Excitement for the Houston Rockets is as high locally given it’s been since the mid-90s when Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler were winning the franchise’s only two championships. James Harden is leading the charge with the current group of Rockets, and locals are getting behind their team. Over 18,000 fans fill Toyota Center to create a raucous home-court atmosphere. Here’s what you need to know when you’re heading downtown to cheer along with them in the arena.
Tickets & Seating Areas
Given the recent success of the Rockets, most games at the Toyota Center are sold out through the primary market. When tickets are available, you can buy them online through Toyota Center website, via the phone, or at the Toyota Center box office. Toyota Center uses Flash Seats technology, which allows you to use your mobile device at the arena rather than using a paper ticket.
You’ll likely have to hit the secondary market to get what you need most of the time. Flash Seats is also the official secondary ticket market of the Rockets, so you’ll find the highest inventory of tickets there. The Flash Seats system allows you to bid for tickets as well as buy them outright based on the seller’s asking price. Obviously, you also have the well-known options like StubHub and eBay (but they’ll have much less inventory because of the restrictions in place with Flash Seats ticketing model) or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and TiqIQ, which both have a decent amount of inventory from broker season tickets.
As for where to sit when you go, basketball is a sport best seen in the lower level. One of the better options is the Club Seats, located along the sidelines of Toyota Center’s lower bowl. Not only do you get great seats for the action, but you get access to the two lounges, Rockets Club East and Rockets Club West, located just behind the seats. Tickets also come with enhanced concessions, a full private bar, wider seats, and a private entrance. Those seats are limited to 2,900 season ticket holders, so you’ll only find them on the secondary market.
Courtside seats have their own Club area and in-seat waiter service if you’re looking to go the extra mile.
At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, the Rockets added a new seating area on one end of the arena along the baseline. The 1510 Reserve creates a luxury suite experience at a smaller level. Sections of four and six seats are set up as “theatre-style” boxes and allow groups to be together in a premium area. There are also two party suites if you want to bring a large group to the area. Some of the seats in this area are actually available through the primary market before the season, so it’s something worth looking out for.
Houston is a driving city, so you won’t be surprised to know that most people travel to Rockets’ games by car. Toyota Center has its own 2,500-space Toyota Tundra parking garage, but there are also over 10,000 parking spots within a few blocks of the arena. There’s also the opportunity to use public transportation if you need it. There’s a METRORail (light rail) stop at Bell Station, a short 10-minute walk from the Toyota Center. Numerous buses make their way through the area as well. For full details, check out the official Metro website.
Pregame & Postgame Fun
As Houston is a driving city, there isn’t as much focus on the pregame and postgame scene for bars and restaurants near the Toyota Center as there would be in some other cities. Still, there are some options for you to wine and dine, and the general area can stretch because of people’s desire to drive. There are many good options for Tex-Mex with Papasitos Cantina and Guadalajara being two of them. They're both mini-chains, but they do specialize in fajitas and what else are you looking for at a Tex-Mex place in Houston.
Andalucia is a really good Spanish food option, and you’ll thoroughly enjoy their sangria with your tapas. There’s a little of Spain in the menu at Oporto Fooding House & Wine, but it’s heavily Portuguese influenced with great shrimp and octopus salami. If that octopus salami wets your seafood appetite, then there’s no better place in town to visit than Reef, which was rated as one of the best seafood restaurants in America a few years ago by Bon Appetite magazine.
Lankford’s Grocery & Market may be a little far away to walk, but their burger is one of the best in town. You may not realize that Vietnamese food is a big thing in the Houston dining scene, but it is, and Café TH turns out plenty of classics that keep people coming back. Sparrow Bar + Cookshop provides standard new American fare for those looking for simplicity. Weights + Measures is an interesting amalgamation of cocktails, simple food, and baked goods rolled all up into one. The Grove is a more upscale option if you’re looking for fine dining before the game.
And of course, a good steak might be on your mind since you’re in Texas, so Vic & Anthony’s can help you out there.
As for drinks, those who enjoy bourbon will be best served making a trip to Reserve 101 because of their great selection. 3rd Floor provides city views with good happy hour specials and a wide range of cocktails. Love and Squalor, the back lounge at the aforementioned Weights + Measures, also provides good cocktails. Celtic Garden has a young professional crowd for those looking to drinking outside on their huge patio. Lucky’s Pub offers over 250 beers if you’re looking for somewhere simple to drink.
And, of course, we can’t get through this without mentioning Tejas Grill & Sports Bar, the best of the sports bar variety in the area.
At the Game
Since there are many people who come to the game to eat, the Toyota Center has improved their food options since opening back in 2003. Changes were made for the better before the 2014 season. You won’t be looking for a regular hot dog at the game when you see the alternatives. Fans are flocking to the half-pound, ten-inch steak dog made with Angus beef and topped with chopped brisket and potato salad on a ciabatta roll. Others prefer the bacon mustard dog, for good reason because it has bacon involved.
There are also lobster and prime rib nachos for those who believe everything is bigger in Texas. If that’s not enough for you, there are many different burger options, including one topped with onion rings, Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, and jalapeno ranch aioli. Those who like wings will want to dive into the Mango Sweet Chili or the Honey BBQ variety.
Where to Stay
If you make it in from out of town for the game, there are plenty of hotels downtown for you to enjoy. You can choose from name brands like Curio Collection by Hilton, Four Seasons, Hyatt, and Westin. Kayak can help you find the best hotel for your needs. Alternatively, you can look into renting an apartment via Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO.