After a mouth-watering meal, it feels like you can do anything—even tackle that tricky Linear Algebra concept. Food motivates us to finish that last physics problem. Food distracts us from writing a 10-page essay. And most importantly food brings us together to share meaningful time and conversations. But not all dining halls and the food that comes out of them are created equally. When a college provides top notch food at the school’s dining halls, students consider it the cherry on top of an already great college experience. And the best ones have it all: a diverse menu, vegan and vegetarian options, numerous dining commons, long hours and sustainable practices.
Check out the top 10 dining halls that actually make you look forward to the special of the day.
10. James Madison University
James Madison University’s beautiful campus offers 24 dining locations. Aside from vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, they also serve students international food on a regular basis. E-Hall serves authentic Indian food cooked in a Tandoori oven. Aside from killer curry, E-Hall also serves hibachi bowls and housemade ice cream. Other drool-worthy foods they serve include: house-made dumplings, tamales, acai bowls and crepes. JMU Dining Services generally opens at 7 a.m. for the early risers and closes around 9 p.m. And all that good food doesn’t come at a cost to the planet. JMU thinks of the environment by purchasing local ingredients, composting, hosting a farmer’s market and providing vegan and vegetarian options.
9. Pitzer College
Pitzer’s dining services earn the ultimate gold star of all the Claremont Colleges. “I love the diversity in diet options! I love changing things up and genuinely believe that the best diet is one that gets you excited when you see different options,” said Pitzer College junior Dexter Lin. “My favorite dish is the pasta bar. It’s made to order and super yummy. They cook it in front of you, and it’s a great opportunity to check in with the amazing chefs at the dining hall.” Of the four dining commons, McConnell Bistro consistently serves vegan and vegetarian cuisine. In terms of sustainability, Shakedown Café, a student-founded and managed location, supports local farms and vendors and teaches students about sustainable eating. Craving a strong cup of joe? Find the unmistakable scent of brewing coffee beans and the sight of those beautiful swirly lines of milk in a cup at Pit-Stop Café. Throw in a cheesy quiche in your order for a quick snack.
8. Cornell University
Cornell gives you more than an Ivy League education. Students at the Big Red get gourmet food, too. Hungry students choose from Cornell’s 30 dining locations, open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. “I value food very much, and it was a refreshing break from any stress… We sometimes have themed nights or ethnic food done by actual hotel students of their ethnicity,” Cornell University junior Josephine Wong said. For something sweet, head to The Cornell Dairy, a licensed dairy processing plant on campus. Other than helping with research, teaching and extension programs, the plant serves ice cream, milk, yogurt and pudding at the Cornell Dairy Bar. Cornell supports the community by purchasing 26 percent of their foods locally and regionally.
7. Vanderbilt University
Indian Chinese, American, vegan or vegetarian food—whatever you like to eat, Vanderbilt serves. With 22 dining commons, you’ll never run out of options. Into the greener variety? Vanderbilt’s marts also offer fresh produce and use organic ingredients as often as possible. “Vanderbilt had pretty good food options… The commons on Peabody campus was the favorite because it was a new building and had a really nice atmosphere,” Vanderbilt University Ph.D. graduate Joe Chen said. After a late night out, you might seriously crave crunchy salty and spicy chips. Thank the stars that Vanderbilt’s got plenty of 24-hour options like the Commons and Branscomb Munchie Marts to satisfy you.
6. University of San Diego
No meal plan? No problem. USD’s nine dining halls accept cash or card if you want to relive your glory days as a freshman eating anything on the buffet tables. And of course freshmen with a meal plan eat there on the regular. “As a college student I don’t want to be eating out all the time or staying in and making instant ramen, so taking advantage of the school’s meal plan has been the best way to keep me alive,” University of San Diego junior Josephine Tsai said. USD dining serves more than pizza and chicken fingers; the dining halls section off into different ethnic cuisine like Mediterranean, Chinese, American and Mexican. Tsai added, “What’s really cool is that on special occasions such as Chinese New Year the school will transform the dining commons into basically a condensed version of the country they’re celebrating with well-known dishes from that culture.” USD also keeps world health a top priority, too, enforcing trayless and Styrofoam-free dining commons.
