52 Best Colleges for Food in America Slideshow
September 11, 2012
#36 College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine)
Based in Bar Harbor, Maine, this college sees food as "an integral part of our community." To drive that point home, every house on campus has a kitchen and dining area for students to build a sense of community when they choose to dine at home.
Blair Dining Hall, the school’s main food facility, is nicknamed "TAB," an acronym for Take a Break. The dining hall never closes and affords students views of sunrise over Frenchman Bay. Here, students can fill their bellies with shrimp cakes, Thai green curry with vegetables, and avocado soup.
One-third of the meals served are vegetarian, though vegetarian and vegan meals are always available. The meals are predominantly handmade, with a focus on local, organic, sustainable food; the meat served is humanely raised, and the seafood provided is sustainable. In addition, the baked goods on campus are made from scratch, and COA strives to feature world cuisines in its menus.
Fun fact: COA spends about $2,000 a year replacing dishes, with mugs commanding the largest share of the money.
#15 Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.)
If whole-wheat cheese-less pizza with balsamic marinated vegetables is up your alley, apply Early Action to Wheaton College. This Illinois-based Christian institution offers students dishes like goat cheese polenta, Caribbean jerk pork, and buttermilk mashed potatoes. Fun stations like the Monte Cristo Bar — where undergrads get bread, ham, Swiss cheese, and strawberry dipping sauce — keep it from getting dull.
Managed by Bon Appétit, the school’s dining program is extremely fresh. Local vendors provide the school with 20 percent of its food purchases. "We serve only milk and yogurt from cows not treated with artificial bovine growth hormones; we serve only cage free shell eggs," says Raul Delgado, general manager of Bon Appétit. "We added visible woks, griddles, and char grills so students and guests not only taste the freshness, but see the food getting prepared in front of them. We have introduced new items in our salad bar to include great grains like quinoa, amaranth, and teff."
Delgado takes great pride in the way his team provides exceptional service. "I am a firm believer when it come to our guests and service, 'Yes is the answer, what’s the question?'" he says.
As for future plans, Delgado shares, "We have expanded our food influence even beyond the campus with a program called 'From Our House to Yours.' This program offers weekly 'Dinners for Four' that not only faculty and staff take advantage of, but many in the Wheaton and surrounding communities." Yes, please!
#14 James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Va.)
The home of the Dukes takes student satisfaction very seriously — it encourages students to rate the service, food, and overall cleanliness of its two major dining halls via text message, comment cards, and surveys. "Our students are proud of our food and have proven their passion for our dining program by voting us onto the Princeton Review’s list of Great College Food for 11 consecutive years," says Angela Ritchie, the marketing managerat JMU Dining Services.
Offering no shortage of chain favorites — think Red Mango frozen yogurt, Einstein Bros. Bagels, and Chick-fil-A — sample dining hall items include gluten-free jambalaya, black bean burgers with avocado, and BLT bruschetta. "We are proud to offer a wide variety of choices to fit everyone’s preferences — from hamburgers and pizza to sushi and authentic Tandoori specialties, we have a little bit of everything and are constantly innovating to give our students new and exciting offerings," says Ritchie.
In 2000, ARAMARK became the university’s food service provider and food service has exploded from 13 on-campus dining locations to 24 options.
The Harrisonburg, Va.-based school’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in The Harvest Program, which donates unsold food to a local food bank. In addition, D-Hall, the East Campus Dining Hall, and Mrs. Greens are all trayless.
#52 Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.)
Cod steamed in soy ginger broth, baked eggplant with miso dressing, and steamed Jasmine rice. Sounds like a restaurant-quality fare, right? Nope, just dinner at Dartmouth, where vegetarian, vegan, halal, and kosher food are readily available. In fact, the college does all of the catering for the local synagogue.
Featuring guest chefs two or three times per term and hosting a community picnic at the beginning of the year, Dartmouth knows who its audience is. Dave Newlove, director of dining services, is proud of the service provided. "We work for the student," he says of the 400-person staff that includes students and special needs employees.
Dartmouth has six main dining spots, and recently renovated one — Class of 1953 Commons — for a staggering $28 million. A gift from the class of 1953, the facility was originally built in 1927 and was ready for a makeover, according to Newlove.
Menu options include bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits; lemon-pepper salmon with roasted red potatoes and veggies; and artichoke and roasted pepper pizza. An online menu lists nutritional info, and an allergen filter allows students to customize the meal options to fit their needs.
#51 University of New Hampshire (Durham, N.H.)
If you visit this Durham, N.H., university be sure to check out the Dairy Bar, home to breakfast fare like the vegetarian sunrise sandwich on a trans-fat-free English muffin; sandwiches like the Roast Beef Boursin, made with roast beef, roasted red peppers, homemade Boursin-esque cheese, and lettuce on toasted ciabatta; and of course, ice cream like the current featured flavor Maine Lobster Tracks, which is vanilla ice cream, with "lobster-colored" chocolate cups filled with caramel and swirled with éclair crunch.
Jon Plodzik, director of UNH Dining Services, has been with college for almost 15 years and has seen a concrete change in the importance of dining services. "It has gone from a side focus of campus life to a primary competitive draw in the recruitment and retention of students," he said.
Serving roughly 12 entrées per meal, UNH has a made-to-order stir-fry station, giant salad bars, a brick-oven pizza station, a grill with specialty bars, a gluten-free station, an all-day breakfast station, a vegan station, rotisserie, and homemade desserts, says Plodzik.
Special dining hall events include late-night karaoke, gingerbread men decorating, and country fair night.
Coming up? "We are looking to add roughly 500 seats and hopefully a few more food concepts onto Holloway Commons, our flagship dining hall located in the center of campus, so they can comfortably feed over 7,500 guests per day."
