“The food here sucks.”
Before I moved into Vanderbilt, I received variations of the same message from upperclassmen. Even the comment sections on the @vandycampusdining Instagram page are flooded with brutal roasts and unfiltered messages.
Can dining really be that bad?
Nonetheless, I was certain of one thing: I would try every option of food they would offer. While there is still a myriad of foods I haven’t had a chance to try (the Randwich line is always too long), I’ve been able to make stops at every dining facility Vanderbilt has to offer; here are the top five things I learned:
1. Suzie’s locations are not equal
If you’re like me, coffee is the only reason you’re awake past three in the afternoon. Thank goodness for Suzie’s.
Suzie’s is a cafe with locations around campus: Central Library, MRB III, Featheringhill, and Blair. It’s a great place to grab a quick lunch, a small snack, or a shot of caffeine. However, not every location has a uniform structure. Suzie’s at Central, for example, allows you to panini press wraps or sandwiches, whereas other locations lack this option.
The inconsistencies expand to their menu, and their definitions for sides, drinks, and entrees with the meal swipe vary. Smaller locations, specifically the ones at Featheringhill and Blair, lack some specialty drinks like lattes on their menu; they also have smaller food selections, with very limited supplies in wraps and sides. At MRB III, cold drinks are considered as entrees if you’re using your meal plan; at Central, they’re considered drinks. If you’re ordering a latte, Central usually only includes one shot of espresso, whereas MRB III includes two.
2. Explore the Munchie Marts
The Commons Munchie Mart on a Sunday night is reminiscent of my hometown’s Kroger in the beginnings of the pandemic lockdown. It’s a panicked state, where every freshman rushes to buy whatever they can with their remaining meal swipes. Once you’re in the scene, it feels like there’s nothing left; no more CLIF bars, Kraft mac and cheese, or Hot Cheetos.
When I discovered the other locations in Branscomb, Highland, and Kissam, I was surprised by the variety of options still available and the serenity, compared to the chaos at Commons. Although it is certainly a hike from Commons, it is well worth it if you’re looking to stock up on oatmeal, cereal, or protein bars.
3. There are options beyond the dining halls
In my first few weeks at Vanderbilt, I often stuck to eating at Rand, Commons, and occasionally–EBI. After a while, the food becomes repetitive, and it becomes difficult to want to eat food anymore.
So, I tried the wraps at Suzie’s, the sushi at Alumni Cafe, the black bean burger at Grins, bowls at Kissam, and the rotating food trucks on campus. Now, I try to go somewhere different every day, so I’m not facing another meal that I ate the day before. After exploring the different options, I began to notice patterns in traffic. Usually, it’s never really busy at Alumni Cafe, Grins is fairly empty before 12:30 P.M., and it’s best to wait in line for food trucks minutes before they actually open. This becomes a helpful mind-map during lunch when lines become increasingly longer.
4. Get to the food trucks before the rush
When food trucks were first introduced on Vanderbilt’s campus, my friends and I decided to stand in line for chicken and waffles. Perhaps after two hours without movement, we should’ve taken a hint and rushed to 2301 before they closed. Alas, we were nothing but naive freshmen.
After three hours, an employee announced there was no food left. This experience almost made me lose confidence in trying the other food trucks, but when one of them promised empanadas, it was hard to say no. I immediately stood in front of the food truck minutes before its official opening, so I would definitively acquire my lunch. Since then, I’ve learned that when you’re able, you should try to come a few minutes earlier than the food truck’s opening time.
5. Take advantage of your resources
As aforementioned, meals can get pretty repetitive. How many times can you eat a burger, stir-fry, or Mediterranean food without getting sick of it? Try using NetNutrition, although a hit-or-miss; when it works, it gives you an opportunity to plan your meals ahead of time. It allows you to see what each place has to offer. If you’re not feeling any of the options, maybe it’s time to use your Meal Money to try a new Taste of Nashville restaurant, or maybe it’s a day for a warm cup of ramen at your dorm.
The Vanderbilt campus dining Instagram is a great resource to find updates about popups, daily food trucks, and other meal-swipe opportunities. You can even use the GET app to pre-order at some locations, like Grins and Holy Smokes. This is the time to be proactive and adventurous about what and when you’re eating. Instead of standing in line for more than twenty minutes, maybe it’s time to try sushi at Alumni Cafe, the gouda mac and cheese at a Munchie Mart, or something completely different from GrubHub. Perhaps it’ll require a bit more walking or exploring, but you are bound to find something you haven’t tried before.