Food is a hugely important part of college. Its nice to know that you can have a great meal after a long day of studying. Here at UMN, we’re pretty lucky to have a lot of options when it comes to on campus dining. Keep reading for my ultimate guide to eating at UMN!
Meal Plan Breakdown
With the exception of university owned apartments, if you live in the residence halls, you are required to have a meal plan. The meal plans consist of ‘swipes’ on your Ucard, used whenever you enter a dining hall, or FlexDine, which is usable at all restaurants in University buildings, as well as at vending machines and convenience stores in residence halls. It’s important to know that swipes don’t roll over from week to week, so make sure to keep track to get the most out of your meal plan.
There are three types of meal plans available to students at the UMN. Each plan comes with $100 of FlexDine and 10 guest passes per semester. Each plan can be ‘upgraded,’ boosting your FlexDine balance to $250.
Anytime Dining Plan
This meal plan has unlimited swipes at all residence halls, at any time of day. This meal plan is overkill for most students, unless you’re an athlete or just someone who eats all the time. This is the most expensive meal plan by about two hundred dollars, but also offers the most flexibility.
14 Meals per Week Plan
As the name suggests, this meal plan provides you with 14 meals per week. Although this breaks down to two meals per day of the week, with the abundance of food options on campus, many students find themselves not using every swipe.
11 Meals per Week Plan
While 11 meals per week seems skimpy, this meal plan tends to be a sweet spot for most students, especially if you have a schedule that conflicts with dining hall serving times.
All residence halls have the same basic schedule, with differences based on hall as well as for breaks and holidays.
Centennial Hall, Comstock Hall, and Pioneer Hall are all fairly similar in what they offer for food, but vary vastly in atmosphere. However, for the most part, these halls offer your typical dorm food, like pizza, burgers, and fries, as well as other home-style meals. Each has a salad bar, and vegetarians can expect the occasional hot entree to fit their needs. These dining halls cater to the Super Block, which is the largest concentration of students staying in residential halls.
Comstock Hall and Pioneer Hall also have a soup and salad option during weekdays from 1:30pm to 3:30pm, bridging the gap between lunch and dinner.
If you’re looking for a late dinner, Centennial Hall is the best way to make use of your meal swipes. While other dining halls close at 8:00pm, Sunday through Thursday, Centennial Hall offers “Late Night,” starting at 7PM and going until midnight. The food provided differs night by night, but you can expect a sandwich bar, salad bar, pizza, a couple hot entrees, and dessert.
Sanford is rarely students’ first choice of dorm at UMN, and its dining hall is equally underappreciated. Residents can expect the usual dorm food, but those with dietary restrictions aren’t limited to just the salad bar. While the hall is full of fresh offerings and friendly staff, Sanford’s dining areas are rarely crowded. If you have classes near Dinkytown, this is the perfect place to use your meal plan swipes.
Fresh Food Company (17th)
The 17th Avenue Residence Hall has a unique dining hall, in that the hall is run by a different company than all other residence halls. The Fresh Food Company is known for having a wide range of options for each meal, and caters well to dietary restrictions with multiple options for vegetarians and vegans. Food tends to be fresh and creative, and is accompanied by the college stand-bys like pizza and cereal. Considered to be the best dining hall on campus by many students, the dining hall is often packed during meal times.
Being the only dining hall on West Bank, Middlebrook residents seem to have gotten decently lucky. Middlebrook is known for being friendly for those with dietary restrictions, with at least one vegetarian or vegan option, as well as a varied salad bar, sandwich station, and omelet station. While not exempt from dorm food boredom, Middlebrook’s dining hall goes beyond the typical dorm food at UMN.
Like Sanford, Bailey Hall is not many students’ first choice, unless they are pursuing agricultural studies or apparel design. However, Bailey Hall makes up for its distance from the main campus with its dining hall, whose offerings have been compared to the Fresh Food Company.
Bailey hall has something for everyone, and, being the only option on St. Paul campus, it caters well to those with special dietary needs. If you have classes in St. Paul, Bailey hall is a great way to use your meal swipes.
Coffman Union’s Minnesota Marketplace
When it comes to FlexDine options, Coffman Union is the place to be. Coffman is home to popular places like Einstein Brothers Bagels, Erbert and Gerbert’s, Panda Express, Chik-Fil-A, Baja Sol. Other options include salads from Greens to Go, pizza from Topio’s, and home-style dinners from Cranberry Farms. The Marketplace also has a wide selection of packaged options, making it perfect for picking up lunch in between classes. If you’re looking for a place to sit, good luck– the place is packed from about mid-morning until afternoon.
Besides the Marketplace, you can find a Jamba Juice on the first floor of Coffman next to the auditorium, or head over the The Cube to grab coffee from Starbucks.
