts March Madness

Our recs for where to eat and drink around Nationwide Arena and the Schottenstein Center

Erin Edwards
Columbus Monthly
The interior of Mikey's Late Night Slice in the Short North

Columbus is hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments this weekend. The women play March 16-20 at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center, while the men are playing March 17-19 at Nationwide Arena. Here are some recommendations for where to eat and drink between games. 

Near Nationwide Arena:  

  • North Market: Columbus’ historic city market on Spruce Street will likely be a zoo during the tournament, but you should still stop in—especially if you are on foot and not worried about parking. Check out Hoyo’s Kitchen for Somali fare, Hot Chicken Takeover for Nashville hot chicken, Satori Ramen Bar and loads of other options. The on-site bar, Barrel & Bottle, allows you to grab a drink while you stroll the market. 
  • Barley's Brewing Company: Ideal for larger groups, the city’s oldest brewpub boasts a fine craft beer selection, a large comfort food menu and some of the best grilled wings in town. 
  • Nada: This Cincinnati import is a lively spot for tacos, enchiladas, Mexican-inspired small plates and agave-based cocktails.  
  • Mikey’s Late Night Slice: Mike Soboro’s irreverent pizzeria chain, which has a location on Vine Street not far from Nationwide, is almost compulsory when visiting Columbus. Expect a line for ordering slices of New York-style pepp, and don’t skip the spicy Unicorn sauce.  
  • Sacred Palm: Speaking of Mikey’s, there’s a not-so-secret, tiki-esque speakeasy below the pizzeria. Just follow the stairs down to the walk–in cooler to greet the bouncer. 
  • Goodale Station: Looking for something more buttoned up? In our opinion, some of Columbus’ best fine-dining fare and craft cocktails are served at this rooftop restaurant located atop the Canopy by Hilton hotel.  
  • Denmark on High: At this sophisticated cocktail lounge overlooking High Street, you'll find an expert team of mixologists and some of the most thought-provoking libations in town. 

Near the Schottenstein Center:  

  • Hang Over Easy: On the south end of Campus, Hang Over Easy is an essential Ohio State diner, with hangover-satisfying pancakes, biscuits and gravy, breakfast skillets, French toast and burgers, as well as plenty hair-of-the-dog options. 
  • The Varsity Club: The truth? We haven’t eaten actual food at the Varsity Club in years. But if you’re looking for a quintessential Ohio State bar that’s just a 10-minute walk from the Schott, the Varsity Club is your best bet. 
  • Brassica: Located west of the Schott on Lane Avenue, Brassica is a consistent standout for fast-casual Mediterranean fare. Think: falafel or marinated chicken in a pita pocket, stuffed with hummus and your choice of veggies.  
  • Emmett’s Café, Understory and the Commons: Head north from the Schott to the recently renovated Open Air school building, where you’ll find a trio of food and drink destinations next to the Olentangy River. Emmett’s is an ideal setting for coffee, breakfast and lunch, while its neighbor, Understory, offers a lounge-y vibe in the evening with excellent cocktails and spiffy small plates. Or take the stairs down to the Commons, which offers a casual lunch and dinner menu, draft beer and cocktail offerings, and one of the best patios in town. The Commons also serves brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 
  • NE Chinese: Some of Columbus’ best Chinese cuisine is serves at this casual Old North restaurant not far from Campus. The restaurant is notable for hot pot, cumin potatoes, spicy twice-cooked fish and much more. 
  • Ray Ray’s Hog Pit: Also in the Old North, the Ray’s Ray’s barbecue truck parked at Ace of Cups is a Columbus icon. Go for the excellent grass-fed brisket, dry-rubbed spareribs, mac ’n’ cheese and banana pudding.