#50 Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio)
Wikimedia Commons/Analogue Kid
With more than 20 dining options on campus, there’s something for every craving. From eggs Benedict to blackened grouper to apricot-chipotle baked beans, the menu anything but dull. Gelato is available to students every day at EspressOH, and unique flavors are created for game days, which is a pretty sweet way to tailgate.
#49 Oregon State University (Corvallis, Ore.)
Remodeled in 2010, the Arnold Dining Center provides students with plenty of options. Here, undergrads can wake up to cheese blintzes with berry sauce, break the day up with aloo gobi, and head to bed with a belly full of grilled salmon and cucumber. Not bad, right? Based in Corvallis, Ore., this university features a burger joint, a deli, a BBQ spot, an Italian caffè — and more!
#48 Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.)
Wikimedia Commons/Magnus Manske
If you "Eat at State," you will be treated to cherry turnovers, Mediterranean spinach sauté, and Korean BBQ beef tips, among other items.
The East Lansing university uses local foods like apples, blueberries, and beef in its meals, and — in cooperation with the student organic farm — provides fresh herbs and produce to students. The MSU Bakers, located right on campus, supply fresh-made bagels, hand-decorated cookies, and cakes to those in need of a sugar rush. What a sweet way to keep it local!
Every residential dining facility serves fair-trade coffee, and all new employees are educated about energy conservation and waste reduction. Seems the Spartans are green in more ways than one.
#47 Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa)
If you don’t want to miss out on all the fun at this Iowa college, be sure to sign up for The Marketplace Messenger, a dining services newsletter that highlights upcoming affairs. Past events include the Ice Cream Study Break; the Holiday Dessert Extravaganza, which featured more than 25 unique treats like gingerbread men, Norwegian lefsa, and peanut brittle; and the Chinese New Year Celebration — a college tradition that serves up egg drop soup, kung pao chicken, and other Chinese favorites.
#46 Roger Williams University (Bristol, R.I.)
Co-eds at this Bristol, R.I., school are taken care of by food management company Bon Appétit. Executive chef Rob Lavoie is most proud of the university’s "commitment to using fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local small farmers and to sustainable practices on the whole, companywide."
He adds, "We’ve been serving only seafood that meets Seafood Watch sustainability guidelines since 2003. Our shell eggs have been cage-free since 2005. Starting last month, we now serve ground beef that’s 100 percent from ranches whose animal welfare practices have been certified as meeting strict standards."
This school’s all-you-care-to-eat dining program offers great eats like raisin bread French toast; smoked turkey, yellow tomato, and fontina cheese with red pepper spread paninis; and grilled eye of the round roast with peppercorn demi-glaze. Undergrads: hurry, there’s still time to transfer.
#45 Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah)
On the menu at this Provo, Utah, institution: butterscotch muffin with streusel, fresh sushi made daily, and loaded omelettes.
According to the university, its Creamery on Ninth East (CONE) — a full-service grocery store — is the first of its kind on a college campus in America. The store has weekly specials for everything from steak to produce to cookies that can be found online.
The ice cream flavors available at the creamery would make Baskin-Robbins blush. Tastes include coconut joy, caramel cashew, and graham canyon — in addition to many, many others.
Every Thursday through October, there’s a farmers market on campus.
For students who have completed their grocery shopping but lack inspiration, there is MIX, a dining services blog that provides 30-minute meals, recipes, cooking tips — even dating help!
#44 University of Chicago (Chicago)
Vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, and gluten-free — UChicago’s got it all. With three residential dining halls, 12 cafés, and two markets, this university certainly isn’t lacking options. Each student is assigned a "house table" in one of the dining halls where they can share meals with friends.
Offering study-break orders for those unable to tear themselves away from the books, UChicago’s menus include waffle bars, polenta with broccoli rabe and mushrooms, and Moroccan vegetable stew.
Want to "eat fresh"? The university has a Subway on campus, as well as Jamba Juice, Papa John's, and Einstein Bros Bagels — among other popular chains.
Committed to increasing the amount of locally sourced food on campus, the university also makes 25 percent of all retail and residential dining purchases from women-owned or minority-owned business.
#43 College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, Va.)
Colonial Williamsburg is a great reason to head to this Virginia town, but we’ve found a tastier one: the dining halls at the College of William & Mary. Think chocolate-chip buttermilk pancakes, grilled Italian sausage with peppers and onions, and coconut-orange Asian noodle salad.
Engaging in "responsible procurement," this school uses herbs and spices from the dining hall gardens, offers fair-trade and organic coffee, and provides 100 percent recycled napkins in every dining hall. The college has been composting organic waste since 2010, employs trayless dining, and has a reusable to-go container program.
#42 St. Lawrence University (Canton, N.Y.)
If your mother makes the best lasagna you’ve ever had, St. Lawrence University wants to know about it. Its "Recipes From Home" program — which began in 1987 — keeps the students happy and the menu fresh.
After the kitchen staff reworks the recipes to serve 2,000, student panels test them out to make sure they taste just as good as Mom's version; items that get the green light are named after the student and parents. The school is so passionate about the program that it has even published a cookbook of parents’ recipes.
Meals made by the actual dining staff include: citrus- and pepper-crusted tilapia, fried eggs Benedict with home fries, and pesto ravioli with spinach.
Fun fact: The Canton, N.Y., university has a pub on campus that serves mac and cheese bites, onion rings, and other greasy goodness — and healthy options, too. Food and soda can be charged to the meal plan, but booze is cash only. Boo.
