large potted plant in a dining room with square tables with four chairs each

Editor’s Note: The Outside Inn closed in August 2018. No restaurants have taken over the space.

As an avid hockey fan, I try to make as many Reading Royals games as I can every season. I love everything about the experience at Santander Arena, but lately I’ve been wanting something more out of the dining experience.

Food at the arena can get expensive. It’s hard for two people to eat for less than $25, and for that you’re getting a cardboard tray to take back to your seats, which are not quite big enough to accommodate both you and your food.

That’s the struggle we’ve gone through in nearly every game we have attended in recent years. Finally I decided it was time for something different.

We drove into town early, nearly an hour before the doors opened. We were the first car on the parking lot, picked out the perfect pull-through space and headed a block west of the arena for dinner at the Outside In.

On the second floor of the Santander Building, overlooking Penn Street on one side and the lobby on the other, the Outside In has carved a niche as a breakfast and lunch spot for those living and working downtown.

Normally, the restaurant only opens its doors between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, but it makes exceptions when there’s an event at the Arena (all additional hours can be found on the events tab of the Outside In’s website).

The dinner menu is very similar to the usual lunch menu with the addition of a handful of entrees like crab cakes, coconut breaded shrimp and the smokehouse chicken grill (chicken tenders topped with ham, barbecue sauce and Jack cheese).

salad bar with various dressings and toppings

Just like at lunch time, Outside In offers the “Souper Salad Bar,” both as an all-you-can eat dinner option or as an add-on to your sandwich or burger.

The salad bar includes two soup options, salad greens and all of the toppings, six different dressings and rolls. I grabbed a cup of beef and rice soup to go with my salad of lettuce, onions, green peppers and cucumbers.

cup of beef soup with a side salad topped with ranch dressing next to a dinner roll

The soup reminded me of a beef barley soup, but with rice as the grain. There were chunks of tomato and other vegetables in a broth that the rice helped to thicken. Between that and my salad, it definitely hit the spot and helped stave me over until my main course arrived.

It was a tough choice, but I decided on the taco burger my entree. It is exactly as it sounds: a hamburger topped with taco meat, lettuce, tomato, olive, onion, cheese (which I passed on) and southwestern sauce.

burger topped with cheese and taco meat with battered fries

The crumbles of taco meat barely stayed on the burger before I took a bite. Afterward, bits rolled all across my plate. It would have been a little less sloppy if the hamburger patty had been dusted in the taco seasoning instead of adding the taco meat, and it probably could have used a little more southwest sauce to really add some kick. Overall though, it was a very good burger.

All burgers are served with your choice of fries, but there really is only one option at the Outside In, and that’s the Brew City fries. These beer-battered delights are the perfect addition to any meal. I made it through all of mine and a handful of Julie’s as well (for the record, she offered them to me).

For her main dish, Julie went with the English pub ciabatta, one of four hot ciabattas on the menu. Her sandwich was built with just four ingredients: ciabatta bread, roast beef, onions and cheddar cheese sauce.

ciabatta sandwich with sliced beef and cheese sauce on a plate with battered fries and four pickle rounds

Julie was a little worried about ordering the sandwich, fearing that it would just be lunch meat on a roll. While the roast beef was essentially lunch meat, it was grilled and very tasty, especially when paired with the cheese sauce. The ciabatta roll made it even more enjoyable. In the end, she was very pleased with it.

In the end, we spent about as much at the Outside In as we would have inside the arena, but it felt better paying $25 for a sit-down meal with made-to-order food. The service was certainly better and we didn’t have to stand in line for 20 minutes just to place our order.

I’m sure that I have plenty more Royals games ahead of me this season. And while I know that I will continue to look for new places around the Arena, I’m sure that I will be back at the Outside In before too long.

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