The age-old question: which West Campus dining hall is best? With so many seemingly similar options in every house, there must be one that stands out from the rest. Lucky for you, we’ve figured it out.
…You thought. Read until the end to find out which dining hall won!
We dedicated the week beginning Monday, Oct. 24 to eating dinner at every house on West Campus, except Wednesday, which is each house’s weekly house dinner. A special tradition on West, only residents of each house are able to attend these with an intent to build respective house communities. Each day, we started at Hans Bethe House (which closes the earliest at 7:30 p.m.), made our way around to William Keeton House, Flora Rose House and Carl Becker House (which close at 8 p.m.), and ended each night at Alice Cook (which closes at 9 p.m.). We did not go to 104 West! purely because of location, but in the future, we will definitely be doing a review (Margaret is especially excited for this one as a kosher-keeping Jew)!
**Note that Margaret eats a pescetarian diet due to keeping somewhat kosher. She cannot eat pork, unkosher meat or shellfish, and she cannot mix meat and milk. So, Catherine will be reviewing the meat options for the week.
Monday, Oct. 24:
M: 0/10. Imagine deliberately using a meal swipe to eat nothing. That was me on Monday. There were little to no pescetarian options at Becker on Monday other than the standard salad bar, which was incredibly disappointing. These options remain unwavering every day at each dining hall, so there was no use in taste-testing them. While Catherine was able to try the meat-based entrees, I sat idly by and watched.
C: 3/10. I was disappointed in Becker as well. I do love a good Chana Masala, and this one gave what it was supposed to — especially with the jasmine rice. I can’t say the same for anything else here — the sauce for the Murgh Kurma (Indian Braised Chicken) wasn’t for me, and the kale, caramelized onion and Brussels sprouts were flavorless.
M: 2/10. Cook also had very few options on Monday. The broccoli and carrots were incredibly bland, although the poblano rice did have a slight kick to it. The saag paneer in herbed green sauce had a slightly off-putting texture, and the flavor was definitely not my favorite. My “favorite” part of this meal was probably the naan, which was pretty flavorless but at least had a decent texture. Cook receives a 2/10 because I was able to eat something, although nothing good.
C: 2/10. The chile-rubbed roast pork loin was tender and well-flavored and the roasted garlic naan paired great with the herbed green sauce. I had high hopes for the carrots stir-fried with cumin and lime and expected them to be burnt and crunchy, but unfortunately, they were a weirdly in-between chewy. I was also confused by the broccoli stalk/stem situation. A 2/10 from me.
Bethe: Assignments and college life got the best of us as Bethe is the earliest West Campus dining hall to shut its doors at 7:30 PM. We were unable to provide food-related ratings for Monday due to timing, so simply because of how early it closes, we feel Bethe deserves some points docked.
M: 8/10. The falafel bar at Keeton was surprisingly delicious and had plenty of options, which the prior houses lacked. The falafel itself was crispy and flavorful, the vegetables were tasty, and the pita bread was nicely chewy with standard pita flavor. The tzatziki was a bit watery and on the bland side, but I’d say that for a dining hall, this was a wonderful meal.
C: 9/10. I thoroughly enjoyed the pita buffet — I had never seen this option on West before and it didn’t disappoint. I thought the tzatziki sauce added a much-needed creaminess to round out the spices in the falafel, and the crunch of the lettuce and diced tomatoes tied the whole dish together. I like anything with falafel and pita so I might be biased, but I would definitely eat this again.
M: 10/10. The dining staff at Rose absolutely outdid themselves on Monday. I had the most delicious cheesy potatoes, crispy Korean-inspired BBQ tofu, and a spread of sauces for a roll of fluffy bread. The chimichurri sauce was incredible, nothing short of something you’d find at a steakhouse, and the red sauce was also delicious. Definitely a 10/10 meal.
C: 10/10. Rose was a clear winner in my book. The Korean braised potatoes were to die for — the perfect blend of creamy, spicy, and savory (we both went back for seconds!). The sauces with fluffy bread were impeccable as well. I can’t say the BBQ Tofu or Beef Bulgogi stood out to me, but they were by no means bad. An all-around satisfying experience.
Tuesday, Oct. 25:
M: 1/10. Once again, Becker had too few options that I could eat. The vegetables that I did manage to find were all incredibly bland and had a very off-putting color (they were gray-looking?). Only because I was able to eat something will I give Becker a 1/10 rather than a 0/10. Harsh, I know, but it must be done.
C: 1/10. The proportion of vegetables to noodles in the tofu pad thai threw me for a loop, but what disturbed me more was the odd imbalance of overseasoning and underseasoning all around. The roasted curried cauliflower with cumin and lime roasted carrots were a little too paletted for me and the chicken was flavorless. Disappointing.
