The Who’s Who of Campus Dining

We talk quite a bit about food over here at the Advocate, and no conversation, no listicle, no responsible culinary endeavor would be complete without addressing the small city in the middle of Corvallis. Oregon State University is charged with feeding the mouths of thousands in the community. With three main dining halls on the east, west, and south sides of campus, the Memorial Union, and a few stop ‘n’ shops sprinkled in between, there’s no easy way to try them all. But what exactly do they have to offer, and what’s worth taking a bite out of at each end of campus? We’ve got you covered.

The Memorial Union: North Porch Cafe
Dead in the center of campus (supposedly) sits the Memorial Union, with a lounge full of napping students, the flags of many nations, a ballroom, and a bowling alley. But you can’t miss the smell of Panda Express wafting through the west hallway, nor the cozy coffee shop with a balcony. This is the cafeteria with the closest proximity to the north end of campus, and they’ve got quite a few options. A few notables are Joe’s Burgers, the aforementioned Panda Express, Togo’s Sandwiches, and Pangea Café. Most are pretty self-explanatory, and there’s not much risk in choosing any one of them. But the real winner at the Memorial Union is the relatively new North Porch Café.

Situated on the east side of the MU, the North Porch Café is an Asian fusion restaurant serving Vietnamese-inspired bánh mí sandwiches, Asian rice bowls, and Thai iced tea. My go-to meal is one of the build-your-own Asian rice bowls with their house-made red curry. It’s a walk-through, pick what you want with a five-topping-limit concept, with options like edamame, peanuts, cilantro, onions, squash, cucumber, and more. Most meals can be made vegan, all you have to do is ask.

Marketplace West: Cooper’s Creek BBQ
If you find yourself on the west end, Marketplace West is where you’ll find the most variety. It’s near the new Learning Innovation Center, intramural fields, and across the street from the old Peavy Hall. It’s home to many freshmen, as this is their go-to meal stop next to their dorm rooms. Options at West include Calabaloo’s for burgers, a sandwich deli, Serrano’s for Mexican-inspired dishes, an Italian café, and Ring of Fire for Asian-inspired dishes.

However, Cooper’s Creek BBQ is home to the best meal at Marketplace West. Originally started at Serrano’s Grill, this dish has found a new home. They’re called Go Grain Bowls, and there are three to choose from, all made vegan and gluten-free. My suggestion? The cauliflower, hazelnut, blueberry, kale, and quinoa bowl, topped off with their house-made vegan cilantro lime dressing. It runs at around $5, and you can’t go wrong.

McNary Dining: Five Four One
McNary Dining gets its name from the dorm it’s attached to, McNary Hall. It’s situated on the far east side of campus, on the other side of 14th Street and not a far walk from the Valley Library. It houses the Boardwalk Café, yet another Calabaloo’s burgers, a convenience store with awesome smoothies called The Main Squeeze, and the east side trophy: Five Four One.

Five Four One stands out because, like their name, all of their ingredients are locally sourced. When you’re talking large-scale dorm food, it’s no easy feat to have one of the smallest carbon footprints on campus. Five Four One’s claim to fame is that all ingredients are 100% organic, and pesticide- and hormone-free. While they serve a variety of pizzas, soups, and salads, the winners are their grain bowls. (Is there a trend here?) I tried the Willamette Grain Bowl, which includes brown basmati rice, kidney beans, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, avocados, and za’atar, topped with a choice of Green Goddess dressing. Their menu changes with the seasons, so stay tuned for their local offerings.

Southside Station at Arnold
If you ever catch yourself on the other side of the train tracks, Arnold Dining Center has you covered. It’s nestled near the parking garage and Cascadia Market, where you’ll get the freshest fruit on campus. Arnold is home to a range of goods, from the Nori Grill for teriyaki bowls and sushi to a classic pizzeria, a burger grill, and a deli. Southside’s winner is not a bowl, but a sandwich.

New this term, their Deli Specials sandwich menu might be the best on campus. Their paninis are priced at $5.65, but completely worth it. Have a classic Ham and Swiss, or branch out for a Chipotle Steak Panini, or my personal favorite, the Grilled Mushroom on ciabatta. Stuffed with portabellas, provolone and Swiss, roasted red peppers, and basil, it’s a tough one to pass up.

No matter where your next class or meeting is, there are plenty of options, even if you’re vegan and on a budget. If none of these happen to be on your route, there are plenty of coffee shops and convenience stores strategically placed throughout for a quick refueling. 

By Regina Pieracci