The 20 colleges with the best dining halls

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When starting college, dining hall food is rarely something students look forward to.

But at some schools, it has become a downright gourmet experience.

To determine which schools are truly stepping up their food game, we looked at noteworthy rankings from outlets with expertise in colleges and food: The Daily Meal, The Princeton Review, and Niche.

Each school earned a numerical rating based on how many of the lists it appeared on and how high it appeared on those lists. Colleges that appeared on multiple rankings scored higher on ours, while those that ranked on only one of these lists ended up closer to the bottom.

From lobster bakes to waffle bars to steak dinners, these schools serve up dishes so good they make students forget they're even in a dining hall.

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20. Saint Anselm College

20. Saint Anselm College

With fewer than 2,000 students, Saint Anselm may be a small college, but it provides big flavor. The Manchester, New Hampshire-based school’s main dining hall features an “action station” where chefs prepare paninis, Asian noodle bowls, burritos, and sauteéd pasta on the spot. There's also a deli, grill, and salad bar, so students can always find something to suit their cravings.

Students can also satisfy their sweet tooth with a trip to the bulk candy bar, a self-serve milkshake made from real Hershey’s ice cream, or a slice of apple pie from the in-house bake shop.

19. High Point University

19. High Point University

The multitude of options at High Point University in North Carolina make food the last thing busy students have to worry about. A single meal plan swipe gets students access to all-you-can-eat buffets at three locations, which feature amenities such as a trail mix bar, omelet station, and baked potato bar.

Students can also class things up at 1924 Prime, an on-campus steakhouse that takes meal swipes. Menu options include cast iron seared duck breast and filet mignon.

18. University of Scranton

18. University of Scranton

In addition to a wide selection of enticing dishes — think grilled barbecue pork chops, cod bruschetta, and creamy parmesan penne — University of Scranton’s food services focus on health as well. In the all-you-can-eat dining hall, students can choose options that are low in fat or sodium, under 500 calories, vegetarian, baked instead of fried, or high in calcium.

The Scranton, Pennsylvania-based school also has a food court full of favorite spots like Chick-fil-a and Starbucks.

17. Purdue University

17. Purdue University

Between choices like quinoa stuffed peppers, maple glazed pork chops, tortellini stir fry, and Panko chicken parmesan, Purdue students always have a mouthwatering array of food choices when they step into any of the school’s five dining halls. Dessert is also a priority at the West Lafayette, Indiana-based school, and the “temptations” menu features everything from cake batter puppy chow to chocolate éclair tortes to classic chocolate chip M&M cookies.

Outside of the residence halls, students can also stop by one of Purdue’s 28 on-campus cafes and restaurants, which feature everything from handmade sushi rolls to late-night burgers and shakes.

16. Yale University

16. Yale University

With a world-class education comes world-class dining at Yale, where students are treated to such dishes as grilled wild Alaskan salmon with fresh herbs and honey, spinach and cheese ravioli with sage butter, and French lentil salad with mustard vinaigrette.

In addition to its 11 dining halls, the New Haven, Connecticut-based school has 12 restaurants and stores where students can grab a bite on the go.

15. Occidental College

15. Occidental College

Occidental College students enjoy a rotating variety of menu items at Marketplace, the campus’ main dining center, which features options like a made-to-order omelet bar, taco bar, and spaghetti bar. Dinner offerings include dishes like barbecue riblets with green beans, Hawaiian style pork with a citrus mint pineapple slaw, and chicken cacciatore.

Occidental also strives to use as many locally sourced and sustainable ingredients as possible. In 2014, the school signed the Real Food Challenge Campus Commitment, pledging to find ways to make every aspect of on-campus dining more sustainable.

14. Scripps College

14. Scripps College

As a part of The Claremont Colleges system in Claremont, California, Scripps students have access to dining halls on all eight campuses — though the one on their home turf does it best.

Scripps partners with local vendors to provide a variety of fresh, local ingredients, which feature in dishes like Creole jambalaya with shrimp, cranberry almond basmati rice, and Thai barbecue chicken.

13. Stanford University

13. Stanford University

With options like herb-crusted salmon, spinach mushroom wellington, and roasted Brazilian spiced chicken, it’s easy to see why Stanford students love the food.

The California-based university — consistently ranked among the best colleges the country — also goes to great lengths to cater to students’ individual diets. Vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and halal options are always available, and the Ricker Dining center provides a peanut-free environment for students with allergies.

Stuck finishing up a paper? Stanford’s Cardinal on the Run program lets students drop by and pick up a meal to go if they can’t make it to the dining hall during lunch or dinner hours.

12. Bryn Mawr College

12. Bryn Mawr College

At Bryn Mawr College in the Pennsylvania town of the same name, student input on items like cereal, beverages, salad dressing, and even music is taken into account at the dining halls.

Students can customize every meal through the ever-present do-it-yourself pasta, deli, and salad bars. Every night, a different “specialty” bar is highlighted, such as stir-fry or breakfast for dinner. For even more variety, the dining halls often shake things up with theme nights that celebrate different international cuisines.

11. Vanderbilt University

11. Vanderbilt University

There’s no shortage of special events in Vanderbilt’s dining halls. Among them: “Tabasco Night” (featuring all Tabasco-laden dishes), “Back to Childhood Night” (featuring childhood classics for dinner), and a Thanksgiving feast.

But even on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday, the food is always top-notch — a sampling of typical dishes includes balsamic-glazed salmon, bánh mì tacos, portobello stroganoff, and roast pork loin with cauliflower.

10. New York University

10. New York University

Even in a city known for an expansive culinary array, New York University manages to make its on-campus dining options stand out. Students can load up on dishes like kung pao beef, vegetable lasagna, and kimchi fried rice. And in true New York City fashion, there’s a weekly Sunday Brunch Extravaganza featuring buffet lines of fruit, pastries, bagels, made-to-order waffles, and an eggs Benedict station.

NYU also hosts a monthly Restaurant Night, where students can reserve spots for a sit-down, three-course dinner specially prepared by the school’s executive chef.

9. Kennesaw State University

9. Kennesaw State University

Named the fourth-best college in America for food by The Daily Meal, Kennesaw State University, located in Kennesaw, Georgia, serves up over 150 different dishes per week, so students never get bored. Meal items include everything from braised escarole to parmesan crusted catfish to saffron farro risotto.

More than just great cooking, KSU makes sustainable food practices a priority as well. The main dining hall has its own on-site herb garden, single-stream recycling and large-scale composting. The school also boasts on-campus farms of fresh mushrooms, lettuce, and cornmeal.

8. University of Georgia

8. University of Georgia

Whether they’re in the mood for beef fajitas, eggplant parmesan, veggie primavera, or a towering ice cream sundae, students at the University of Georgia are well-fed. And with five dining halls and four food courts that feature everything from Hawaiian meatballs to buffalo chicken pizza to make-your-own salad bars, there’s no shortage of places to choose from at the Athens-based school.

Late-night snackers can stop by Snelling, UGA’s 24-hour dining hall, for pizza and burgers after dark.

7. Washington University in St. Louis

7. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University earned Niche’s No. 2 ranking for the best college food in America, and for good reason: The university offers dining options all over campus where students can indulge in everything from patty melts to honey roasted chicken to sauteéd scallops with tasso pork belly.

In addition to delicious food, WashU’s meal plan grants students access to cooking classes with professional chefs, themed dinners, and chef demonstrations.

6. St. Olaf College

6. St. Olaf College

St. Olaf College might only have one traditional dining hall — in addition to a cafe and a more upscale restaurant — but the Northfield, Minnesota-based school goes all out on quality. St. Olaf is committed to sustainability, sourcing nearly a quarter of its ingredients from farm-to-fork vendors.

Typical dinner fare includes dishes like mandarin orange chicken, baked tofu with cilantro pesto, and sesame beef with pea pods and broccoli. The dining hall is also open to the public for anyone who wants to give it a taste test.

5. Virginia Tech

5. Virginia Tech

Even years after graduating, Virginia Tech students still long for their favorite dining hall specialties — not many campuses can boast that.

Virginia Tech took the No. 1 spot on Niche’s “Best College Food” list, and it’s not hard to see why: The Blacksburg-based school’s dining centers include shops for every craving, with dishes like tomato and fig balsamic sourdough pizza, grilled ginger-soy glazed trout, and a make-your-own waffle bar. Hokies can also enjoy made-to-order steak and Maine lobster daily.

4. Cornell University

4. Cornell University

The chefs in Cornell University’s dining rooms develop a variety of dishes highlighting flavors from across the world, including Italy-inspired pasta dishes and freshly rolled sushi. They also host a harvest dinner celebrating the local foods grown in Cornell’s own upstate New York backyard.

The Ithaca, New York-based school also hosts a series of themed nights celebrating particular cultures and cuisines, such as the Diwali Festival in Jansen’s Dining Room, featuring a traditional Indian menu, or Risley Dining Room’s "Harry Potter"-themed dinner, “A Night at Hogwarts.”

3. James Madison University

3. James Madison University

With 28 places to eat, James Madison University in Harrisburg, Virginia, lets students drop by any on-campus dining hall for a buffet-style meal, featuring everything from stir-fry to burgers.

Or students can switch things up with a trip to one of the school’s several themed cafes. Students can satisfy late-night cravings with nachos and pizza at The Dog Pound, carbo-load on fresh-made pasta at Bistro 1908, or class things up at Madison Grill, where offerings include crab cakes and bone-in pork chops.

2. UMass Amherst

2. UMass Amherst

Students at UMass Amherst can stop by any on-campus dining hall for all-you-can-eat buffets featuring almost every style of cuisine under the sun, including vegetarian, Pan Asian, Halal, and sushi. The school also incorporates plenty of gluten-free, Kosher, and vegan options for students with special diets.

UMass not only serves delicious food, but with four dining halls, 18 cafes, two food trucks, concessions, and a delivery service available to choose from, the options are nearly endless.

1. Bowdoin College

1. Bowdoin College

Named the best campus food by both The Daily Meal and The Princeton Review, Bowdoin College regularly treats its students to gourmet dishes, such as mussels with garlic and white wine or Asian-style pork with duck sauce and Julienne vegetables. For a more restaurant-like feel, students can also stop by Jack Magee’s Pub & Grill, an on-campus cafe with À la carte burgers, sandwiches, and salads.

The Brunswick, Maine-based school has also gained notoriety for its lobster bakes, where students enjoy fresh lobsters, steamed clams, corn on the cob, Maine blueberry cake, and more.

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