M: 10/10. Cook’s mac and cheese and grilled cheese Tuesdays are a fan favorite for Catherine, myself, and our friends. The wide array of dairy and carb-based dishes never fails to put a smile on my somewhat-dietarily-restricted face. Both the mac and cheese and grilled cheese were cooked to perfection, the tomato soup was perfectly spiced, and the French fries were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. 10/10 for sure.
C: 10/10. Nothing but good things to say about what we denote as “Panera Day” on West Campus. Personally, I can’t turn down a tomato grilled cheese paired with mac and cheese and tomato soup. The side of roasted sweet potatoes elevated the experience, adding a hint of sweetness to the savory. Waiting for another iteration of this sequence to come back next week.
M: 7/10. There weren’t too many options at Bethe, but still enough for me to give a fair judgment on the food. The coconut rice was rather dry, and because I do not like the taste of coconut, this was not my favorite dish (I am biased!). The french fries were very good with a similar taste to McDonald’s, but fatter, which I preferred. The carrots and peas were rather bland and the tofu was a bit sweet but still tasty. Bethe’s highlight was definitely their buttery, crisp grilled cheese which I actually thought was better than Cook’s despite my rave review! The grilled cheese alone brings my rating up to a 7/10.
C: 8/10. I didn’t care much for the vegetables at Bethe on this day, but the grilled cheese alone carried my rating. Having already eaten a grilled cheese at Cook, I took a bite thinking it would be similar only to be more than pleasantly surprised. It was crisp yet fluffy, and the bread and cheese were both creamy and melted in my mouth. Dare I say, the best grilled cheese I’ve had at Cornell thus far? And, taking on my role as the designated meat-tryer, I would say the chicken was tender and flavorful. I thought the rice was dry, but otherwise, I’m sure it would have paired nicely.
M: 7/10. Keeton also had mac and cheese, but theirs was mushy, overly oily, and flavorless. The french fries were good, although not as good as Bethe’s, and the pesto-dressed vegetables were delectable. Honestly, something like what you would see on Giada at Home on the Food Network. The cornbread was also quite good, very Ina Garten-esque, with the same homey flavor you’d expect from your grandma and a perfectly chewy texture. Also 7/10.
C: 8/10. The Carolina pulled pork on a roll was everything you could ask for — well-flavored, light, airy, and delicious. The cornbread was great too and the pesto cucumber tomato salad added the flavor profile needed to balance out the other flavors. It was interesting to me that Keeton was lacking in comparison to Bethe’s fries and Cook’s mac and cheese — you’re great, Keeton, but you can be better.
M: 9/10. Rose Taco Tuesday did not disappoint! Offering both soft tortillas and hard shell tacos, the fillings didn’t fail to make either option delicious. The guacamole and salsa were flavorful, the beans were standard, and the rest of the standard toppings (cheese, vegetables, and sour cream) were good. 9/10!
C: 7/10. I think the taco bar is something that’s hard to mess up, especially when you pair your own ratio of toppings. It was good, I guess, but I expected it to be. So, it didn’t stand out to me that much. I would say that tacos are a reliable staple in Cornell Dining, especially at Okenshields (derogatory). Apologies for bringing that up.
Wednesday, Oct. 26: HOUSE DINNER
Every week, each house on West Campus has a house dinner from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. exclusively for house residents. We each went to our respective dinners (Margaret to Rose and Catherine to Becker) and chose to take a break from reviewing this evening to enjoy the company of our housemates!
Thursday, Oct. 27:
Once again, college life got a bit in the way of the accuracy of our ratings. Under tight time constraints, Margaret went to Becker, Cook, Bethe and Rose, and Catherine went to Becker, Bethe and Rose. Keeton was overlooked because the online menu did not appeal to either of us … a bit of a fumble for this experiment.
M: 7/10. The vegan potato and onion pierogies absolutely stole my heart on Thursday. They reminded me of what my Russian grandmother makes at home! The sweet potatoes and garlic bread were a bit bland, but still filling and complementary to the pierogies. I give Becker a 6/10.
C: 6/10. I like the Italian-themed dinners they have on West campus. They’re a great way to switch things up while still sticking to comfort food. The pasta was good (but nothing to rave about) and the garlic bread paired nicely. The sweet potatoes were the usual. I’m not the biggest pea fan, so I didn’t eat much of those. Just average, in my opinion.
M: 9.5/10. Cook was rather delicious on Thursday with the vegan spring rolls fried to be delightfully crisp, the edamame seasoned well, and the broccoli and brussels sprouts roasted just right. The sesame vegetable udon was also quite good, with the thick, chewy noodles perfectly balancing the snap peas and tofu embedded within. 9.5/10 only because this meal didn’t top my previous 10s.
