Warriors score, and so do Oracle Arena sandwiches

Although I’m an NBA fan and have lived in the Bay Area for several years, I recently visited Oracle Arena for the first time — to try out the food as well as watch the game.

Somehow, even though I respect the Warriors and have delightedly watched their improvement over the past few seasons (not to mention the undying debt I owe to Stephen Curry, my fantasy team savior), I’d never been to a live game until now.

My childhood was filled with trips to what was then known as Arco Arena, thanks to my Sacramento roots, and despite the endless stream of losing seasons, my memories of those games are sweetly nostalgic.

They always involve a hot dog drowned in bright-yellow mustard, or salty tortilla chips dipped into a cup of neon cheese (or more accurately, a cheeselike substance), the junk food a welcome distraction from watching the visitors predictably stomp my team into the ground.

Since those days, the arena food game has sure changed, and thankfully so.

I mean, if you’re going to pay insane prices for concessions, you might as well get some bang for your buck, right?

Oracle Arena’s dining options are tremendously varied. You’ve got your usual hot dogs and nachos, as well as a slew of selections scattered throughout the venue that range from Latin to Asian to Southern.

It’s a food labyrinth, so I found myself following the crowds to see what people gravitated toward.

The overwhelming fan favorite seems to be Kinder’s BBQ, located in carts in Section 232. Oracle also has an in-house smoker, located in Section 120, and I swear you can smell that meat cooking from a mile away. I don’t know how the players on the court concentrate.

The pulled-pork sandwich, soft bread covered in a sauced pile of pork and slaw, was my favorite bite of the night. For me, good barbecue means a balance of three elements — sweetness, smoke and tang — and this sandwich hits all those notes. The velvety, creamy potato salad is a harmonic accompaniment.

Kinder’s sandwich got high marks not just for its flavor, but because it’s easy to hold and eat. The other sandwiches I tried were not nearly as convenient. Overstuffed and falling apart, they ended up crumbling everywhere. If you want to be able to cheer for a dunk without losing half your meal, stick with the pulled pork.

Having said that, others had their good points. The chicken banh mi sandwich — found at carts in sections 120 and 121 — was fresh and flavorful, with spicy Sriracha aioli playing off the sweet pineapple and ponzu chicken, all spilling out of a golden Acme torpedo roll. Next time I’ll ask for extra jalapenos and cilantro, both of which made the other flavors come alive. The chicken itself seemed oddly texture-less, however, leaving the sandwich somewhat unsatisfying.

The chicken po’boy (at the concessions stand in Section 122), on the other hand, sports beautifully blistered, golden-fried chicken, but the toppings are heavy on the lackluster iceberg lettuce and tomatoes and light on the dynamite combo of fat dill pickle spears, pungent onion slices and chipotle ranch. Get everything in one bite, though, and it’s a treat.

It’ll take the rest of the season for me to try all the food Oracle has to offer and fully explore this world of nouveau sports cuisine.

But every once in a while I’m going to need my fix: a simple foil-wrapped hot dog with yellow mustard, accompanied by an obligatory overpriced beer.

Here’s hoping for a long season.

Oracle Arena

Location: 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland

Contact: (510) 569-2121, www.oraclearena.com

Recommended dishes: Kinder’s BBQ pulled-pork sandwich ($10), potato salad ($5), fried chicken po’boy sandwich ($15), banh mi chicken sandwich ($11)

Credit cards: All major

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