The 15 Best Dining Halls On College Campuses

Bowdoin CollegeFacebook/BowdoinThe lobster bake at Bowdoin.

While the food usually pales in comparison to other aspects of the college experience, some schools have really stepped up their game in recent years.

And we’re talking, locally-grown, vegan-friendly, lobster-on-the-reg type of game.

We looked college-centric sites like Princeton Review, and lists from food publications like The Daily Meal and Thrillist to get the most comprehensive idea of which schools are truly gourmet.

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Bowdoin College hosts a lobster bake for students at the beginning of every school year.

Even though the school has only two dining halls, their options are plenty gourmet. They top nearly every list with meals like, 'mussels in butter sauce, haddock with jalapeños, squash fettuccine, and roasted root vegetables with polenta.'

Rated #4 on Princeton Review for best campus dining, their salad bar features fruits and veggies from the campus's organic garden, with other ingredients from local providers. Finally, Bowdoin students are invited to the Down East Lobster Bake to celebrate the start of each school year.

They even post their recipes online and have their own app.

Cornell has an awesome brunch with a make-your-own pancake station.

Cornell hosts a ton of delectable events.

They host a 'Night at Hogwarts,' which features British fare, butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and live owls from the Cornell raptor program.

Their Sunday brunch includes a create your own pancake bar with fillers like M&M's, fruit, and sprinkles and batters like pumpkin and blueberry. They also have a create your own omelet bar.

In their Cornell Dairy shop, they sell ice cream, milk, yogurt, pudding, and Big Red Cheddar produced from Cornell's dairy processing plant.

Johns Hopkins University offers classy options like a brunch with live jazz, and food and wine pairing events.

Snagging the #2 spot on The Daily Meal rankings this year, Johns Hopkins' hosts food and wine pairings for seniors and cooking classes in right residence halls that focus on healthy eating.

They're also another school that takes its brunch seriously. Once a month they host a fancy feast with with a live jazz band, with meals that include baked brie, shrimp cocktail, bananas foster, cinder-brined pork, and butternut squash & leek frittata.

The coffee shop, Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, on campus offers locally-roasted fair trade coffees and teas as well as a host of refreshing smoothies.

Northwestern University covers all bases with a campus dietitian AND a weekly hot cookie bar.

Aside from hosting a ton of food events like Moroccan Night and Reggae Night, all six dining halls at Northwestern University are completely tray free, which reduces waste.

Additionally, the purchases of local produce has risen sharply, and the on-campus dietitian oversees all the menus to ensure its healthy, and answers questions at the quarterly Meet the Dietitian events.

But the best part is their weekly hot cookie bar, where they serve cookies so fresh, that you have to scoop them out with a spoon.

James Madison University serves made-to-order grilled cheese.

James Madison University is no stranger to high food rankings, coming in at #6 on Princeton Review. Newer features on campus include tandoori ovens that serve up fresh naan and tandoori chicken at each meal, and crepes.

For American fare, there's a made-to-order grilled cheese station, a build-your-own burger section, and a homemade ice cream station.

They also throw events like Madipalooza (which includes hot dog eating contests), Farm-to-Fork dinners, and the annual Farmer's Markets, held four times throughout the fall semester.

Middlebury College has no swipe system.

The only thing you need to know about Middlebury is that swiping doesn't exist. Meaning, you can eat however much you want, whenever you want.

And students can stack up on options like quinoa stuffed peppers, marinated Italian chicken thighs, and lamb scaloppini.

Additionally, the school has hopped on the sustainability bandwagon by purchasing exclusively from local vendors.

University of Notre Dame serves white tablecloth, candlelit dinners after every home game.

The University of Notre Dame is known for its traditions, and the dining is a big part of that.

Following home games, their North and South dining commons provide students with candlelight dinners, decked out in white table cloths, mood music, flowers, and ice sculptures. The meals include seafood bisque, sirloin steak, and chipotle glazed vegetables.

They round out the top 20 on Princeton Review.

Emory University fosters a sense of community around dining.

Emory University covers all the bases with separate gluten-free stations, vegan stations, and kosher stations. Their main dining hall, known to students at The Duc, is also completely peanut-, tree nut-, and shellfish-free.

