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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

A ranking of Vanderbilt’s dining options

After visiting Vanderbilt’s dining locations, we ranked them based on setting, quality of food and atmosphere.
E. Bronson Ingram and Kirkland Hall as the nighttime sky sets in, as captured on Jan. 19, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Isabella Bautista)

“Hurry! We have to make it to the Rand line before everyone else gets there.”

You’ll need 10 fingers and maybe some toes to count how many times you hear this comment in a given month, but is it really valid? Are Rand cookies really worth the wait in a line that sometimes goes out the door? Is Commons lunch really so awful that it’s worth the trek to main campus for first-years? We took these questions to heart and reflected on our experiences eating at 11 main dining locations on campus. Read on to see whether we debunk or confirm the good and bad myths about your favorite dining halls.

11) 2301 Allergen Free

Campus Dining category: Retail Dining

People with food allergies have to be extremely careful about what they eat, but luckily 2301 only uses ingredients free from the top eight allergens: wheat, dairy, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Unluckily, its location is directly next to Rand — a Campus Dining favorite — making it a busy spot most of the time. It is especially unfortunate that 2301 only has one line which is always long, given that it is one of the only fully allergen-friendly dining options on campus.

2301’s meal options are limited, but its best feature is the all-day smoothie station. 2301 fell to the bottom of our list not because of any distinct deficit in its food or service but because the overall package at the other dining locations is far more promising.

Sign about the top eight allergens at the entrance of 2301, as captured on April 6, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Aiden Salk)
Sign about the top eight allergens at the entrance of 2301, as captured on April 6, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Aiden Salk) (Aiden Salk)

10) Local Java at Alumni Café

Campus Dining category: Cafés

Second-to-last on the list is Local Java at Alumni Café. Local Java features signature coffee blends and boasts an array of food options. Some specialty coffees include the Monkey Mocha — espresso, steamed milk, chocolate and banana syrup — and the Turtle Latte — espresso, steamed milk, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce and pecan syrup.

Breakfast entrées include bagel sandwiches, farm fridge chia pudding and danishes to go along with two sides per meal swipe, such as fruit, chips or a variety of pastries. Sandwiches are available for lunch as well as extra breakfast food left over from the morning.

The main reason Local Java has such a low ranking on our list is because it is far less flexible than the only other café on campus, Suzie’s. Unlike Suzie’s, you cannot purchase a latte at Local Java for a meal swipe, and it has less variety in terms of coffee drinks and flavors. Overall, Local Java is a great place for morning coffee, though the options are not as abundant as the other locations on this list.

9) Kitchen at Kissam

Campus Dining category: Retail Dining

Kissam is known for its signature all-day self-serve açai bowl station, but in our opinion, that aspect is one of the dining hall’s only redeeming qualities. It typically serves Hawaiian poke bowls for lunch, but that is unfortunately the only option for that mealtime. Kissam does, however, have an attached Munchie Mart, and it is the only place where you can get Munchie Mart sides with your cooked meal on campus.

Because of this lack of variety and limited space, there is only one line for hot food during each mealtime, making the wait time nearly impossible if you have an early-afternoon class or a late-night meeting. In addition, lunch ends at 2 p.m. CDT each day, compared to 3 p.m. CDT for the other retail dining halls. Although Kissam’s open, naturally lit interior and comfortable couches might earn it the title of the coziest dining hall, it’s hard to enjoy a meal there if you’re not a fan of the regular dishes it serves every day.

8) Zeppos Dining Hall

Campus Dining category: Residential Dining Halls

Fun fact: You can order a customized flatbread from Zeppos on the GET app just like you can at Roma’s or Michelangelo’s for just one meal swipe. On move-in day, we both coincidentally stumbled upon the Zeppos Dining Hall while scrambling across campus to find somewhere to eat, and the first attribute we noticed was the staff’s handling of food allergies and cross-contamination. We were not allowed to put dessert on our main plate in an effort to avoid any contact between the dessert tongs and the potentially allergen-containing hot food.

Despite this cautiousness, Zeppos’s options are somewhat lackluster. Additionally, Zeppos falls short of the vitality you see at other dining halls, especially toward the end of the night. After a long day of studying in the library, we sometimes crave the chatter and laughter of our fellow Commodores enjoying a meal, but Zeppos tends to be a quieter atmosphere.