#41 Bates College (Lewiston, Maine)
Lewiston, Maine, may not be high on your list when you're thinking of places with exceptional dining, but it should be. The headquarters of the Bobcats provides food so tasty, and service so spectacular, that last semester’s graduating class created a mini-cookbook called Commons Favorites: The Senior Cookbook. This PDF is available online, and features the most beloved dishes offered. Sample recipes include gorgonzola and caramelized onion pizza, chocolate zucchini bread, and vegan crunch-top applesauce bars.
Run by 72 full-time employees and 50 student employees, Bates Dining hosts a ton of events. Director of dining Christine Schwartz tell us that the college presents an "Adventure in Dining" every other Wednesday night. Examples include: mac and cheese bar, waffle house night, and sushi night among others. The annual Harvest Meal includes not only a fantastic menu, but also a band and prizes.
Over time, the college has "evolved to meet the changing needs of the students not only in-terms of our buying practices, but in the need to address the numerous and ever expanding special dietary needs which students are now dealing with," said Schwartz.
Bates College has a napkin board both in the commons dining facility and online, which allows for students to easily communicate with Bates Dining. Based on all of the above, we’d bet the board is mostly filled with compliments.
#40 Saint Anselm College (Manchester, N.H.)
When it comes to hosting events, Saint Anselm College is up for a challenge. In 2007, the college fed 500 people after hosting both the Democratic and Republican primary debates — back-to-back.
Featuring three main dining facilities, this Manchester, N.H.-based college offers homemade fare prepared by chefs. Sample menu items include blueberry pancakes, shrimp pot stickers, and flame-broiled strip sirloin.
In addition to the regular menu, the main dining hall has 11 tasty stations doling out everything from made-to-order breakfast items to freshly cut fruit with peanut butter. Standout station: Bulk Candy & Snacks, which is home to Swedish Fish and trail mix, among other things.
#39 Colby College (Waterville, Maine)
What’s the definition of local? For Colby College, it's using tofu made from soybeans grown less than 20 miles away. This Waterville, Maine, institution serves local, family-made Heiwa tofu, displaying its commitment to the community. In addition to buying local, the college also sends produce from its student-run garden, 2 Feet 2 Bedrock, to local food pantries — as well as on-campus dining facilities.
On the menu at Colby College: butternut squash and adzuki bean stew, meatball flatbread melt, and tomato grilled cheese. On the second Tuesday of each month, the dining halls will offer snacks at lunchtime to keep students energized throughout the day.
#38 University of San Diego (San Diego, Calif.)
With chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales, and the California Culinary Academy, it’s no surprise this dining services program has been winning awards since 1992. The school's food truck, Torero Tu Go, serves up items like muffaletta sandwiches, grilled skirt steak tacos, and chicken skewers — and it won a National Association of College & University Food Services award this year.
Presenting a farmers market every Wednesday in the fall, USD dining services also hosts events like luaus, food fairs, and the chocolate dessert frenzy, which takes places on the 15th of each month — don’t forget to mark your calendars.
#37 Scripps College (Claremont, Calif.)
Ambrosia macaroons, cranberry Grand Marnier truffles, and filet mignon with prosciutto and mushroom tapenade — these are the things that Scripps College dining is made of. The school even posts the recipes online so students don’t have to go without over breaks. Want in on the deliciousness? Click here, and see what you can whip up.
Sweet Deal: The Southern California women’s college has a meal exchange with the other Claremont Colleges: Pomona College, Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna, and Harvey Mudd.
#35 Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.)
Every March, the USS Rand, an imaginary cruise ship, travels the world to bring Vanderbilt students the best in food. To do this, the university decks out the dining hall with props, actors, and food stations.
"We allow [the campus chefs] to exercise their creativity," explains Camp Howard, director of Vanderbilt Dining. Other themed events have centered on Las Vegas and a Willy Wonka-inspired affair.
Keeping with the government’s food guidelines, Vanderbilt’s "menus and meals are really focused on the plate, rather than the stomach," shares Howard. What’s featured? Sausage breakfast burritos, Texas Red chili, and chicken tikka masala. With a focus on community, Vanderbilt invites local farmers to chat with students over family-style meals. In addition, the institution donates food to the Dimas House, a local organization helping people recently released from prison get back on track.
#34 Mills College (Oakland, Calif.)
Wikimedia Commons/Catsmith mills
To this Bon Appétit-managed institution, sustainability is no laughing matter. The Tea Shop, a campus hub, presents students with bins for trash, recycling, and even composting — and serves items like chicken sandwiches and European-style chocolate.
Founders Commons, the main dining facility on campus, serves its all-you-care-to eat fare cafeteria-style. The Oakland college buys local — and lists the specific area or farm that items came from in the dining hall. Here, students are offered a variety of healthy options — even the salad bar presents various greens to choose from!
#33 Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)
Hormone-free milk and bio-degradable containers are just two ways Johns Hopkins is working to provide what it calls "responsible dining." According to David Furhman, director of dining programs, the university composts 90 percent of its waste.
Furhman is proud of the entire campus dining system, and says, "Simply put, we believe in offering the best quality possible. For instance, we use Boar’s Head brand meats and cheeses exclusively, our french fries are hand-cut, and we use only all-beef kosher hot dogs and artisan breads and pastries." Menu options include Texas toast French toast, mahimahi summer grill, and lentil sloppy Joes.
The Baltimore-based university’s dining facility is peanut- and tree nut-free, gluten-free, trans-fat-free, and vegan- and vegetarian-friendly. There is also a kosher eatery.
Hopkins’ Sterling Brunch, held four times a year, is a big hit. The meal brings "a special hotel-quality brunch to our campus community — complete with smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, dramatic ice carvings, and a live Jazz band," says Furhman. No wonder it’s so popular.
#32 Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
Student satisfaction is a top priority for the Dining Services team here. Each month, students are invited to participate in an online survey that asks specific questions about how to make on-campus dining even better. Typical fare includes Texas French toast, Brazilian vegetable feijoada, and grilled Tuscan chicken strips.
