Best Colleges and College Towns for Good Food

Given all the popular cooking shows on TV these days, no wonder high school students (and their parents) are beginning to ask how food is at different colleges and about the food scene in nearby neighborhoods and towns. I have personal experience with a "foody" son. Way before the current cooking boom, Geoff cooked up a storm in our kitchen at an early age and at 14 won a national cooking contest. By the time he was considering college options, access to high quality, healthy, fresh, tasty, well-prepared food--and great coffee, of course--was a must, if not a deal breaker, when it came to choosing a college.

In the past, dining services on college campuses had a well-deserved, bad reputation, captured by the old cliché, "The Freshman 15," meaning the 15 pounds first year students often gained from eating a daily menu of high fat, high carbohydrate, high sugar, over-cooked foods.

Fortunately, on-campus college food is getting better and better. You won't believe what some colleges now offer. Here is a sample:

  • Every meal is cooked from scratch

  • Dining rooms are open very late so night owls have something other than junk food to eat at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning
  • Schools grow their own vegetables and fruit
  • Nutritionists teach students (especially athletes) about healthy eating, wellness, and sustainability
  • Campus food plans allow students to use their meal cards at local restaurants
  • Dining service cooks eliminate trans-fats from all foods
  • College dorms sponsor cooking competitions among students
  • Dining halls participate in farm-to-table programs
  • College administrations host on-campus farmers markets
  • Dining rooms provide vegetarian and vegan options
  • Campus cafeterias offer kosher and other religion-restricted food
  • Dormitory cooking staffs work with students who have food allergies and/or health restrictions
  • You might want to consider which, if any, of the above considerations are important to you and then ask colleges how they handle them on their respective campuses.

    The following is my aggregated list of the top 25 colleges known for offering unusually good food in their different food services, dining rooms, cafeterias, coffee houses, etc.:


    Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
    Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME)
    Columbia University (New York, NY)
    Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
    Emory University (Atlanta, GA)
    Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA)
    Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA)
    James Madison University (Harrisburg, PA)
    Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA)
    Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)
    Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA)
    Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
    St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN)
    Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
    Tufts University, (Boston, MA)
    University of California, Berkeley
    University of California, Davis
    University of California, Los Angeles
    University of Georgia (Athens, GA)
    University of Massachusetts (Amherst, MA)
    University of Rochester (Rochester, NY)
    Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
    Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)
    Washington University (St. Louis, MO)
    Yale University (New Haven, CT)

    The sources I tapped for the above list are:NICHE (lists 100 colleges and universities), The Daily Meal (lists 75 schools), Business Insider (highlights the top 20 colleges for food) and Spoon University (provides readers with all kinds of information about everyday food resources for students across the country). A lot more information about what is happening with food at colleges throughout the country is but a click away.

    If good food is what a student desires, why stop at what's happening at a particular college? How about looking at what's available in nearby neighborhoods and towns close to colleges?

    A number of groups have been looking at the best college towns for food in the US. Below are the top choices, complements of The Daily Meal's "20 Best College Towns in America," Fodor's "America's Best College Towns for Foodies," Yahoo and Thrillist's "13 Best College Towns in America for Food/Drink" and Buzzfeed's "16 College Town Foods Worth Skipping Class For." In addition, I consulted USA Today/Spoon University's "39 most iconic college town restaurants in the US." I also contacted current college students for whom I previously provided college counseling.

    Here then is a list that includes 1) 15 food oriented college towns, 2) colleges located in or near those towns, 3) the names of "student-oriented," good eating places and 4) at least one restaurant where students can take their parents for a special meal when they come to visit.


    Many of these eating places are truly affordable and cater to student bare bones budgets. Others, especially the parent selections, are a little pricey.

    Colleges: The Five College Consortium that includes Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College and U Mass Amherst are in or near Amherst.

