The 20 Best College Towns for Food in America
April 13, 2015
No food-loving student should be trapped in the cafeteria — especially in these towns
The 20 Best College Towns for Food in America
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.
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.
18. Charlottesville, Va.
Picturesque Charlottesville’s food scene is often overshadowed by nearby Washington D.C.’s, but the University of Virginia town has its own share of excellent student and non-student options. If you’re downtown, go to The Whiskey Jar for farm-to-table Southern food, and if you’re not in the mood for meat-heavy dining, try the Senegalese Peanut Tofu Soup at Revolutionary Soup. Fry’s Spring Station is best for pizza, but if you’re curious to eat a classy take on mozzarella sticks, go to Sal’s Caffe Italia. Take the trolley to the Blue Moon Diner for the expected diner fare, plus out-of-the-box options like vegan garbage plates and kombucha. You’ll always want to stop by Splendora’s Gelato in the Southern heat.
17. Chapel Hill, N.C.
When considering schools, one has to keep in mind the general ambiance and character of the town. No prospective student should hesitate when it comes to Chapel Hill, though; it conjures images of biscuits, gravy, and endless green lawns. Keeping with that, the best biscuits in town are from Neal’s Deli. Delicious preserves and provisions are found at Farmer’s Daughter, while succulent barbecue can be had at the aptly named The Pig, and sandwiches are of the utmost importance at Sandwhich.
16. Savannah, Ga.
Known for being the best-dressed city in the South, Savannah’s culinary landscape is catching up with the rest of the Savannah College of Art and Design-inspired arts scene. Foxy Loxy serves artisanal coffee, baked goods, and Tex-Mex, and features live music, artist receptions, and a fire pit every Saturday. Line up for breakfast at the communal table at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, and take the parents to the sophisticated Olde Pink House, which looks like it’s been plucked out of Gone with the Wind. Eat the crab dishes at Narobia’s Grits & Gravy, and for the best peaches, head straight to the Forsyth Farmer’s Market every Saturday.
15. Providence, R.I.
The Rhode Island capital is home to one of the best art schools in the country (Rhode Island School of Design) and an Ivy League university (Brown), and appeals to both ends of the spectrum. You’ll find casual diners and coffee shops, like the beloved Loui’s Restaurant and sustainable Coffee Exchange, as well as renowned dining establishments, like The Dorrance, a gorgeous, globally influenced New England eatery located in an historic bank. Students can walk to Federal Hill on the other side of the river for late-night grub in Haven Brothers, one of the oldest diners in the country.
14. Bloomington, Ind.
The sign of a good town for food lovers is an excellent farmer’s market, and Bloomington has one of the best in the United States. Moreover, Spoon University thinks Smokin’ Jack’s Rib Shack has the Frank Underwood seal of approval. Kilroy’s Bar made our list of the 28 best college football bars in 2014. Mother’s Bear pizza offers traditional, deep-dish, and honey-sesame crust pans with unique sauces and meats, like salsa del rafano (a blend of house red sauce and fresh horseradish) and apple-gouda chicken sausage. For a true Indiana experience, get the Hoosier ham on deep-dish pizza.
13. Madison, Wis.
Madison is one of those great college towns where universities are everywhere, but it still thrives in the summer when the students are gone. Great cultural opportunities abound in Madison, but food shines just as bright at places like The Old Fashioned and Harvest Restaurant. Students can hunker down at Bradbury’s Coffee for a study session over their famous crêpes and a latte.
12. Evanston, Ill.
Nerd out with Northwestern students (and parents) at Found, a farm-to-table restaurant decorated with found objects, like vintage maps and books. For a less sophisticated (but still delicious) option, get messy at Buffalo Joe’s with wings (try the suicide sauce) and queso. Evanston is full of such options: fancy, parent-friendly places (like The Stained Glass wine bar) and casual grub like the Evanston Chicken Shack, which Thrillist voted one of the best chicken spots in America this year. Students have been getting their sweet fix at family-run Bennison’s since 1938.
11. Athens, Ga.
The home of the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and R.E.M (and the B-52s, Widespread Panic, The Drive-By Truckers, and dozens of other great bands) is host to quite an array of gourmet options. At 5 & 10, executive chef Jason Zygmont, whose background includes stints at Noma in Copenhagen and Thomas Keller’s Per Se, serves items like “pimentowurst” BLT burgers and grandma-style fried chicken; he even offers a ramen night. 5 & 10’s Mediterranean-inspired sister The National is equally top-notch. This is still a college town, though, so wallet-friendly options, like Kelly’s Authentic Jamaican Food, are wildly popular among students. For buttery viennoiserie, look no further than Independent Baking Co; though they supply the bread for most Athens restaurants, you’ll want to get a whiff of their fresh-baked goods yourself.
10. Eugene, Ore.
Vegetarian-friendly with a heavy dose of outdoor activities and cultural outlets, Eugene, Oregon, seems tailor-made for students. Did we mention their ever-thriving food scene? Metropol Bakery is the go-to spot for freshly baked breads, sweets, and smoothies. Organic pizzas and microbrews can be found at the somewhat motley Cozmic Pizza, while parents would be happy to foot the bill for moules frites, seared sea bass, and roasted game hen at Marché. Taste of India’s authentic fare has captured the heart of every Eugene denizen, whether they stay for four years or forever.