This university isn’t impressed by labels — every item the university buys undergoes a blind tasting process to ensure students are getting the best of the best. Want to participate? The tasting sessions are open, and details can be found here.
Fun fact: Production of baked goods begins at midnight every day, and results in fresh donuts, pizza dough, cakes, and more!
#31 Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)
Stanford can’t be beat when it comes to community outreach. The university donates leftover food to the community’s underserved residents, hosts holiday meals for those in need, and employs part of the staff from Abilities United, an organization for people with developmental and physical challenges.
Serving 3 million meals per academic year, Stanford’s dining accommodations include 11 dining halls and 22 dining locations. Sample menu items include sweet potato bisque, meat lovers calzones, and dill-roasted carrots and parsnips. Vegetarian and vegan options are available, and the university has instituted a pilot program for kosher dining that offers dinner three times per week.
The university even encourages students to play with their food. Stanford’s annual "Cardinal Cook-Off" lets students compete in an Iron Chef-like format using main ingredients like halibut and tofu. Think you have what it takes to compete?
#30 Brown University (Providence, R.I.)
Called "the Ratty" by students, the Sharpe Refectory is the dining hub of this Providence campus. Offering buffet-style dining, this spot is home to themed dinners several times a year, and doles out birthday cake on the last Fridays of each month.
Menu items include raspberry and white chocolate muffins, grilled Caribbean jerk chicken, and vegan roasted vegetable couscous. Observant Jewish and Muslim students: Brown’s got your back. With plenty of kosher and halal dining options available, adhering to dietary laws is a no-brainer. Veggie lovers are also cared for with an exclusively vegetarian snack bar available in the evenings.
Reusable containers, farmer partnerships, and student composting are just a few of Brown’s sustainability initiatives. The university also hosts a farmers market Thursdays in the fall that supports local food.
#29 Duke University (Durham, N.C.)
Food truck fanatics, this is the university for you. Got a hankering for Korean barbecue, handmade pizza, or burgers? No need to leave campus. Duke features a variety of food trucks — and provides a Google calendar with times and locations — so students can get their favorite foods with ease.
With more than 30 eateries and delivery right to your dorm door — and an on-campus farm — the home of the Blue Devils is incredibly accessible. Another customer of Bon Appétit food management, Duke’s menu items include breakfast all day, rotisserie chicken, and Asian stir-fry. The university also boasts a center for those with special diets, from kosher to Seventh Day Adventist.
Out late partying? Popular chains like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are on campus for those in need of a greasy hangover remedy.
#28 Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)
The Evanston, Ill., campus has six dining facilities that serve up eats like Western scrambled eggs; peanut butter, bacon, and apple sandwiches; and Tuscan kale salad.
Passionate about student engagement, the university hosts events like Moroccan Dinner and Reggae Night Dinner. "We hosted our Global Chefs, chef Tomo Irsic from Slovenia and chef Joachim Suarez from Columbia, for a week. They cooked menus from their cuisines in each of the dining halls," said Steve Mangan, managing director of Sodexo and Northwestern University's food service partnership.
Northwestern is also home to a branch of The Campus Kitchen, an initiative that helps students give back to the community by preparing meals and sharing them with the less fortunate. The university works toward sustainability by recycling its cooking oil and using bio-degradable bags on campus.
Predictions? "I’ve been telling my team that the next five years will be taking us back to the future, as we see more local, seasonal, fresh, simpler, and tastier menus and products come back into the marketplace," says Mangan. Sounds delicious.
#27 Emory University (Atlanta)
Tradition is huge at Emory, and that extends deep into the dining services philosophy. From the homecoming weekend barbecue to the Thanksgiving-inspired heritage harvest feast that highlights the season’s produce, Emory strives to offer convenience, flexibility, and variety.
Kenny Hemmer, interim executive director of the Food Service Administration, is extremely proud of the dining facilities. Offering meals like lasagna, toasted grilled vegetable and balsamic sandwiches, and sushi, the university seeks to serve the freshest food possible. "It doesn’t get shipped in every morning — it gets made here," says Hemmer of the sushi.
Home to chains like Chick-fil-A and Starbucks, the university recognizes the need to balance student wants with student needs. Emory’s dining student task force illustrates the importance it places on customer feedback. "It's students talking to students about food," says Hemmer.
#26 Pitzer College (Claremont, Calif.)
To silence your hunger pangs, this college serves lemon and dill salmon, Mediterranean bowtie pasta, and barbequed beef brisket, among other things. Based in Claremont, Calif., and managed by Bon Appétit, the main dining hall, McConnell, hosts theme nights like Mongolian Mondays, Wild Card Wednesdays, and Farm to Fork Fridays. From comfort food to a custom, cooked-to-order station, there is plenty to love at this school.
#25 Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.)
On this West Lafayette, Ind., campus, students fuel up with mushroom foo yung, spicy fried cheese ravioli, and sesame quinoa pilaf. The university serves about 3.5 million meals per year, and buys most of its food directly from the manufacturer. Brands like Dannon, Sara Lee, and Quaker, are all featured on campus, among others.
Jill Irvin, the director of dining services, is most proud of "the quality and variety of food we serve. We are consistently rated higher than our colleagues for overall customer satisfaction and food quality."
From a salaried staff of 40, an hourly staff of 225, and more than 1,000 student employees, about 25,000 meals are served per day. A favorite event on campus? Boiler Bash, which is a picnic for incoming freshman. "We serve around 6,200 new students and support staff on the front lawn of one of our residence halls," says Irvin.