And they try to foster a sense of community through events like a Moonlight Breakfast each semester around finals, and a food fest for practically every holiday including Mardi Gras, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day.

To tie in the outside community, they have a farmer's market right on campus weekly, where local community members let students sample and buy their goods.

Recently, they let a popular, long-time pasta chef open his own storefront in their retail-based dining hall.

Virginia Tech serves whole lobster daily and has a build-your-own burger restaurant.

Probably the most mouth-watering thing about #1 Princeton Review-rated VA Tech's dining is that it serves ribeye and whole lobster daily.

They also serve gourmet pizza cooked in wood-fired ovens at its Italian restaurant, and apple chutney and Cheddar paninis from their Farms and Fields project.

Additionally, they host regular faculty-student dining days and backyard barbecues for students and professors to interact in a more casual environment.

And while a lot of campuses focus of fresh fruit and veggies, VT doesn't skimp on the meat. Their Meat Science Center serves meats that are produced and processed right on campus grounds.

UCLA is perfect for those trying to avoid the Freshman 15 with a health-themed dining hall.

UCLA takes the California health cliché in stride with their new health-food-only dining hall.

Bruin Plate offers all entrees under 400 calories, with less than 30 per cent of these calories from fat. Some of their ingredients include superfood kale, farro, amaranth, lentils, and Acai berries, resulting in entrees such as root vegetable tagine, sweet potato burger, and chicken with dates and polenta.

Columbia University uses their dining service for charity.

Columbia University snagged the #3 spot on The Daily Meal's list for their impressive charity work.

The school consistently donates both food and money to City Harvest, a food rescue and distribution nonprofit.

But aside from their charity work, their dishes sound delicious with options like eggplant roulettes, Thai chilli wings, chipotle potato soup, and JJ's Philly cheesesteak -- all with zero trans fat.

They they don't skimp on events either, which include Ice Cream and Sundaes, Sabor Latino, Food Day, National Nutrition Month, Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, and The Food Expo.

St. Olaf College has a pizza delivery service to anywhere on campus.

St. Olaf College understands what the average student wants -- pizza. Their student event space delivers pizza and milkshakes anywhere on campus, according to Thrillist.

But if you're looking for something more healthy or gourmet, they have a student-run organic farm that grows the herbs and vegetables, apples are stocked from a nearby orchard, and their menu includes options like sage-crusted turkey with rustic raisin stuffing, beef- and rice-stuffed peppers, and chicken Florentine with penne pasta, artichokes, spinach, crimini mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese.

No wonder they're ranked #5 on Princeton Review.

Washington University in St. Louis does late-night food right.

Coming in at #7 on Princeton Review, WashU hosts an incredible amount of events, toppling over five per week. Some of them include interactive cooking classes, chef demonstrations in their Studio 40, or even a Dr. Seuss night.

They have awesome late night options with chicken and waffles every night after 10pm, and chicken fingers and fries until 2am.

And their food isn't just for the students, there's a legitimate restaurant in their student center where non-college students chow down. Items on that menu include like ahi tuna rolls with spicy mustard sauce, potato gnocchi with Parmesan cream, a 10oz steak, and braised pork cheeks with cinnamon candied apples.

Kennesaw State University serves up 150 new meals daily.

KSU ensures variety by cooking up more than 150 new dishes each day like chipotle ribs and Louisiana seafood gumbo.

They also have really awesome events like Black and Gold dining, where they serve steak, lobster, and king crab twice a month.

For Cram Jam, they kick off finals with with mocktails, a DJ and dancing, and even a Jell-O-eating contest.

Finally, their 'Get Wild' event features exotic meats like kangaroo, rattlesnake, and emu in their main dining hall.

Stanford University dining broadcasts its own TV show.

According to Thrillist, Stanford basically built a 'Food Network TV show set inside a dining hall,' a few years ago, where celebrity chefs give demos and classes are broadcasted to the student population.

We're talking a two-story, state-of-the-art building centered around a cooking suite where students can gain kitchen prowess through classes held by the school's culinary crew.

And with cooking meals like rotisserie chicken seasoned with cumin, herbs, and mango mole sauce; cabbage and jicama salad with bacon cilantro dressing; and balsamic braised pork chops with smothered onions, students won't want to be just watching.

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