Some review restaurants. Others review movies. But me? I review what actually matters--the UCSB dining halls. And, for your convenience, I’ll break down my views on each swipe-worthy establishment into four important categories: the fare, the architecture, the best (and worse) times to visit, and the clientele. Without further ado, here is my comprehensive, unofficial and overwhelmingly subjective ranked guide to the UCSB Dining Halls.
During our orientation tours, my roommate’s tour guide said that as a freshman, he and his buddies would get dressed up once a quarter and go to visit Carrillo for "fine dining"--which is exactly what it is. Complete with mood lighting, indoor booth seating, and a solid menu, Carrillo is the fairest of all the dining halls.
The fare: Carrillo has the perfect combination of novelty and consistency; you can always count on my personal go-tos--baked sweet potatoes, the gardenburger, pizza, and crinkle cut fries--but also try something new, like blackened catfish or penne arrabiata. Either way, there’s something for everyone; Carrillo is a sanctuary for anyone who survives on salad and various carbs (aka me), or really anyone tired of the same four dishes offered at the two Chi-5 dining halls.
The architecture: Aside from a weird picnic I once had while lost on a mountain, the most romantic dining experiences I’ve had in the past year have been at Carrillo. Not because of who was I with, but because of the perfect design of the dining hall’s outdoor seating area. (I’m extremely single, in case that wasn’t obvious.) In the morning and afternoon, the outside tables have a beautiful view of the ocean and are perfect for getting a lil’ tan in between classes. At night though, the ambiance and string lights make every bite you take feel like a lady-and-the-tramp experience. (A tip for anyone strapped for cash: take your date to the Carrillo for a fine dining, well-lit, swipe-worthy experience.)
Best and worst times to visit: Carrillo is open for all three meals a day, and I honestly can’t decide which meal I enjoy the best; breakfast is great for fruit and vegan fares, lunch has the best desserts, while dinnertime is the most picturesque. There simply is no bad time to eat at Carrillo.
The clientele: A big reason for why Carrillo has earned its spot as the superior dining hall at UCSB is because of who my roommate and I like to call the ‘gentlemen of Carillo.’ They hold the doors open for you, even if it means leaping three feet from the spread/seasoning station and you have nothing in your hands to warrant this random act of heroism. They say ‘thank you’ to the person that swipes diners in on their way out. They wait patiently as you (read: as I) fumble with the tonsils at the salad bar for the nth time. Maybe it’s because they’re mostly upperclassmen, or maybe it’s because Carillo brings out the humanity in people (or not).
Once called “pour toilet” by indignant FT (Santa Catalina) dwellers prior to its 2017 renovation, the new eatery has risen like a phoenix from its unfortunately nicknamed ashes to be the second best dining hall at UCSB--because no food is worth walking thirty minutes for (not even food that has its own freaking Instagram page).
The fare: Out of this world (especially for people with dietary preferences). Open for all three meals a day, Portola has the most experimental and straight up good food on campus. Some examples from this past week include: housemade sweet potato chips, chipotle hummus and quinoa wraps, and pulled pork buffalo style sandwiches. Also, as someone who relies heavily on salad bars, making a salad at Portola made me feel like the Gordon Ramsay of raw vegetables, lentils, and tofu.
The architecture: FT used to be a hotel, which may explain why Portola is also hands down the most spacious, well-lit, and pretty dining hall to eat at. Plus, if you squint your eyes hard enough you can forget that you’re even at college--and that finals are literally just 10 days away. Eek.
Best and worst times to visit: As the primary dining hall for the residence hall that houses around 1300 undergrad students, it makes sense that Portola is open for all three meals a day. But the best time to make the 33 minute trek or 9 minute bike ride (according to Google Maps) for Portola’s insta-famous dishes is lunch. But, if you don’t live in FT, or have classes less than an hour apart, Portola probably isn’t the best option--no matter how good the menu sounds (I mean, sourdough french toast?? Jesus Christ.)
The clientele: Freshmen, freshmen, freshmen. (And upperclassmen living in the San Joaquin villages.)
- De La Guerra Dining Commons (aka, “the DLG”)
If you ended up in one of the Chi-5 dorms ( Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, or San Nicolas) for your first year at UCSB, chances are you have at least set foot in the infamous DLG (pronounced “dilge” by the locals) where Jack Johnson allegedly met his wife while he attended UCSB.
The fare: Consistent. An alternating menu of some sort of stir fry, some sort of pasta, and some sort of curry pretty much every week. The DLG is like that one friend who orders the same exact drink at Starbucks every time even after swearing that they’ll ‘try something new.’ Whatever, Karen.
The architecture: Probably the Eiffel Tower of all the dining commons buildings. On the one hand, there’s a great view of the ocean and fantastic outdoor seating to fit a little more tanning into your day. But if you’re looking to have a quiet meal alone, the huge windows right next to the entrance and the closeness of the tables mean that DLG is probably not the move--especially since everyone and their mother rolls up to the DLG at around the same time. So if you’re looking to avoid an ex, a frenemy, or really anyone that recognizes you and will stop you for an obligatory convo, you might wanna hit up Ortega instead.
Best and worst times to visit: Hitting up DLG for bunch after a Friday or Saturday night out is basically a UCSB tradition, as is grabbing late night cereal or burgers at ‘late night’--a heavenly three hour period starting at 9 pm where DLG opens for late night cravings.
The clientele: A bunch of freshmen trying not to look like freshmen, with a light sprinkling of upperclassmen probably sporting airpods and jaded expressions.
Lime green walls. Sushi that is almost as fragile as a mansplainer’s ego. Although the DLG and Ortega don’t really differ in terms of menu items, Ortega is the last place on this list because this place just has bad vibes.
The fare: Like DLG, Ortega has a pretty regular rotation that consists of grilled sandwiches, “sushi,” and some sort of rice + meat + lentil combo at the hot food bar. But Ortega does have a lot more non-salad-bar, vegan-friendly options than “the dilge.”
The architecture: Honestly, I’m no interior designer, but lime and tan--the two main colors of Ortega’s interior--just don’t seem to go together. Also, the low ceilings, the closeness of the tables, and the lack of outdoor seating just make for an all-around claustrophobic dining experience.
Best and worst times to visit: Although Ortega is open for all three meals during the week, it is closed on the weekends. I’d say the best time to go is during breakfast, mainly because it’s the only dining hall near the Chi-5 that serves breakfast and also because the lunch rush is super overwhelming.
The clientele: Freshmen who are unique™️ and too cool for the DLG, piano players looking to flex on a crowd of hungry and stressed strangers with one of the two songs they know, people who didn’t want to wait in the DLG line, and anyone looking to avoid social contact at all costs.
(Disclaimer: These are all based solely on my opinion for entertainment value, and none of these statements are in any way meant to disrespect any of the dining halls or dining hall staff--whom I am very, very grateful for as someone who relies heavily on meal swipes. As usual, take it all with a grain of salt...and pepper. Ba-dum-tssss.)