Over the years, Purdue has made dramatic changes. Explains Irvin: "All of the cafeterias used to serve the exact same menu, which was written centrally. Now, the chef at each dining court develops the menu, incorporating signature stations into a menu that presents our students with an enormous amount of variety."
Fun Fact: Students here consume 227,441 gallons of milk and juice each year — a staggering amount that could fill 15 swimming pools, according to the university.
Fun Fact #2: The number of Pop-Tarts gobbled up last year was almost equivalent to 13 miles, according to Purdue.
One More for the Road: The university states that the weight of chicken strips, chicken nuggets, and popcorn chicken devoured by students is equivalent to 50 Ford Mustangs.
#24 Columbia University (New York City)
Can’t concentrate on your Comparative Lit reading because your sweet tooth yearns for chocolate? No problem. Columbia Dining’s website features a "Whatcha in the Mood For" search that helps students quash killer cravings by locating the source right on campus.
The New York-based university has joined the war on trans fats by eliminating margarine, using trans fat-free products like Tyson’s chicken, and opting for healthier french fries and peanut butter. Columbia offers kosher and halal dining and has taken measures to protect those with food allergies. Of the 13 dining hall and retail locations on campus, two have removed nuts and seeds from all recipes. In addition, special refrigerators have been designated for gluten-free items.
Supporting the community is also big on Columbia’s to-do list. The university not only features produce from local farmers, but also donates leftover food to City Harvest, a nonprofit organization that collects food donations for those in need.
Food Offerings include ham and potato frittatas, mac and cheese with mustard greens, and tabbouleh. Nutrition information is available online, as are guides that indicate the correct serving for each of the food groups.
#23 Boston University (Boston)
"Our social media, not to brag, is probably the best out of any college dining in the country. We engage the students at BU seven days a week and almost any time of the day," says BU Dining.
Need proof? Last year the university "had a few students tweet at us that they missed our cookies in the dining hall while they are studying abroad in Europe," shares Dining. "Because we do social media like nobody’s business we were able to track down these students and send them a care package with some cookies and other treats."
Marciano Commons, a two-level facility that can seat 920 students, has a brick oven, tandoor oven, rotisserie oven, blast chiller, and a fresh pasta machine that was imported from Italy. There are two kitchens exclusively for vegan and gluten-free dishes, and a dozen stations for snacks, fruit, and beverages where students can help themselves.
Here, you can get bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast pizzas, vegan sloppy Joe sandwiches, and Vietnamese pork baguettes. Oh. My. Goodness. BU hosts events for students like Lobster Night, where undergrads are served the not-so-cheap treat. Watch the mania here.
By serving fruits and veggies from more than 40 local farms, the university won an award for sustainability leadership from the mayor this year.
#22. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)
Forget to put National Peach Cobbler Day on your calendar? Penn’s got an event for that. And for National Pretzel Day. And for many other days you’ve probably never heard of.
Run by Bon Appétit, a food management giant that emphasizes fresh, sustainable food, Penn’s dining strives to employ the farm-to-fork philosophy. With on-site farmers markets and celebrity chef book signings, this institution takes its food very seriously.
Featuring five residential spots and seven retail locations, the campus has plenty of places for starving undergrads to get their munch on. What’s on the menu? Omelettes made to order, fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, and roasted eggplant.
#21. Yale University (New Haven, Conn.)
The dining program at Yale can be summed up in three words: organic, sustainable, local. Want to see where the chicken you just ate was raised? Done. Students can view the exact farm on Google Earth with a production code provided by the dining hall manager.
With a menu that labels 15 common food allergies and dietary restrictions, from alcohol to peanuts, and an app that allows students to see seating availability within dining halls, based on food transaction data, Yale clearly isn’t messing around. Sample menu items include steel-cut oats, Korean BBQ tofu tacos, and baked orzo ratatouille. Vegan and vegetarian entrées are available at every meal.
Yale has zeroed in on the importance of sustainability, and offers humane-certified eggs and chicken, antibiotic-free beef, and both fair-trade and organic coffee and tea at its dining establishments. The university has also committed increasing the use of locally preserved products, sustainable procurement, and to using 50 percent vegetarian-fed, grass-raised beef — all by 2013. Go Bulldogs.
#20 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.)
What has more than 30 food spots, including dining halls, restaurants, cafés, and food trucks? MIT’s campus, that’s what. The university uses Bon Appétit, the food management company dedicated to sustainably raised and regionally sourced food. Vegans rejoice! Bon Appétit’s commitment to quality means that produce is typically prepared and served within 48 hours. Kosher, halal, vegetarian, and vegan options abound. For those who prefer to cook their own grub, MIT has "Cook-for-Yourself Communities ," located in seven residences. The university also has a weekly produce market.
From decorating cupcakes to pigging out at the late-night nacho fest, there is an event for everyone. Offering food-related events every day, MIT helps undergrads celebrate international cuisine with the "Taste of the World" series, which features the food of a selected country on a rotating basis. Every Thursday, the university offers cooking classes for those known to burn water.
On tap: Chocolate-chip pancakes, chicken in coconut red curry sauce, and truffled roast beef with buttered leeks.
#19 University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Ind.)
According to Mike Davy, manager at Notre Dame Food Services, "Today’s college student is much more worldly and sophisticated, in that they’ve been exposed to much more than the prior generation." He continues, "College food service has adapted — and had to adapt — to satisfy those needs." And Notre Dame is certainly evolving to accommodate those needs.
Classes like "Crave-able Vegetarian Cuisine," a hands-on cooking class held in the university’s test kitchen, keep food exciting at this Indiana university, which also features two main dining halls, a food court, and restaurants and eateries. Notre Dame also has a meal exchange program with St. Mary’s College. Sample meal items include fried eggs, and bourbon baked ham. Menus note healthy choices, gluten-free items, and varied options for vegetarians and vegans. The university even provides sick meals to those who are ill or confined to their rooms.
