An integral part of the college freshman experience is the transition from living at home to living on your own. The residence halls hold a special place in the hearts of all who inhabited them, and are home to so many memories. With each housing plan in the dorms comes a meal plan, redeemable at any of the 4 dining halls surrounding campus. Many students have very strong opinions about their favorite or least favorites – here is my comprehensive rankings of the dining halls, evaluated on food quality and diversity, ambiance, appearance, and overall experience.
4. Cafe 3
Situated mere blocks from campus, Cafe 3 is a popular destination for students looking for a quick bite to eat between classes on the south side of campus. This dining hall is known for its diversity of vegetarian and vegan options (though honestly I think all of the dining halls offer the same amount of plant-based alternatives), and is conveniently located in the center of the Unit 3 Residence Hall courtyard. There’s no denying it – Cafe 3 is always a safe choice in terms of distance and options. The inside of the building itself is a little dated – the color scheme is a hodgepodge of neon colors reminiscent of decades past, but there are ample seating options both inside and outside if you so please. Overall, Cafe 3 serves residents of two of the largest residence halls and, although its decor misses the mark a little bit, provides a space for students to work, hang, and eat, as any good dining hall does.
Foothill’s dining hall is a cabin-like oasis in the midst of a bustling college campus, with a breathtaking view of the campanile and eastern campus. However, this view comes at a price – the hike to reach it is one that few students are willing to brave. Although this provides an excellent pre-meal workout, some days I simply do not have the energy to make the trek.
Foothill’s excellent, cozy, lodge-like vibe is always consistent; their food however, is sometimes a hit or miss. Most often it’s pretty good, but there have been a few days where I’ve had to settle for a simple slice of pizza. This didn’t drive me away – anytime I was on the east side of campus, I took the opportunity to hit up Foothill’s dining hall. An added bonus is that there’s a small convenience store attached to the dining hall, offering snacks and drinks in exchange for flex dollars.
Crossroads is about the most classic dining hall experience one can get at Cal – their options are rivaled by none as they serve one of the largest populations of students. Situated between Unit 1 and Unit 2 (two of the largest residence halls), and about a 10 minute walk from the edge of campus, Crossroads experiences the heaviest foot traffic of any of the dining halls. One of my personal favorite aspects of this dining hall is the BearFit bar – a build-your-own-bowl station where students can choose from a variety of “healthier” food options for a nourishing meal. I frequented this station a lot my freshman year, and usually opted for sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas as my main dish. Occasionally I spotted shrimp and salmon being served here, and Crossroads also had a deep-fryer, unlike Cafe 3 and Foothill. My personal favorite meal here was a good side of truffle or garlic fries.
Crossroads’ only shortcoming is its decor. The “brutalist” metal and cement look inside the dining hall is a bit depressing. However, I could almost always spot a friend here as so many students frequented this dining hall, and long tables made it easy to seat large groups. Overall, Crossroads is always a solid choice, and you’ll always be able to find something delicious here.
1. Clark Kerr
Clark Kerr Campus’ dining hall obtains the #1 spot for a few reasons. The motivating factor for me to rank this dining hall first is its ambiance; Clark Kerr only serves breakfast and dinner, and at dinner the entire dining hall is filled with a beautiful golden glow. You really have to experience this phenomenon in person to fully understand it.
Additionally, although relatively small, Clark Kerr always seems to have the best food – from steak to biscuits, the chefs here REALLY know what they’re doing. The downside to this beloved eatery is the trek it takes to get there – Clark Kerr is located a whopping 15-20 minute walk from the south side of campus. I am a big believer that it’s worth the trek, though, and one of my biggest regrets from freshman year was not visiting it more.