7) Grins Vegetarian Café

Campus Dining category: Cafés

With a name that means “vegetable” in Yiddish, Grins boasts the title of Nashville’s longest-standing vegetarian and kosher café. Nearly all of Grins’ food is made-to-order, ensuring maximum freshness. The major downside of Grins is that you don’t really get the most bang for your buck with a meal swipe. Like the other dining options, Grins allows you to get a side and a drink with your entrée, but you’re out of luck if you’re not in the mood for coffee or tea, because those are the only purchasable drink options (water is available for free). The side selection is equally sparse, with some days only seeing an apple or a bag of chips as options. However, Grins is the ideal spot if you’re looking for a quiet nook to study while munching on a classic café meal.

6) EBI Dining Hall

Campus Dining category: Residential Dining Halls

Next on our list is EBI, which boasts an assortment of food options, from Mongolian meals to its classic pho. EBI’s dessert options are often plentiful and consistently hit the spot. Considering its beautiful Hogwarts-like interior and buffet-style dining, EBI certainly has a lot to offer. However, finding seating is certainly an issue. We observed students, faculty and visitors sitting at its outside tables or over at Alumni Hall to eat their food, which could be problematic during adverse weather.

Though its hours are from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. CDT during the week, EBI stops serving food relatively early. For example, after scanning into EBI dining hall closer to 8 p.m. CDT or 2 p.m. CDT, one may find that, excluding the pho, the kitchen has stopped serving hot food. Our experiences in Commons and Rand are that they tend to serve all food options until closing hours. Because of its pristine location, though, EBI is also the go-to place for avoiding the Rand lines.

Students enjoy a meal under the chandeliers in E. Bronson Ingram, as captured on April 6, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Isabella Bautista)
Students enjoy a meal under the chandeliers in E. Bronson Ingram, as captured on April 6, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Isabella Bautista) (Isabella Bautista)

5) Suzie’s Café

Campus Dining category: Cafés

It’s clear that our student body loves coffee. Luckily, students can spend meal swipes at these cafés, picking up not only coffee, but also a side or two. The lines may be long, especially at Central Library at noon, but the wait is always worth it.

There are four Suzie’s locations — Blair School of Music, Featheringill, MRB III and Central Library (the Food for Thought Café), which provide specialty coffees, sushi and a classic PB&J or ham and cheese sandwiches that you can ask the staff to grill. The cozy atmosphere that radiates from the lounge next to the Suzie’s Blair School of Music location makes these coffee joints a fine addition to Vanderbilt’s Campus Dining.

4) Commons

Campus Dining category: Residential Dining Halls

Commons tends to be controversial among our student body, but we believe that it consistently delivers. Commons embodies the sense of community and unity for which Vanderbilt aims among its first-year classes. Commons is open and jam-packed with tables, solving an issue that plagues some other dining halls.

On top of its brick-oven pizza, salad and fruit bar, dessert section and newly added ice cream machine, Commons usually has three hot food lines per meal time. Breakfast is arguably the best meal at Commons, providing a wide array of options for whatever your taste buds desire that day — everything from muffins to omelets and even pizza topped with breakfast food on some Fridays. The only thing knocking Commons down to fourth place is that in our experience, the food’s degree of freshness doesn’t compare to that of Rothschild or Rand, which we’ll discuss later.

3) The Pub at Overcup Oak

Campus Dining category: Retail Dining

The Pub is perfect if you’re looking for the classic diner experience. With customizable meal options similar to those of a sporting event’s concession stand, The Pub provides as many or even more choices than other dining halls to match your mood or dietary needs. The saloon-like setting just adds to the ambience, complete with a pool table, foosball table, bar seating and televisions where you might catch an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Jeopardy!” or a football game. Personally, we love to hit The Pub as a Sunday night tradition after a long day of studying at Stevenson because it’s quick and easy as well as conveniently located inside Sarratt Student Center. It serves made-to-order food from 3 p.m.-8 p.m. CDT from Sunday through Thursday each week. If you want to bask in the warm spring weather, take your dinner outside and step onto the balcony for an amazing view of Alumni Lawn as the sun sets behind the EBI tower.