The home of the Fighting Irish sets itself apart with Legends of Notre Dame, a restaurant and pub that’s a collaborative effort between food services and the student activities department. Thursday through Friday, the space is reserved for student programming — from karaoke to comedy to DJs. All profits are shared with the activities department, creating a fun and tasty resource for student programming.
#18 University of California, Davis (Davis, Calif.)
At this university, dining events can mean anything from a "Harry Potter’s Birthday Celebration" dinner to meals that feature the tastes from the sites of the Seven Wonders of the World. If that’s not creative, we don’t know what is.
The dining services team invites guest chefs to present authentic meals from countries around the world, and also hosts diversity dinners. Twice each year, the school’s tradition of using local and sustainable food is highlighted at its Farm to College Night.
Sample menu items: honey-nut pancakes, dosas with sambar and chutney, and falafel lentil cakes.
Brenan Connolly, the resident dining manager, says fresh, healthy food is a priority. "We cut fresh potatoes daily, toss them with a touch of canola oil and seasoning, then bake them golden." Connolly, who has been at UC Davis for 30 years, adds that "Food ingredients are prepped on carts for finishing in the dining room in front of the customer."
UC Davis even offers students the "Take a Taste," option, which allows them to sample "what a dish tastes like and we can customize to a degree." Perfect for picky eaters!
#17 Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.)
"When I arrived at Princeton in 1992, we had one chef. Today we have 15 chefs in our campus kitchens," says Stu Orefice, director of dining services.
The home of the Tigers hosts themed dinners and holiday meals throughout the year. According to chef Brad Ortega, "These meals allow us to produce and present our product in a manner that is fun for staff and students. For us, these meals typify the idea of the breaking of bread being an enjoyable social experience."
The focus is always on quality. Princeton offers dishes like chocolate French toast, corn bisque soup, and Brazilian roast chicken.
Menus indicate which foods are vegan, which contain pork, and even label the level of carbon emissions for each item. As of February 2012, the university began providing ice cream, juices, and jams that are free of high-fructose corn syrup.
The crown jewel? The Visiting Chefs Program, which features a re-creation of a chef’s restaurant fare, served buffet-style. Past participants include: Ditka’s, Tribeca Grill, and Smith & Wollensky.
#16 University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
Offering unlimited food and unlimited access, it seems impossible to go hungry at the home of the Bulldogs. If you want breakfast all day, UGA is going to give it to you. Want seconds on barbecue ribs or New York strip steak? That’s OK, too. The fact that 96 percent of students choose to enroll in the voluntary meal plan speaks for itself. Oh, and you can eat 24 hours a day Monday through Thursday.
Let’s talk events. The Athens, Ga.-based school features game-day dining that makes even the best of tailgates look weak. UGA not only offers buffet menus with items like coconut shrimp, herb roast pork loin, and raspberry mango cake, but it also hosts cookouts beginning three hours before kickoff or at noon, whichever comes first. Cookout fare includes, but is most certainly not limited to: burgers, bratwursts, and ribs.
Don’t worry, the events aren’t all football related: This October, UGA will host "A Sunset Breakfast," a breakfast-for-dinner event that will serve students dishes from stellar bed-and-breakfast inns from around the country.
According to Jeanne J. Fry, the executive director of UGA Food Services, several events "are full-scale productions with an over-the-top menu, decorations, linens, live music, and more. The other events we host are fun and simple — students may come to the dining commons to find a Valentine’s Day card decorating table is set up or enjoy a good ole’ fashioned root beer float party during finals week."
To keep up with students, the university launched mobile apps and developed a social media presence, says Fry. "Because we provide a social media channel in which students can stay informed about Food Service, they share their comments about dining events, photos of the fun they’ve had dining with their friends, and some have even been inspired to create videos about Food Services."
#13 Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, Pa.)
If you crave special events, this Pennsylvania-based college may be the answer to your prayers. Each semester is packed with events like the Milkshake Mania lunch, where students can create their own milkshake, or the French Peasants lunch, which serves up assorted cheeses, breads, grapes, and sparkling cider. Dave Chase, the associate director of Dining Services, says the college is proudest of the high quality and integrity of the overall program, which is run by 55 full-time employees, 300 student workers, and 12 managers or supervisors. "What sets us apart is the innovative approach we take to ensure we are progressive in meeting the needs of our overall campus community," he explained. The philosophy seems to be working: Bryn Mawr is consistently ranked in the top 10 on Princeton Review’s best college food list.
#12 Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
With events like "Top Chef Harvard," a competition between dorms to see which can create the best dish using only the ingredients found in the dining halls, this university makes food fun. So what’s on the menu? Cage-free eggs cooked to order, tomato quiche, and quinoa and vegetable jambalaya, just to name a few. Vegetarian, vegan, local, and organic items are all available.
With 13 undergraduate dining halls, a kosher kitchen, and 14 retail spots, Harvard is certainly is no slouch when it comes to options. Thanks to a podcasts announcing each week’s menu, it’s pretty easy to plan ahead in Cambridge. Those on the meal plan can place orders online up to a week in advance.
Heading off campus? The Crimson will even pack you a lunch, just like mom used to — sans the handwritten napkin note. Linked to each collegiate’s ID number, the system keeps track of each student’s food preferences.
#11 Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)
Director of Dining Services, Matthew Biette, has been told by many students that the food at Middlebury was the deciding factor when debating between schools. On the enticing menu are dishes such as vegetable tempeh stew, seasoned crispy cubed fries, and fiery lentils.
"Most of our food is made from scratch," says Biette, who has been with the university for nearly 15 years. "We have people with pride and the culinary ability to create many different cuisines. And, if we have someone with a special need, we cook for them separately as they need it."
