Tina Charles is hungry.
The superstar WNBA player has just finished a morning practice at the New York Liberty’s facility in Tarrytown, and while she is certainly hungry for a championship, right now she’s famished. After a quick scan of the menu at the trendy restaurant Mediterraneo in nearby White Plains, she orders a chopped Greek salad and a spicy lobster spaghetti in tomato sauce. (“I’m pretty hungry. I just practiced,” she tells the waiter after flagging him down.)
On the court, Charles seems 10 feet tall and has a way of zipping around like she’s moving at a faster speed than the rest of the players. No surprise that she’s averaging a team best 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Those stats are especially impressive given that she logs a punishing 33 minutes per game, which is more than nearly every other player in the league.
“I’m all about winning. Everybody has a role on the team. Some carry a heavier load,” she says. “But I’m willing to do that night in and night out. I’m really thankful.”
However, Charles is far from resting on her laurels. She has no trophy room displaying her two Olympic gold medals and numerous other awards and accolades. “I couldn’t even tell you where my league MVP trophy is that I got in 2012,” she admits.
I don’t press her about that, since we’re here, after all, to talk about her life off the court. “I consider myself a foodie,” she says. “I love to eat.” And when she travels, she is always on the lookout for new restaurants: “I like trying different places.”
Her passion for food started back when she was playing at basketball powerhouse the University of Connecticut. Anytime the team traveled, her legendary coach, Geno Auriemma, “would always take us to a restaurant to eat. Everybody from the managers to the video guy. You always had to be in business casual. He introduced me to a lot.”
Perhaps these team dinners are the secret to his sustained success. “He did a great job keeping us together,” Charles says. “And us eating together all the time was one of the ways.”
While the Liberty don’t hold regular team dinners, Charles now likes to go to restaurants when she’s playing in different cities. No matter where she is, she likes to have the same pre-game meal—pasta. And if at all possible, penne alla vodka. “That’s my favorite pasta of all,” she says. If she can’t find pasta, then she’ll have grilled chicken or “something filling that will hold me over.”
She also enjoys cooking for herself. Charles began experimenting in the kitchen when she played basketball abroad in Turkey. After the WNBA season is over, she usually plays in China or in Europe. When she plays in the Chinese league, she’s put up in a hotel with a restaurant, but in Europe she’s in an apartment and will pack tuna, peanut butter, and a range of spices to use.
But she’s delighted to be back home in the Big Apple playing for the Liberty. “It was always a dream of mine,” she says. “Born and raised in Queens, I always wanted to wear a Liberty uniform.”
And back in New York, she’s happy to explore the restaurants in Forest Hills where she lives and also in Manhattan. Her favorite neighborhood to eat in? “I love Harlem,” she says. “I go to a lot of restaurants out there. I have a lot of good friends who live there.” She frequents Lido, Harlem Tavern, Red Rooster and Corner Social, among others.
After games at Madison Square Garden, she’ll often go to restaurants in Chelsea or the Meatpacking District. “I tell my friends to have a restaurant that we can just shoot right to. Not wasting any time.”