5. University of Chicago
On Wednesdays, they sell $1 milkshakes. “The dining commons are all fairly different from one another and have a variety in food options. There is a stir-fry station, pasta bar, grilled cheese station, etc., where the food is made as you order it and served fresh,” said UChicago junior Yolanda Yu. While offering the usual dietary options like kosher, halal, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, UChicago Dining purchases as local and sustainable as possible. In fact, the university buys as much as 40 percent of their produce from minority or women-owned local businesses. From 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., UChicago Dining serves food at 16 dining locations around campus. You might feel like you didn’t miss out on your Hogwarts letter, after all. The dark wood tables and chairs and long red flags hanging from the ceilings in Bartlett Dining Commons will make you feel like you stepped into the Great Hall.
4. University of Massachusetts Amherst
Whether you crave pho, sushi, pizza, burritos or gelato, Amherst whips it all up for its students. And students can stop by the 22 dining locations all around campus. If you follow vegan, vegetarian or kosher diets, stop by Franklin Dining Commons, known for serving healthy options. And those healthy options come straight from UMass Amherst’s five permaculture landscapes. These gardens provide super fresh ingredients to the dining commons. The newly-remodeled Hampshire Dining Commons has been called “the egg” with a circular center, each station offering foods from different countries. If you look through the large window panes of brightly-lit Hampshire to campus, you’ll glimpse the endless opportunities UMass Amherst offers you.
3. Virginia Tech
Enjoy the beautiful fall weather chowing down on food you pick up from Virginia Tech’s food trucks. The Grillfield serves Latin-fusion and Periodic Table serves Asian-fusion. Indoors, this university provides food at 12 dining locations from as early as 7 a.m. to as late as 2 a.m. Looking for a date-night spot that won’t break the bank? Don’t even leave campus. Head to Origami, a Japanese steak house with a sushi bar and grill-top tables on the second floor of Turner Place. Now imagine you and bae watching chefs cook before your very eyes. Virginia Tech’s locally-sourced ingredients come from various vendors including its on-campus six-acre farm, Meat Center. Eggs come from VT’s campus flock and a nearby dairy farm.
2. Bowdoin College
Maybe due to Bowdoin’s small undergraduate population of 1,800, Bowdoin College indulges in elaborate meals. Ingredients come from local vendors, largely thanks to Bowdoin’s in-house meat shop and organic garden. The college also dedicates itself to sustainability through a partnership with Food Forward and other nonprofit organizations to reduce food waste. At their five dining commons, satisfy every foodie craving with Italian, Chinese, American and Mexican food. On the first day of school, you might smell chargrilled meat, corn and salt. If so, it comes from Bowdoin’s annual lobster bake, always held at the beginning of each academic year, serving up traditional barbeque and Maine lobsters. That’s a tradition we can all get behind.
1. University of California, Los Angeles
UCLA Bruins customize virtually every meal on campus with build-your-own stations at each of the eight dining locations. Feast serves pan-Asian food and De Neve covers food from North to South America. The Mediterranean inspires the Covel Commons menu plus provides Kosher- and Halal-friendly options. Bruin Plate serves up healthy food like quinoa bowls, wheat pastas and flatbreads, always a favorite of vegans and vegetarians. “It’s great to always be able to mix it up and constantly try new things at the dining commons. My favorite dish is from Bruin Plate! It’s the Flank Steak on Arugula with Quinoa and Goat Cheese,” UCLA sophomore Jessica Zeng said. UCLA’s dining commons keep in mind sustainability mind enforcing trayless dining and getting fruits, vegetables and seafood from local vendors. Professors can add a little bit of luxury in their office hour experience by ordering delivery from the UCLA Coffee Service. If you talk to any UCLA student, they will insist you try out their dining commons at least once.