Employing 86 staffers in three different dining rooms, (including a bakery and a laundry operation), the Vermont college really places an emphasis on the origins of food. It buys local for everything from eggs to maple syrup, and seeks to educate students about the economics of food. Created by a former student, the food mapping project at Middlebury allows students to "visualize connections to their food system in a fun and compelling way." Featuring favorites like the chicken Parmesan dinner, it shows the campus community exactly where their food comes from. Very cool.
#10 Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Ga.)
If cranberry cornbread muffins, vegetarian pho soup, and Louisiana seafood gumbo sound like your thing, this Georgia school may be just right for you. Gary Coltek, the director of culinary and hospitality services, shares that freshness is a top priority. "Everything we do is in small batches — we cook nothing in advance." Incredible, considering the number of colleges that rely on heat lamps to keep food palatable.
Campus dining is run by about 250 people, and gets rave reviews from students. With 132 countries represented on campus, dining services is eager to get recipes from home to incorporate. Organic vegetables are used, and the meat — beef, pork, lamb — all come from single source farms.
In addition, the university puts together events like Sundae Sunday, the KSU famers market, and a lunch celebrating the cuisine of India.
On the evolution of college dining, Coltek says, "…the Food Network has made our business a sexy business." He explains that students know what they want to eat, and that KSU strives to teach them where their food comes from.
#9 Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, Pa.)
Let's play a little Jeopardy. Answer: Swordfish steaks with lime butter over orzo, served with asparagus; Hawaiian chicken; and grilled zucchini gratin are all found at this Pennsylvania institution of higher learning. Question: What is Gettysburg College?
Gary Brautigam, dining services director, confirms that the demand for healthier options has increased over time: "More recipes are cooked to order not only at action stations, but the actual procedures in the kitchen are designed to prepared in smaller portions at a time. Today’s menu items must include as many healthy choices as comfort foods. Students are eating healthier — it is that simple."
Made up of about 60 people, the dining services team is committed to doing a great job and reaching out to students, says Brautigam, who started more than 20 years ago as executive chef, before moving up the ranks to his current position.
He shared that the most popular dinner event at Gettysburg College is the Thanksgiving meal, where each table of 10 to 12 guests is served an entire turkey to carve — yum. We can see why more than 2,000 people attend, and why the dining services team gets compliments all the time.
Future plans: a food truck set to be unveiled on campus in November.
#8 St. Olaf College (Northfield, Minn.)
Located in Northfield, Minn., this college relies on Bon Appétit for its food management. Peter Abrahamson, general manager of Bon Appétit at St. Olaf, is proud of the fact that almost everything is made from scratch.
The main dining hall, Stav Hall, provides guests with upward of 70 dishes a week. Produce from the student-run organic farm is used, and the college is committed to buying local. Want to sample to the fare, but you’ve already gotten your degree? No problem, visitors need only pay at the door.
To accommodate severe food allergies, the kitchen cooks individual meals for about 21 students each week, says Abrahamson. Emphasizing the school's commitment to each student, he states, "We’ll feed them, and take care of them," which must be music to the ears of any parent with a child who has severe food allergies.
Students are able to leave comment cards for the dining services team, and Abrahamson says they get about 50 per day. His favorite comment: "too much good food," which tends to appear on days when several favorite items are offered.
Students with a craving for sweets should visit The Cage, a coffee shop and grill where plate-sized cookies are available. No wonder Rose Nylund always talked about this place. Come on, did you really think we’d be able to resist a Golden Girls, reference?
#7 University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, Mass.)
Pork carnitas with raisin and poblano crema. Irish coffee bread pudding with Kahlúa sauce. Gold rush tomato fennel soup. Yes, this is but a sample of what UMass has to offer co-eds. Fun fact: As long as their child is on the meal plan, parents can eat with them for free in the dining hall.
For social butterflies, this university hosts several events each semester. Last May students enjoyed the Spring Fling BBQ by filling their bellies, then burning off the calories by playing Dance Dance Revolution in the quad. Another event from last semester — Thanksgiving in April, which featured local items like apple cider, squash bisque, and of course, roasted turkey.
By bringing in guest chefs to featuring ingredients like blueberries and avocados, this college works to make food both tasty and fun. Oh, and they have Baby Berk — a food truck that features burgers and tacos seven days a week.
#6 Tufts University (Medford, Mass.)
"We serve a butternut squash bisque that is practically legendary, and our Magic Cookie Bars have quite a following!" says Patti Klos, the director of dining services since 1992. Other menu items include tortellini with sun-dried tomatoes, bourbon baked ham, and quiche Lorraine.
Committed to both the local and sustainability movements, this Massachusetts-based university buys produce from family farms within the New England area, and serves sustainable fish like wild Alaskan salmon, tilapia, and others. Tufts also uses 100 percent cage-free eggs in the dining centers, and does not serve veal.
In addition to hosting about 30 events in the dining centers each year, Tufts presents a farmers market filled with the goods from the School of Nutrition’s sustainable nutrition project, every Wednesday through mid-October. Offering items like kale, hot peppers, and basil, the market is home to special events like cooking demonstrations by chefs with featured ingredients.
So what’s Tufts secret to success? "We're not only responsive, but we strive to anticipate the needs of our customers and then exceed their expectations," says Klos. "We set our standards high and continuously work to improve on them, regularly raising our own bar."
Fun Anecdote: The last president of Tufts, Larry Bacow, often said that in the entire time he was at Tufts he never once received a complaint about the food. Note: he was with the university for a decade!
#5 Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.)