M: 10/10. Bethe was outstanding. The macaroni salad was creamy and the optimal level of tangy, which I found shocking because I typically despise macaroni salad and, really, anything mayonnaise-based. The cauliflower was seasoned extremely well and roasted to the perfect almost-burnt crisp. The rice was fluffy, and the chana masala was flavorful. The highlight of this meal, though, was the ramen bar. The ramen noodles were chewy, the tofu was cooked and seasoned perfectly, and the chile-based sauce that topped it all off was heavenly. The best part was undoubtedly the vegan broth which I am pleasantly surprised was not meat-based. Five stars; 10/10!
C: 10/10. The ramen bar absolutely killed it. The options for toppings were so respectable. The pork, broth, and noodles were perfect, and there were even soft-boiled eggs to add on top. The rice and chana masala were great too (again, love myself a good chana masala), and I actually found that I liked the vegetable options (a rarity!). This was the first instance where we left full for the rest of our trip because it was that good. Ramen bar is a definite necessity to try.
M: 4/10. The pescetarian and vegetarian options at Rose were limited, so I only ended up trying the mashed potatoes, green beans, and curly fries. Both sets of potatoes were good, but the green beans were definitely not my favorite. 4/10 for lack of options and mediocre existing options.
C: 2/10. I completely agree with Margaret. The space left on our plates (which are typically full) only goes to show the lack of options, even as someone who can eat meat. The fish wasn’t anything that stood out and I probably wouldn’t get it again. Wasn’t the best night for Rose, a typically outstanding contestant.
Friday, Oct. 28:
Catherine was unable to participate in the dining hall experiment on Friday. Thus, all ratings done for Friday are by Margaret and are vegetarian (no fish was eaten this day).
M: 0.5/10. Another disappointment from Becker. Soggy french fries, horrendous green beans (just look at the photo!), sad-looking and even worse-tasting sweet potatoes with black beans that tasted truly unholy and disturbed me to my core. The Spanish rice was okay … and that’s really all I have to say here. I’d prefer to move on than spend any more time describing this “meal” to you all. 0.5/10.
M: 5/10. The highlight of this meal was definitely the potato wedges smothered in cheese sauce. The potatoes were seasoned with just the right amount of paprika, and the cheese sauce was the perfect level of artificial-tasting for a college student like myself. The tofu stew was bland, but the tofu had a nice texture, and the lentil bake was … fine. It simply didn’t stand out to me. The rice was your average white rice; nothing more to say there. The naan was cooked well, though! These thoughts total my rating to a 5/10.
M: 6.5/10. I found myself going in for another helping of macaroni salad on Friday! Once again, absolute perfection. The French fries I paired with it were similar to the ones from Tuesday, and the snap-pea and tofu stir fry was OK. The snap peas and sauce were well done, but the tofu was a bit burnt and not in a good “charred” kind of way. I give Bethe a 6.5/10 because although the options were sparse, the macaroni salad was too good not to bump up the ratings just a bit.
M: 0.5/10. Upon consulting my notes, I can sum up this experience with the first sentence I wrote for this house: “Literally what was this?” This was one of the worst meals I’d had during this experience, aside from the ones in which I didn’t eat at all. All I could pick out from the options available was some stale naan, rice as hard as nails, and carrots so dehydrated they barely even resembled carrots anymore (in taste and looks). I was also promised black bean burgers via Eatery, but there were none left which was incredibly disappointing. At 7:15 p.m., I expected them to still be around. 0.5/10 because I got to eat a little bit … but at what cost?
M: 5/10. Rose had two types of tofu on Friday which I, as a self-proclaimed tofu fanatic and expert, greatly appreciated. But, neither of them was really that great. The General Tso’s tofu was on the sweeter side with a strange burnt flavor while the sweet ‘n sour tofu was too much sweet and not enough sour. The only other things I managed to eat were cucumbers and baby corn, which both were very fresh and delicious. I think a 5/10 is pretty all-encompassing for Rose this night. I really did appreciate the effort with the tofu, though, and I can’t emphasize that enough.
Overall, here are the final standings at the end of the week. The winner is: HANS BETHE HOUSE!
1. Bethe: 8
2. Cook: 6.625
3. Rose: 6.5
4. Keeton: 5.5
5. Becker: 2.5
To wrap up our experiment, we want to emphasize how grateful we are to be on a campus with so many dining options! And at that, so many delicious ones! The dining staff at Cornell truly go above and beyond to provide us with college food that is worth rating as positively as we feel we have. Now, for our final thoughts on the rankings and our expectations going in:
We were rooting for Rose to win! Rose House had such a strong start that we hoped would continue, but according to the numbers, Bethe was simply more consistent. Prior to this experiment, we never frequented Bethe. This will most definitely be changing. We hope this definitive ranking provides the insight we’ve all been looking for… and Becker, DO BETTER! Lost by a landslide.
Table 1. The rankings of dining halls on West Campus, by day.
Margaret Haykin is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Catherine Zhang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].