You don’t have to be in culinary school to enjoy good food in college. Whether you choose a small liberal arts school or a huge university, there are plenty of towns that have bustling food scenes. Every college has places that are especially beloved by its undergrads, but these 20 colleges are home to foods that are adored by students, parents, and visitors alike. Here are the best college towns for food in America.
We wrote a list of the 10 Best College Towns for Food back in 2011, and research shows us that the towns we chose back then have culinary scenes that have stayed strong. Many have become even stronger with the addition of more ethical coffee shops and farm-to-table restaurants. We chose the newcomers to this list by examing the Spoon University website to find out what the student favorites were among the many colleges and universities that the website covers. After cross-referencing them with reviews from food critics and customers, we settled on our final 20.
Though there are a plethora of schools in America with excellent on-campus dining, there is something special about leaving campus to eat at a restaurant that has become a cult favorite among students and professors alike. Campus cult foods are usually optimized for a student budget, which is all the better for visitors on a budget. There are some college foods, like the doughboy in Saratoga Springs, that are really only good during college; after college, the appeal of cream cheese in pizza dough wears off. But hey, when in Saratoga, right? Then there are college foods that have universal appeal, like the donuts at Monuts in Durham, North Carolina.
There is also that familiar panic that all college students feel when they realize their family is visiting for parents’ weekend and they have yet to book a table. The good thing about college towns is that there is such a high demand for parent-friendly that many chefs have upped their game. The food at restaurants like Providence’s splendid The Dorrance and Savannah’s picture-perfect Olde Pink House is almost always great: they aim to impress.
So while you’re shuffling through acceptance letters or college pamphlets, keep these towns in mind — especially if you think with your stomach.
20. Brunswick, Maine
This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one college town in Maine. Where else can you find the best lobster rolls? If you have to choose just one place to get them, go for retro Fat Boy Drive In. Brunswick’s beautiful, coastal setting enriches a dining scene that does not go unappreciated by Bowdoin College’s small but robust community. The student go-to is Wild Oats Bakery and Café, a from-scratch bakery that prides itself on fresh, healthy ingredients. For the best views of the water, go to Frontier Café, which offers an artistic, cafeteria-like setting. Flipside Pizza, with its sleek décor, and Gelato Fiasco, featuring icy treats made with milk from Maine cows, take good care of the college staples of pizza and ice cream.
19. Amherst, Mass.
Amherst, Massachusetts, has the reputation of being somewhat of a hippie town, but since it’s the home of the Five College Consortium (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, and U-Mass Amherst), you’ll find a lot more than excellent vegetarian and vegan fare here. Antonio’s Pizza seems to be popular across the board, with not-commonly-seen toppings like tortellini and crème fraîche. For a part-Southwestern, part-Jewish comfort food breakfast, check out The Lone Wolf. Go to Rao’s to study and drink great single-origin coffee — a necessity for any college student. Communal eating in a greenhouse is a very Amherst thing to do, and the best place to do it is at 30 Boltwood.