The Top 10 College Dining Halls

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.