9 places to eat before an Ohio State football home game

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GA Benton

I was a hardcore Ohio State Football Fan long before I started reviewing restaurants. And because I’ve only missed a handful of Buckeyes home games since the Jim Tressel era (often to cruelly timed weddings), I’ve eaten my share of suspicious weenies and shoddy hamburgers to get through long game days. I have such meals behind me now.

The big home game is coming up on Saturday RuegerI thought I’d give game-goers some logistically smart tips for dining in the park, culminating in what I call the “Lower Clintonville Football Saturday Dining Hack.”

And these destinations are worth a visit, even if it’s not a match day.

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In and near Ohio Stadium

My Lower Clintonville plan can work great before and after the games. But since it’s not about eating at ground zero of the ebullient fan base (the “hack” involves visiting restaurants about a 15-minute walk north of High Street and Lane Avenue), it’s not for suitable for everyone. I got you covered anyway.

If you’re planning on grabbing a no-fuss (or “elaborate”) diner near the stadium along boisterous Lane Avenue, two quick best bets are parking in front of the Riverwatch Tower (364 W. Lane Ave.) every home game: Schmidt’s sausage truck and the Pizza Hut food truck.

Do you only want food in the shoe? They won’t fare much better than two locally grown All-Stars: Dirty Franks Hot Dog Stand (Section 19A) and Fried Chicken Specialist Hot Chicken Takeover (near gates 33 and 35).

Take a walk on the less wild side (the hack)

Just a short distance from the hustle and bustle, you’ll find a three-block stretch of fine dining along the High Street – north of Lane Avenue, between Duncan Avenue and Kelso Road. Among them are several places that offer delicious food suitable for football fans.

Brisket is a main event at Hank's Texas BBQ.

Hank’s Texas BBQ, 2941 N High Street, 614-972-6020, www.hankstexasstylebbq.com

Brisket is king at Hank’s Texas BBQ, but it reigns over an eclectic locale. Hank’s is a breezy place to hang out with a beer — literally, when the garage doors are open to the popular patio — and watch games on enough TVs to almost qualify as a sports bar. All grilled meats are skillfully smoked (the pulled pork lies behind the juicy breast), but don’t sleep on collards, pimento cheese, or fried jalapeno bottle caps.

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O’Reilly’s Pub, 2822 N High St, 614-262-6343

O’Reilly’s Pub is an Irish tavern with personable waiters pouring a fine pint of Guinness, but it’s also a quintessential neighborhood pub. In its cozy, wood-decked rooms — and on its patio — Bob Seger fans rub and bend elbows with guests who like bands like Superchunk more. They all crave great pub grub, like the deservedly legendary Pepper Burger, hand-cut fries, righteous chili and fiery Scott’s-style wings.

A Smashburger at Derive Brewing Co.

Derive Brewing Co., 2808 N High Street, 614-732-4186, www.derivebeer.com

Derive Brewing Co. might be one of the best kept secrets in the area. The smart hip brewpub produces impressive beers in a variety of styles and also features: an imaginatively decorated dining room with sports-tuned TVs; one of the more sociable parking lot terraces in the area; a tempting menu of decked out fan favorites. The latter includes thin-crust pizzas with trendy toppings (like the spicy “Gabagool”), serious smashburgers, crunchy fries, and a crunchy-coated — and mammoth — hot chicken sandwich.

Go to Hounddog's for the variety of pizzas.

Hounddog’s Pizza, 2657 N. High St., 614-261-4686, www.hounddogspizza.com

In one space, this vintage hangout north of campus is a classic college pizza place with trippy murals and inviting woodwork. A congenial counterculture ambience also pervades hunting dog‘s larger and darker bar area, where several TVs are showing sports and I always sit. Both areas offer lovely pizzeria dishes. Pro Tips: Opt for the crispy, garlicky, herb-kissed, puffed-out Smokin’ Joe’s crust; There’s an unbeatable Happy Hour deal every day (4pm – 7pm) – a giant cake and mug of beer for $24.99.

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Choose from a range of great grilled dishes at Ray Ray's Hog Pit.

Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, 2619 N. High St. at Ace of Cups, 614-753-1191, www.rayrayshogpit.com

Name this award-winning, long-running mobile grill restaurant “The Hogfather” by artisan Columbus Food Trucks. Parked outside Ace of Cups music club – Don’t expect a lot of sports on TV, but expect a great selection of beers on the patio – Ray Ray’s grills terrific ribs, terrific sausage, addictive jerk chicken, killer pulled pork, veggie delights like seared cauliflower ends, and, well, you get the point the picture. A whole mess of such lusty delights is cooped up in an amazing pig pen called “Meatsweats”.

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