Colleges with the Best Dining Halls

When visiting a college for the first time, there are many important questions to ask. Prospective students, or their parents, often want to know about academic programs, extracurricular activities, living situations, and a myriad of other collegiate life aspects. However, students all agree that the most important question of all (just kidding, kind of) is “Where am I going to eat?” It cannot be denied that while students are drawn to schools for various reasons, it is always vital to take the school’s dining program into account when making a decision, especially for first-year students who must live on campus. Here’s a short list of a few colleges with excellent meal options and the dining halls in which they are served: 

Syracuse University

Location: Syracuse, NY

Syracuse brands its sports program as “New York’s College Team,” capitalizing on the lack of competitive NCAA programs in the Empire State. The Syracuse Orange have churned out many memorable athletes over the years, from Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony to hall of fame running back Jim Brown. Perhaps the most famous athlete in ‘Cuse’s history, however, is Ernie Davis, a running back nicknamed “The Express,” who played on the Orange football team from 1959 to 1961. Davis, the first Black football player to win the coveted Heisman Trophy, is a Syracuse icon whose legend is memorialized all over the upstate New York campus.

Ernie Davis Hall, colloquially known as “Ernie,” opened in 2009, a combined residence hall and dining hall. It is, without a doubt, the most popular dining area on campus, with lines consistently found running out the door. The hall serves cafeteria-style food, from American diner fare to international cuisine and everything in between. The Syracuse dining plan includes “guest swipes” for those who want to treat their friends to a meal, which is vital among frugal college students. While Ernie is the flagship dining hall, other ‘Cuse culinary centers such as Sadler Hall, located across the street from the Carrier Dome, and FOOD.COM, in the building that houses the venerated Newhouse School of Communications, provide additional options for hungry students.

University of Massachusetts—Amherst

Wikimedia Commons user Kevin Rutherford

Wikimedia Commons user Kevin Rutherford

Location: Amherst, MA

Traditionally, the University of Massachusetts—Amherst has been a destination for hospitality and culinary-minded students, so it would logically follow that their dining program would be among the best in the nation. The campus food centers serve well over 15,000 students a day, the second-most nationwide, and the dining options are top-notch. The Berkshire Dining Commons, a sleek, imposing brick-and-glass structure at the center of the campus’s residential area, offers a smorgasbord of mental fuel options, including their award-winning Pan Asian cuisine.

Berkshire is open seven days a week until midnight. For students who aim for a healthy diet, the Hampshire Dining Hall prides itself on serving “minimally processed foods,” including vegetarian options, that are high in protein and low in fat. All UMass dining halls strive to use local ingredients, investing over $3 million over the past year in New England farms for fresh dairy, vegetables, meat, and fruits. To this point, UMass’s signature fresh seafood is sourced locally, from the fishing industry that drives coastal New England towns.

Virginia Tech

Wikimedia Commons user Eric T Gunther

Wikimedia Commons user Eric T Gunther

Location: Blacksburg, VA

The blue ribbon dining program of Virginia Tech is renowned nationally, decorated by publications for the quality and quantity of their options. In 2016, their dining program was rated #1 in the nation by and #3 in the “Best College Food” category by the respected Princeton Review college ranking. Virginia Tech, a beacon for engineers, mirrors their reputation as an innovation haven through their sustainability initiatives, providing the school with one of the most environmentally friendly cuisine plans in the US. Their dining halls use “Reusable Go-To” green containers that avoid the mess of disposing waste, saving an estimated 50,000 paper waste products a day. These environmentally-minded containers are deposited in “OZZI” machines, which accept them in exchange for a token. The next time a student enters a dining hall, they perform the inverse operation, giving the token to a cashier in exchange for their container. Through this process, students both avoid polluting the environment and avoid having to lug around their container every time they enter a dining hall. The containers are also financially prudent; Virginia Tech’s Dining Services estimate that the school saves over $180,000 per year using their green technology.

In addition to their efforts to maintain an ecologically minded food program, the dining services in Owens Hall opened 1991, are some of the most decorated in the nation. Owens Hall provides a myriad of shops, each with their own specialities, such as the Asian cuisine served at Bowl Dynasty, the diner fare at Flip’s, and the freshly carved meat plated at the Carvery.

University of California—Los Angeles

Flickr user dailymatador

Flickr user dailymatador

Location: Los Angeles, CA

The University of California—Los Angeles, known as UCLA, is currently perhaps the gold standard in campus dining. Their programs focus on an oft-overlooked aspect of college meals: flexibility. UCLA’s dining services blend quick-eats counter service with gourmet food options to provide their Bruins with an open menu of time-sensitive meals. Their “grab and go” breakfast service, offered at the Bruin Plate dining hall, is in its second year and remains one of the most popular options on campus for students looking to grab a quick snack before their morning classes.

Bruin Plate’s “grab and go” options range from traditional breakfast fare, such as oatmeal or scrambled eggs, to more innovative dining choices, like their trademark Peanut Butter & Oats smoothie, which provides students with a morning jolt of protein to sip as they make their way across the sunny California campus. Not all of UCLA’s dining areas are quick-serve, however; areas such as Café 1919, named for the year the school was founded, provide communal dining locations for students to relax and unwind with a delicious meal after a long day of studying and learning.

Interested in any of these schools? Use College Raptor’s free match tool to discover if they’re a fit for you!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join thousands of students and parents learning about finding the right college, admissions secrets, scholarships, financial aid, and more.