St. Paul Student Center
The St. Paul Student Center caters to a far smaller student body than the Coffman Union, and the food options here reflect that. The Terrace Cafe Food Court offers small selection of grab-and-go food items, as well as a Subway, Papa Johns, and Greens to Go salads. Besides the dining hall in Bailey Hall, these are your only options on St. Paul campus.
Carlson School of Management
Here you can find a small food court with grab-and-go options as well as a Panda Express and Burger Studio. The Bistro West Restaurant offers meals similar to residence dining halls, and is located in Humphrey Center, which is attached to Carlson’s main building by just a hallway. Head through the skyway to Hanson Hall to pick up Starbucks before your next West Bank class.
Located just off the Washington Bridge on West Bank, Blegen Hall houses a convenience store, as well as a Subway, ecoGrounds coffee bar, and a Papa Johns. This is the perfect place to pick up an on-the-go lunch or coffee. If you have a little more time, the small seating area is the perfect place to do some last minute studying.
Other University of Minnesota Highlights
While there are plenty of University owned places to eat, any University of Minnesota student will tell you that your best options will be found beyond the student unions.
Also known as Stadium Village due to its close proximity to TCF Bank Stadium, Washington Avenue is home to dozens of restaurants, including several chain restaurants with the likes of Noodles and Company and Chipotle, as well as independent restaurants. Because there’s far too many options to fully list and review here, here’s the highlights.
If you’re looking for something more unique than a chain restaurant, family-run Hong Kong Noodle has been a student favorite for Chinese food and take-out for decades. If Middle Eastern cuisine suits your tastes better, head to Abdul’s Afandy for friendly service and fresh falafel.
Although it’s still a chain, you can’t go wrong with Raising Cane’s simple but satisfying menu of chicken fingers, toast, and fries.
If you’re studying late, or more realistically, hungry after a night of partying, your only option past midnight include Topper’s Pizza, which closes at 3:00am, or Burger King, which open until 3am on weekends.
If you’re looking for a place to watch the game or just want some bar food, Sally’s Saloon is well frequented, as well as Stub and Herb’s, just a few blocks from TCF Stadium.
Bubble tea fans can get their fix at either Sencha or Kung-Fu tea. Sencha offers plenty of study space in addition to their drinks; however, Kung-Fu tea has them beat when it comes to drink options and combinations.
If you’re looking for the University of Minnesota’s food identity, look no further than Dinkytown. Share a hamburger and malted milk at Annie’s Parlor, or the Loring Pasta Bar for a classier experience at a student discount.
Dinkytown really does well in the breakfast department, with incredible French toast at Tony’s Diner, a creative donut selection at Sssdude Nutz (pronounced ‘sood nuts’), or a classic breakfast accompanied by a full coffee bar at the Purple Onion. However, no place is quite like Al’s Breakfast, which is the definition of a hole in the wall restaurant. Open only from 6am to 1pm, customers line up against the wall and wait their turn for one of the 13 stools. Once seated, you’ll be treated to the best breakfast on campus.
If you’re looking for a place to study, head to Espresso Royale. The coffee shop has plenty of outlets and tables, as well as a large collection of books available for purchase. Stop by on a Wednesday for a 2 dollar, any-size latte.
Finally, if you’re looking for a sweet pick-me-up during a late night study session, Insomnia Cookies has your back. While the store itself is tiny, Insomnia delivers warm cookies until 3:00am. If you’re looking for something heartier, the incredibly popular Mesa pizza is open until 2:30am on weekdays, and until 3:00am on the weekend.
Similar to Washington Avenue, Dinkytown is full of food options beyond what’s listed here, and is definitely worth exploring during your time at the UMN.
Although out of the way for many students, those who go regularly are well aware of the vibrant food scene of West Bank.
Afro Deli beautifully blends African, Middle Eastern, and American cuisine under one roof, and serves as a place for the diverse Riverside community to come together. If you live in Middlebrook, a trip to Afro Deli is an essential rite of passage.
Another notable stop is Dilla, an Ethiopian restaurant. With friendly service, filling food, and a $10 buffet, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Hard Times Cafe, open 6am to 4am, sells only vegetarian food, with a wide selection of vegan options. While its run-down appearances and the staff’s tendency to play heavy metal music may not appeal to everyone, it’s the only place that you can buy food or coffee at four in the morning.
If you’re looking for an independent coffee shop around UMN with a cozier atmosphere, Mapps Coffee is your destination. The options are a little pricey, but Mapps makes up for it with variety and plenty of cozy spots to study or catch up with friends.
Besides these more well-known options, there’s also a mix of small restaurants offering ethnic cuisine and baked goods. West Bank’s food scene has far more cultural diversity than any other place on campus, giving you good reason to cross Washington Bridge. Even if all of your classes on East Bank, its worth it.
At the UMN, it’s simply impossible to go hungry. With dozens of University-owned chain restaurants and independently-owned establishments, you’ll never get bored of your options during your four years as a gopher.