"We work hard to ensure that dining at Cornell is more than a meal — it’s an experience," said Karen Brown, director of campus life marketing and communications for the university. Want to see the best of campus dining via video? Cornell presents CU in the Kitchen, a series that highlights the food, people, and things that set Big Red’s food service apart from the rest. Think of it as Food Network, but hyper-local.
Big on student engagement, the university hosts events like "A Night at Hogwarts," which featured British cuisine, butter beer, and chocolate frogs. On a more typical day, students can dine on pancakes and sausage, Ethiopian vegetable stew, and pork stuffed with apples. The Ithaca- based institution has more than 30 eateries.
Cornell offers promotions to encourage students to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. If you buy a mug on campus, you can get a large coffee, tea, or hot chocolate for the price of a small one. What’s next? "Two goals for the coming year are to offer more late-night dining options, and to communicate with our customers better using social media and smartphone technology," Brown suggested. Expect a new eatery in partnership with the Cornell Dairy as well.
#4 UCLA (Los Angeles)
The dining services team at UCLA — which is made up of close to 700 people — is nothing if not committed to both the students and their products. Proof: Dining services managers here teamed up with "Bruins for Animals" and went vegan for a week to really understand the reality, and help them improve dining options.
Roger Pigozzi, UCLA’s assistant director of dining and a corporate chef, did it for 90 days a couple of years ago and says it made him re-evaluate every recipe, and think about ingredients differently. It paid off — in 2012 UCLA won the PETA Award for most vegan-friendly university.
If you are still not sold, Pigozzi once gave his card to a student with instructions to call his cell directly, if there were any issues with food service. True story.
Pigozzi, who has been with the university for 10 years, is passionate about culinary training and recipe development. Practicing "just in time cooking," dining staff are sautéing, slicing, and grilling "as the customers come in," shares Pigozzi. "Our timeline is that nothing can sit there for more than five minutes," he adds. How is this possible? Attention to detail — and people with headsets.
The school aims to use the best quality ingredients at every turn, and make ethnic food as authentic as possible via student panels and field research.
Not to be missed: FEAST in Rieber Hall features a rotating pan-Asian menu that offers Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, and Hawaiian fare. Two cuisines are highlighted every night, and the facility has created more than 1,500 new recipes in only two years.
#3 Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis)
From moonlight breakfast to barbecues to "Dine with a Dietician" classes, this university goes the extra mile to provide students with the best of the best, hosting five to 10 events per week. Want to learn how to roll sushi? Check out Studio 40, an open kitchen where students can take cooking classes, meet with chefs, and watch demonstrations.
Run by food management giant Bon Appétit, WU’s dining features dishes like blueberry crepes, vegetarian chorizo and potatoes, and orange pork stir-fry, with vegan, kosher, and halal options available. Two years ago, the university opened the new Bear’s Den, a facility with authentic food concepts, including two tandoori ovens tended to by trained chefs from Pakistan and India.
Jill Duncan, director of marketing and communications for Bon Appétit Management at Washington University, told TDM that the school’s sustainability measures set it apart from the pack — specifically regarding its conversion of waste oil to biofuel, the composting of food scraps, and the commitment to local food.
Attention to student feedback is another source of pride. "We have a very open communication environment and our managerial team is extremely visible and interactive with all of the students," said Duncan.
#2 Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine)
Consistently ranked at or near the top of Princeton Review’s "Best College Food" list, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, serves up dishes like massaman beef curry; roasted summer vegeetable and havarti panini; and roast loin of pork with Dijon, mushroom, and onion ragout. Most dishes are cooked in small batches to keep the food fresh for each and every student.
"Being a small college with 1,750 students, we are able to make dining a very personalized experience for our students. They know that when they walk through our doors they will find good food, good friends, and likely someone who knows their name and how they like their eggs!" says Michele Gaillard, the associate director of Operations and Dining Service-Administration, who has been with the college for 11 years.
"We’re emphasizing regional cuisine and local foods, including hundreds of pounds of produce, herbs, and fruit that we harvest from our own organic garden," she adds. Fresh produce from The Bowdoin Organic Garden (everything from kohlrabi to watercress) is also available at on-campus farmers markets each season, and items from each harvest are donated to a local charity.
What’s more? The on-campus bake shop and meat shops allow the college to ensure the highest level of quality. For students and faculty who crave the fare when home on break — the dining hall recipes are available online. Yeah, the food is that good.
At this college, food transcends the dining facilities. "We partner with student organizations to present theme meals and often work with faculty and academic departments to make our menus relevant to what’s being presented in the lecture halls," says Gaillard.
#1 Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.)
This Blacksburg, Va., campus boasts an award-winning dining plan. No stranger to the National Association of College & University Food Service awards — the Academy Award of collegiate dining — this university features dishes like whole-wheat penne pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed chicken breast, prosciutto, and gorgonzola.
Want to discuss existentialism while you break bread with your philosophy professor? There’s a way to do just that: VT’s "Dine with Faculty" program allows students to take a faculty member out to eat on the university’s dime once per month.
Passionate about sustainability, VT is home to the Farms & Fields Project, a venue that is completely local, sustainable, and organic. On the menu: apple chutney and Cheddar panini — organic Granny Smith apples with onion, red-wine vinegar, brown sugar, orange peels, fresh ginger, and local cheese served on locally made organic bread. In addition, VT dining partnered with the Virginia Tech Meat Science Center and serves meats produced and processed on campus. Um, wow.
For those with a green thumb, The Dining Services Garden at Kentland Farm is a great place engage in the community while growing the fruits and veggies that fuel Hokies. If you are more of a carnivore, VT has several outdoor grills for student use on campus. Undergrads can buy food and charcoal for a fun, backyard barbecue with their Flex Dollars.
This university topped our list for its incredible food, student engagement,and commitment to all things local and sustainable. It truly exceeded our wildest expectations for college dining.