    Student eating places: 30Boltwood, Antonio's Pizza, Bueno Y Sano, DP Dough, Kelly's Restaurant, Mom's House Chinese, Stables, Zhang's Kitchen

    A place to take your parents: Judie's

    Colleges: University of Michigan, Concordia University

    Recommended student eating places: Ahmo's, Camp Bacon, Fleetwood Diner, Frita Batidos, Gratzi, Jolly Pumpkin, Kangs, Stucchi's Ice Cream, Truffles Fries, Zingerman's Deli

    A place to take your parents: The Gandy Dancer

    Colleges: University of Texas, Austin

    Recommended student eating places: Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Central Market, Iron Cactus, Kerbey Lane Café, Magnolia Café, Nuevo Leon, Texadelphia, Torchy's Tacos, Verts Kebap

    A place to take your parents: The Oasis or The Carillon

    Colleges: UC Berkeley, Ex'pression College, The Wright Institute

    Recommended student eating places: Arinell, Ashley's, Cheeseboard Collective, Gregoire, Grizzly Peak, House of Curries, Jolly Pumpkin, La Burrita, The Alley, Strada, Top Dog

    A place to take your parents: Chez Panise

    Colleges: Indiana University

    Recommended student eating places: Big Mouth Subs, Bloomington Coffee Roasters, Cresent Donuts, Dagwoods, Dragon Express, Laughing Planet Café, Mother Bear's, Siam House, Village Deli

    A place to take your parents: Irish Lion or Lennie's

    Colleges: University of Colorado, Naropa University

    Recommended student eating places: A Cup of Peace, Black Cat Bistro, Frasca, Half Fast Subs, Lyfe Kitchen, Mad Greens, Margaritas, Noodles & Co., Pizzeria Locale, Ted's, Turleys,

    A place to take your parents: Flagstaff Restaurant

    Colleges: Duke University, North Carolina Central University, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,

    Recommended student eating places: Acme Food & Beverage Co, Aleen & Son, Al's Burger Shack, Monuts Donuts, Open Eye Café, Peppers, Sandwhich Crook's Corner, Top of the Hill Restaurant

    A place to take your parents: The Dorrance or Crook's Corner


    Colleges: University of Virginia

    Recommended student eating places: Albemarie Baking Company, Baja Bean Company, Bellair, Belmont BBQ, Bodo's Bagels, Mellow, Mudhouse, Para Coffee, Rapure, Take it Away, The Virginian, White Spot

    A place to take your parents: Boar's Head Inn

    Colleges: Northwestern University

    Recommended student eating places: Clarke's, Cozy Noodles & Rice, Edzo's Burger Shop, Flat Top Grill, La Peep, Lou Mainati's Pizzeria, That Little Mexican Café, Wiener and Still Champion

    A place to take your parents: Pete Miller's Seafood & Prime Steak

    Colleges: University of Oregon

    Recommended student eating places: Agate Alley, Cornucopia, Killer Burger, Papa's Soul Food, Prince Puckler's Ice Cream, Sweet Life Patisserie, Tacovore

    A place to take your parents: Marche

    Colleges: University of Wisconsin, Madison,

    Recommended student eating places: Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Fromagination, Graze, Harvest, Mickies Dairy Bar, State Street Brats, Steenbock's on Orchard

    A place to take your parents: L'Etoile

    Colleges: University of Montana

    Recommended student eating places: Big Dipper Ice Cream, Biga Pizza, Doc's Sandwich Shop, El Cazador, Finnegan's Family Restaurant, Pearl Café, Red Bird, Scotty's Table

    A place to take your parents: Caffe Dolce

    Colleges: Quinnipiac University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of New Haven, Yale University

    Recommended student eating places: Atticus Bookstore/Café, Bar, Frank Pepe's, Ivy Noodle, Modern Pizza, Louis Family Restaurant, Sally's Apizza, Vito's

    A place to take your parents: L'Orcio or Ibiza


    Colleges: University of Mississippi

    Recommended student eating places: Ajax Diner, Big Bad Breakfast, City Grocery, H2O, Handy Andy, Newk's, Oby's, Proud Larry's, Two Stick

    A place to take your parents: Downtown Grille

    Colleges: Walla Walla Universitiy, Whitman College

    Recommended student eating places: Green Lantern College Pub, Huckleberry's Natural Market, IceBurg Drive-In, Pho Sho, Shari's

    A place to take your parents:
    The Marc

    I hope this blog gives you a fun way of becoming acquainted with colleges in general and specifically with schools on your college list. If a town or college you're interested in isn't mentioned above, you can go to's listing of "Best Off-campus Dining" for every college in the U.S. Another great source is the "College Tours: Where to Eat Near ______________( fill in the name of a university and then Google it), and These websites offer a plethora of eating options.

    A part of making a good decision about where to go to college is to have a sense for what colleges offer you, even if it's something as simple as the quality of campus food or good local restaurants. You have nothing to lose by doing this and a whole lot of great meals to gain.

    Let me know if you have any other recommendations.