Ohill, Runk, Newcomb, The Pav, In The Nood, The Castle, Crossroads, McLeod, C3, West Range Café, Greenberry’s, Einstein’s, Starbucks, Fine Arts Café, Wilsdorf Café. These are the places you’ll be eating as a first year. With so many choices before you, here’s your survival guide and inside info on the best places and hidden gems for eating on-Grounds.
- Your Plus Dollars are the best part of your meal plan. They’re going to get you all the great things at places other than Ohill, Runk, and Newcomb. Those three dining halls rely on your swipes (which are now unlimited for anyone with a dining plan – back in my day we were limited to 10/13/15 per week), but the rest will utilize your plus dollars. Save them for the late-night adventures, drunk snacks, and ordering pizza with your friends.
- While it’ll be convenient to use Plus Dollars to shop for food in Crossroads/The Castle/C3, all of the “groceries” are ridiculously overpriced. Find a friend with a car, or take the bus, head to Harris Teeter or Kroger, and grab some groceries there if you want to make your own food.
- Runk has the best food of the dining halls. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. The reason: it’s fresher. Runk is smaller, has fewer food options available per meal, and therefore, the food that they do make is made very well. The only issue is that it’s a bit further away if you’re in Old or New Dorms. Gooch-Dillard first-years, you’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Runk.
- If you’re eating in a dining hall, the best foods are probably the sandwiches and the salads. They’re staples of all the dining halls, and they’re difficult to mess up, so they almost always taste great
- The pizza really isn’t that great anywhere. If you’re looking for halfway decent pizza, Sbarro isn’t terrible if you get a freshly made piece
- Double-swipe Dean will impede your getting food at Ohill. Double-swipe Dean is commonly found during breakfast and lunch on weekdays at Ohill, swiping cards to allow students in. Though he means well with his double-swiping skills, he’ll end up taking too many cards at once, yelling at students to move up and give him their cards, forget he’s already holding five cards in his hand at once, and then get everyone in line backed up. Have fun.
- Sunday Sundaes. I don’t know if they do this anymore (I hope they do), but Ohill used to have Sunday Sundaes where they’d have a sundae bar out for the ice cream machines every Sunday. I hope the tradition continues for you.
- Dining halls are surprisingly responsive to their text service. Really, if you have any problem with anything in the dining hall, or a suggestion for the future, text it in to their texting service. It’s read daily, responded to on the television screens in each dining hall, and real changes get made when people send things in. I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s actually really effective.
- To-go boxes are a great resource. If you’re looking for a quick meal to bring to class, to studying, or back to your room, grab a to-go box and fill it up with whatever you want. I used to grab one for dinner and find something to put in my fridge for breakfast the next morning. You’d be better off getting food from a dining hall in a to-go box than buying groceries at Crossroads/The Castle, C3.
- “Meal Exchange” is a great way to eat. Back in my day (wow I feel old), you couldn’t use swipes anywhere except for dining halls (only Ohill, Runk, and Newcomb). Now, most places that used to only accept Plus Dollars also accept swipes for specific meals at certain hours of the day. You can’t get everything with a swipe, but there’ll usually be a giant poster at the front telling you what qualifies for a Meal Exchange. This lets you save your Plus Dollars for better meals.
- At the Pav, you can get smoothies, sushi, burritos and burrito bowls, tacos, quesadillas, sandwiches, wraps, Chik-fil-a, and pizza. Pretty easy to understand. The Pav is where a lot of the best food is on-Grounds.
- If you’re a vegetarian or have any other dietary restrictions, you’re going to have a bad time at dining halls. A good buddy of mine is a vegetarian and had a tough time finding things to eat during his first year. Another is Jewish, and during Passover, he was fairly challenged by dining halls in finding things without unleavened bread or things made without yeast. Best alternative is probably to do your own shopping for groceries and eat more meals that you personally cook.
- You have guest swipes: swipes specifically for people visiting you at UVa who would otherwise have to pay to eat at a dining hall. Feel free to use them on your friends visiting you and upperclassmen without meal plans.
- Don’t be that guy or that girl who burns their waffle in the waffle machine. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ask an employee or a friend who does. Seriously. Same thing with the bagel cutters and toasters.
- The Fine Arts Café is pretty far away, but it has amazing food. It is the hidden gem of places to eat on-Grounds. If you don’t know where it is, get an artsy friend or A-school friend to take you so you can try their food. Their sweet potato fries are my recommendation.
During your first year, explore your options. Eat outside of just the Dining Halls. Go to the other places around Grounds (and even off-Grounds) and sample a bit of everything. There’s a lot of great food (and a lot of not-so-great food), and you’ve already got a meal plan anyway, so enjoy it for all it’s worth.