9. Ann Arbor, Mich.
No matriculated student in Ann Arbor has an excuse for being on an all-ramen diet, what with the “world famous chipatis” at Pizza House and deep-fried dumplings at University Café. The classic deli-style sandwiches from Zingerman’s Deli, specifically the Reuben, make for perfect study food. And when you’re looking to impress an out-of-town guest, head to Gandy Dancer for Dungeness crab, cedar-planked salmon, and seasonal specialties.
8. Oxford, Miss.
In late October, before midterms and Thanksgiving vacations with the family, Oxford, Mississippi, hosts its annual BBQ Throwdown — just one of the many signs that Oxford has become a delicious college town. That Ole Miss throws one of the best tailgates in the country doesn’t hurt, either. Budget-friendly places like Bottle Tree Bakery (for sweet potato and andouille soup and gourmet pressed sandwiches) and Handy Andy (for pulled pork sandwiches and slices of apple pie) are student haunts. 208 is the perfect parents weekend dinner spot — their Martini Mondays are also well worth checking out.
7. Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Picturesque Saratoga Springs, with its Revolutionary War aesthetic, had a thriving culinary scene even before Skidmore College became one of the most well-known liberal arts schools in the country, with charmingly old school Mrs. London’s (and now, her hip brother next door, Max London’s). Fair trade coffee shops, like Uncommon Grounds and Saratoga Coffee Traders, are where you’ll see most students when they’re not studying in the library. Caroline Street is bustling with bars that are packed with college students and locals alike. If you are looking to get away from the summer crowds that come in with horse racing season, drive or take a Saratoga Taxi further out to pizza place Harvest and Hearth or English pub The Local. And, of course, no trip to Saratoga is complete without two things: a black raspberry softie from Dairy Haus and a doughboy (chicken, cheese, and scallions baked in just-browned pizza dough) from Esperanto, which is rumored to have been invented by a Skidmore professor.
6. Ithaca, N.Y.
Already known for being a true food-lover’s town, Ithaca gives students the chance to study in a gorgeous (gorges?) setting with a healthy helping of Greek souvlaki, calamari, and French fries on the side from Souvlaki House. Seasonal Italian dishes like chicken liver pâté, grilled artichokes, and chicken Milanese at Mercato Bar and Kitchen are enough to pull you away from even the most riveting study session, and The Chapter House works for when you have a late class the next morning.
5. Durham, N.C.
One of two North Carolina college towns on this list (and there could be more), Durham was named the South’s “Tastiest Town” in 2013 by Southern Living magazine. It’s been two years, but the city’s reputation is still strong, thanks to the photogenic pies at Scratch and down-home patio dining at Geer St. Garden. The wood-fired pizza at Pizzeria Toro is a favorite of gourmands and students alike, but the tighter-budgeted are more likely to haunt Monuts for bagels (like the “Guac Dirty to Me”) and doughnuts. Durham also has an unexpectedly large population of authentic taquerías, like Taquería La Vaquita and La Superior Taquería y Carnicería, both worth a visit.
4. Princeton, N.J.
Study hall can only last so long. So, for students who like leaving the library, Princeton’s food scene proves a more than worthy venture. Stop by Olive’s for a mouth-watering lunch of moussaka, a classic B.L.T, and an oversized cookie. Find delicious dinners at the Blue Point Grill, with an eclectic array of seafood like she crab soup, Portuguese sardines, Maine lobster cakes, and shrimp dumplings. And any gelato (or cupcake) hankering can be satisfied at The Bent Spoon, where you can choose from an ever-growing menu of flavors like New Jersey honey, peanut butter, and lavender mascarpone.
3. Boulder, Colo.
Long known as the hardest partying college town in the country, Boulder can also rank itself among the tastiest. Moe’s Broadway Bagel serves the best in bagels and a schmear in town, and The Kitchen is a cool and communal space with a seasonal, farm-to-table menu featuring homemade tagliatelle carbonara, Colorado quinoa with broccoli, and Colorado steak frites. For an even more authentic taste of Boulder, students should hit the Boulder County’s Farmers Market.
2. Berkeley, Calif.
Considering its proximity to food and wine hot spots San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Sonoma, it will come as no surprise that food-loving students should enroll in school in Berkeley. Inarguably, the best meal you can have (when your parents come to town) is at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. The Cheese Board Collective is a classic California cheese shop that grew into a bakery, serving muffins, cookies, specialty breads, and even pizzas. And for those times when savory just won’t cut it, Sweet Dreams Candy Store will cover all gummy, bonbon, taffy, and chocolate needs.
1. Burlington, Vt.
Burlington is a gastronome’s town, whether your life is organized by semesters or not. There is no way to overhype pizzeria American Flatbread, but to say that it would have to be any in-the-know college student’s staple would be an understatement. Likewise, Red Onion serves consistently fresh and flavorful sandwiches, and every college town should be lucky enough to play host to The Penny Cluse Café. After hitting the books, reward yourself with a trip to Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre working farm, forest, and National Historic Landmark.