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Let’s face it: college food gets a bad rap. For many of us, a year’s worth of dining hall binges on bland burgers, fries, and soft-serve means an eventual campaign to lose the freshman 15. But not every collegiette suffers through school meals; in fact, some campus food is positively delish. Read on for Her Campus’s list of the crème de la crème. 

#1 Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine)

Photo credit: © Dennis Griggs, Tannery Hill Studio

Bowdoin College’s dining experience is more restaurant than cafeteria, and that’s why the campus’s food services boast so many awards. The school is small, but it manages to pack tons of meal options into only two dining halls; think sushi, mussels, and grilled organic tofu. “Bowdoin goes to the extreme to make sure students are not only well fed, but that they are eating good food and enjoying the meal experience,” says senior Emily Neilson. “I had some of their butternut squash soup recently, and it was like nirvana in my mouth.” Dining services get major sustainability points too—the salad bar features fruits and veggies from the campus’s own organic garden, and many other ingredients come from local providers. And of course, it wouldn’t be Maine without lobster. Bowdoin students are invited to a real Down East Lobster Bake to celebrate the start of each school year.

#2 Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.)

Photo credit: Virginia Tech

They serve ribeye and whole lobster daily—and no, we’re not talking about the fancy restaurant downtown. In addition to the chop house options in Virginia Tech’s West End Market, VT students can find gourmet pizza cooked in wood-fired ovens at its Italian restaurant, or eat signature burgers while watching big screen projection TVs in its sports lounge. “West End Market is my favorite place to eat on campus, but all of the dining halls are great,” says senior Michelle Hudgins. “VT provides an amazing selection of food in each one.” Hokie Grill & Co. offers national and international favorites, like Chick-fil-A®, Pizza Hut®, and Cinnabon®, and a state-of-the-art restaurant dining facility is set to open on campus in fall 2012. Deet’s Place roasts its own coffee beans. If you manage to save room for dessert, you can try the cookie-dough topped brownie (Are you drooling yet?), one of many dishes adapted from actual students’ parents’ home recipes.

#3 Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.)

Photo credit: Shai Eynav

So. Many. Options. Cornell has more than 30 on-campus dining locations, 10 of which are all-you-care-to-eat. There’s actually something for every student, from bubble tea to design-your-own omelet, stir-fry, and pancakes stations on the weekends. (“Brunch is legitimately the best meal ever,” says junior Mary Panos.) Students can grab a quick bite during the day (on their meal plans) at cafés, a renowned ice cream parlor (Cornell Dairy ice cream is made on the campus dairy farms!), or an award-winning vegetarian restaurant, Moosewood. Cornell dining services love specials and events, too: breakfast-for-dinner on Wednesdays and a dark chocolate tasting party? Mmmmm. But nothing beats the university’s two famous food trucks, conveniently situated near off-campus fraternity houses and open late for that much-needed, post-party piece of pizza or meatball sandwich.

#4 University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles)

Photo credit: UCLA 

UCLA’s campus features three all-you-care-to-eat residential restaurants, as well as four quick-service, café-style ones. “Each restaurant or dining hall has a theme, so you can pretty much get any type of cuisine you’d like on campus,” says senior Ellie Cerovski Darriau. “There’s a lot of variety within each place, as well.” Café 1919 serves up paninis, gourmet pizzas and gelato, while the My Pizza online ordering service offers pizza and wings pick-up until midnight—perfect for a study sesh snack or preparation for a night out. And if you’re vegan, you’re in luck: UCLA won in peta2’s “large U.S. school” category for Most Vegan-Friendly College 2010.

#5 St. Olaf College (Northfield, Minn.)


Photo credit: St. Olaf College

Locavores and organic lovers have a field day—literally—at St. Olaf. As with other schools on the list, St. Olaf’s student-run organic farm provides the herbs and vegetables. Whenever possible at St. Olaf, though, the meat and poultry is antibiotic- and growth hormone-free, apples are stocked from a nearby orchard, and dairy products are supplied by a collective of Midwestern, family-owned farms.  Plus: “We have a great dessert section—I mean five-star, classy, delicious,” says sophomore Juan-Ita Effiom.  


#6 Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, Pa.)

Photo credit: Bryn Mawr College Dining Services

Bryn Mawr’s food ranks high for deliciousness nationally, but that doesn’t stop dining services from striving to be even greater. Want to try something new? Just post a “napkin note” (literally a comment written on a napkin), write on their Facebook wall, or send an “emeal”. “Bryn Mawr Dining Services offers a lot of different options for students on a daily basis, and I think that definitely sets it apart,” says senior Sarah Hermalyn.At breakfast you can make your own chocolate chip waffle or omelet, and at dinner you can make stir-fry with fresh produce from the salad bar.” And talk about uniqueness: they just held a “Hogwarts End-of-Term Feast” complete with costumes, pumpkin juice, treacle tart and Bertie’s Every Flavor Beans.

#7 Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)

Photo credit: Middlebury College Dining Services 

How’s this for neat? “The great thing about Middlebury’s dining halls is that anyone can walk in—no swipe necessary,” says junior Bianca Giaever. “You can eat whenever and as many times a day as you like.” Middlebury students flock the panini bar, and the school’s bakery makes goodies from scratch, including the popular fresh-baked apple pie.  Local food is especially important at Middlebury, and the school’s salad bar includes produce from the school’s organic garden. “Constant fresh vegetables are definitely the dining halls’ strength,” Giaever says.

#8 James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Va.)

Photo credit: JMU Dining Services

I love everything about our food here! Whenever I leave for home, I cannot wait to get back to JMU to get something to eat!” says freshman Christie White. Students can check out the international station with Tandoori ovens, the gluten-free and vegan stations, and the fresh-baked desserts with homemade ice cream. JMU students rave about how kind and friendly the dining services staff is—and they’re hip, too! Students can check out their Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates on hour changes, events and contests.

#9 Colby College (Waterville, Maine)

Photo credit: Maddie Bergier, Colby ’12

Colby’s dining halls each have a personality of their own. “We have three different dining halls to choose from, and each of them has specific things that I love,” says senior Kate Gragnolati. There’s Dana, with signature burgers and homemade French fries made with locally grown potatoes. Roberts (affectionately called Bobs) features a restaurant-style set-up with make-your-own flatbread pizzas, calzones and donuts on Thursday mornings. Foss is for the more adventurous, with international and vegetarian offerings. Meal plans also include one meal a week at the Spa, Colby’s student center restaurant.

#10 Northeastern University (Boston)

Photo credit: Northeastern University/Chartwells

Northeastern’s dining services have recently reached an entirely new level, says senior Julie Gannon. “Although I’ve always thought our food was good, the variety of options have really exploded,” she says. “The stations at International Village, our new, three-star certified green dining hall, offer everything from authentic Indian dishes to sushi to vegan and vegetarian entrees to coal-fired pizza!” The Xhibition Kitchen is another serious bling factor. It has overhead cameras that project onto flat screen TVs, which sounds more “Food Network” than “college dining” to us. It’s the students’ chance to get up close with award-winning chefs and cookbook authors.

Alison Goldman is a senior Magazine Journalism major and Theatre minor at Northwestern University. She hails from Pittsburgh, Penn. (Go Steelers!) and spent fall 2009 abroad in Florence, Italy--a good fit considering her love of carbs, coffee, and a great pair of boots. Alison previously worked as an editorial intern at Glamour and The Knot and as a 2010 ASME intern at Family Circle. She also contributes to the campus magazines North by Northwestern and Schmooze. Flowers, dark chocolate, and puns are the way to her heart.