2) Rothschild

Campus Dining category: Residential Dining Halls

Rothschild is symbolic of what a dining hall should look like: an ever-changing ballad of delicious international blended cuisine. Best of all, it is buffet style. For the most part, Roth has something for everyone. Some common options include flavorful Indian, Mexican and Italian food. Apart from that, Rothschild has an all-day gourmet burger and salad bar. It is the only dining hall that uses nuts. Other than this, Rothschild isn’t far off from securing the No. 1 spot with a few changes, such as a larger seating area, more allergen-friendly options and perhaps a new dessert lineup.

1) Rand Dining Center

Campus Dining category: Retail Dining

Marked by its consistency, cornucopia of options and welcoming staff, Rand is where ‘Dore for a Day students and tour groups are often brought, giving prospective students a glimpse at all that Vanderbilt has to offer.

When discussing Rand, we can’t leave out its ridiculously long lines and early closing time. Its central location makes it the prime lunch spot on campus, though, especially in the spring when students can be found sharing a meal under the fairy lights on Fleming Yard.

Though unfairly chastised by a few, Rand cookies are easily the best snack on campus and a staple of the Commodore diet. Rand cookies are the perfect way to brighten up your day after a tough morning of classes. With this delicious dessert in its arsenal, Rand is the top dining hall and well worth the wait.

Vegetables and rice simmer on the grill at the Mongolian station in Rand, as captured on April 7, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Isabella Bautista)
Vegetables and rice simmer on the grill at the Mongolian station in Rand, as captured on April 7, 2023. (Hustler Staff/Isabella Bautista) (Isabella Bautista)

Honorable Mention: McGugin Dining Hall

The Hendrix Room in McGugin Dining Hall is an exclusive dining option for Vanderbilt student-athletes and Blakemore House residents. Even though we weren’t able to rank McGugin among the other dining halls because we couldn’t try it ourselves, we still thought it deserved an honorable mention because of its plentiful options and high quality. We talked to a few student-athletes to hear their take on this special dining hall. First-year soccer player Caroline Betts shared what she thought was best about McGugin.

“Hendrix has good food that’s nutritious and fuels us as athletes,” Betts said. “One of my favorite things is that at every meal, they always have a ton of fresh fruit and berries.”

McGugin features a greater variety of dishes than the other dining halls tailored to athletes looking to rejuvenate their bodies after a long day at practice. Each meal has several stations with different options, such as the smoothie and omelet stations for breakfast and a taco bar and a create-your-own lo mein station for dinner. The dining hall is all-you-can-eat so athletes can fuel up and even take meals to go. Another perk is that the lines are practically nonexistent, which lies in stark contrast to the out-the-door lines that can accumulate at Rand on some weekdays.

In addition, McGugin offers a wider selection of add-ons or ways to customize athletes’ meals, which junior cheerleader Ashley Potts touched on.

“The smoothie station has more options than the other dining halls like collagen, bee pollen and goji berries, and they normally make you two or three full smoothies,” Potts said. “For all meals, they’ll have multiple kinds of meat and vegetables, and the meat is usually better quality and tastes significantly better than at the other dining halls.”

With The Princeton Review rating Vanderbilt Campus Dining as No. 6 in best campus food nationally, Vanderbilt students have a lot to boast about. All of the dining halls have their own copious quirks that make them top-tier eating spots. One thing is for sure: Students deserve to go munch on a Rand cookie immediately.

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About the Contributors
Isabella Bautista
Isabella Bautista, Life Copy Editor
Isabella Bautista (‘26) is double majoring in mathematics and psychology and minoring in biological sciences on the pre-medical track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Easton, Pa. When not writing for The Hustler, she can be found spending hours alone in a piano practice room, photographing Vanderbilt squirrels with her Canon camera or poring over research papers in the lab she works in. She can be reached at [email protected]  
Aiden Salk
Aiden Salk, Former Staff Writer
Aiden Salk ('26) is majoring in neuroscience and minoring in Spanish in the College of Arts and Science. He is from Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Apart from The Hustler, Aiden loves learning foreign languages, exploring new music and is always open for a game of tennis or ping pong. Aiden can be reached at [email protected]
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1 year ago

goated list