Remember college? Yeah, we don't either. But amid fuzzy memories of late-night contemplations on Nietzsche and later-night sticky basement floors, there's one thing that stands out: the food we loved the most.
Best college town food in every state:
Here's where to find the best college town food in every state
Here's where to find the best college town food in every state
The 40-plus year-old original location is the one that started it all for this Southeast chain, and we have the Momma's Love sandwich to thank for that. It's a meaty trifecta of roast beef, ham and smoked turkey, complete with the works, and it makes up 45 percent of sandwich sales. When you're done, stop at Toomer's Drugs for its famous lemonade to wash it all down.
If you think the South is home to the country's best fried chicken, prepare for culture shock about as far north as it gets. At Lucky Anchorage's Lucky Wishbone, the chicken is dipped in buttermilk, fried until crisp and crowned with a delicious corn muffin.
The Over 278 Sold sign might be the humblest brag of all, as local character Big Juan has been slinging mesquite charcoal-grilled burgers for decades. Try the Tijuana Torpedo, which is two patties stuffed with jalapeño Jack cheese and topped with a green chile.
If there's one thing you learned in college, it's that dark, bar-lined basement hideaways can mean only good times ahead. Locals love the funky Bleu Moon Burger (a pun, not a typo; we are in a college town), but know to save room for the mint ice cream-stuffed grasshopper crepes.
Skipping out on a tri-tip sandwich as you pass through SLO would border on heretical. Students are known to take on the Tri-Tip Challenge, which involves hiking three popular peaks and celebrating the hard work with tender slices of beef piled high on a garlicky French roll. Speaking of tips, here's one from a student: Split your meal with a friend so you can also try the pulled pork.
There are 420 delicious restaurants to choose from in town, but all roads lead back to the freshly baked cookies at this dessert haven, which was founded by a Boulder grad in 2003. But think carefully before you gloss over the grilled cheese—or, you know, get both. Stop in to the Pearl Street Mall bakery for a night of milkshakes and Jenga, or do as the kids do and get a box of cookies delivered, complete with milk or (and/or) ice cream.
Don't be fooled by the name of this place. For the true Elm City experience, order yourself the monstrous Wenzel: a chicken, hot sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo combo best consumed after midnight. It's the brainchild (and namesake) of a former student, who would sometimes eat the sandwich two or three times a day—a true champion in our eyes—and even has its own app.
Most students are familiar with Slater races at Grotto, which one student describes as chugging "a condensed Long Island" in a tiny cup through a straw while racing your friends to finish first. But after a night of that, you'll find everyone doing damage control the next morning at this Main Street staple, where the bagels are hot, the bacon crispy and the cream cheese options plentiful.
Head over and eat pizza in a Scooby-Doo-esque van, where you can have your pick from more than 30 toppings. Balance it with the giant salad, a colorful bowl of produce topped with almonds, sunflower seeds and "a walnut or pecan for good luck." Owner Satchel Raye tells us the salad is even more popular than the pizza—which likely has something to do with the secret salad dressing, whose first ingredient is "love." And in one further touch of throwback joy, the dessert menu actually comes on a View-Master.
On top of its university, Athens is known for two things: music and food. It's home to Hugh Acheson's flagship restaurant, 5&10, and gave us both R.E.M. and The B-52s. This aptly named spot embodies the intersection of the two in full force. Because ordinary chicken and waffles just isn't enough, the concert venue-meets-restaurant adds bacon, tomato and Sriracha mayo for the club sandwich of Southern dreams.
University of Hawaii & Hawaii Pacific University; Honolulu, HI
In Honolulu, students are graced with full access to true Hawaiian classics, from Mana Bu's for Spam musubi to Waiola for shave ice. But at the top of everyone's list should be a trip to this no-frills poke joint, which you'll find either from the appropriately ocean-turquoise paint job or from the line busting out the door
It's daily specials like Monday Wing Night—150 pounds of wings by the bucket—and an all-day happy hour for students on Saturdays that lend to the laid-back vibe here. The wings are a local favorite (go for the house "voodoo" BBQ sauce), but the whole menu is full of reliable pub-style classics.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Champaign, IL
This Green Street standout bounced back stronger than ever after a ruinous 2011 fire and has now been wrapping beloved gyros for more than four decades. Make sure you get there for at least one Groovy Tuesday, when the classic gyro (the lamb-beef combo and the crowd favorite) is $1 off.
The place truly looks like a cabin that would actually house a fairy-tale bear, but don't worry: It's home only to the pizza that students perennially dub the best in Bloomington. And if you think you won't have room for a salad after your deep-dish deluxe pie, reconsider: It comes with Goldfish crackers on top for the most adorable croutons you'll encounter.
Former patrons of this storied greasy spoon include presidents from Reagan to Clinton, so you know it can cater to any taste. But even if it's 10 p.m., order breakfast: The cinnamon roll French toast and fluffy omelets are as comforting as it gets. Just don't skip a pie shake, the famous treat that blends soft-serve ice cream with a whole slice of pie.
Everyone knows this hangout as simply The Wheel. Call it by its full name, and you'll look like a freshman as you're shoving down the Wang Burger, a bacon cheeseburger topped with a fried egg. Beware: The game-day crowds are rowdy, which is understandable, considering KU's first college basketball team was coached by the man who invented the game.
Even though it moved to a location a bit farther from campus than the previous one, Tolly-Ho still lures students with its legendary burgers. It's open 24 hours, so no matter when your day begins (or ends), you can dig into a towering Mega-Ho, a triple-high burger dressed to the nines.
Some people are perfectly satisfied sitting through Shakespeare 101 or intro to algebra. For others, Chimes offers Beer University, a hands-on malty education that replaced its previous Around the World beer challenge. And all the Louisiana staples are all there to help in your beer studies: Think BBQ shrimp po'boy, fried alligator and crawfish étouffée.
You can't go to Maine and not seek out the best lobster rolls around, and locals will tell you that means a pilgrimage to this holy grail of small town convenience stores. Other nearby favorites include the glazed twist at Frosty's Donuts and anything on the menu at Wild Oats.
The family-owned, mom-and-pop shop has some impressive food challenges if you're into that sort of thing, but the everyday person knows to just get anything with crab in the title. There are handmade pies, patriotic vocal performances and, as if you need further charming, a whole website page showcasing people who have gotten engaged there.
University of Massachusetts - Amherst; Amherst, MA
Though consistently voted among the country's top campus food, even the best dining halls get stale. That's where Antonio's comes in. It's a pizza joint that boasts such abundant and fresh toppings that its pies are like glorious open-faced pizza sandwiches. Chicken bacon ranch and Buffalo chicken are definite favorites, but the siren call of $1 "hot cheese up front" is a symphony to all.
With its corner location, 1950s-style exterior and sticker-covered walls, this is about as classic as diners get. The hippie hash, a savory parfait of buttery hash browns, grilled vegetables and feta cheese, is hands down the dish to try. Luckily, Fleetwood is open all hours of the day, so you'll never have an excuse not to go.
St. Olaf College & Carleton College; Northfield, MN
The town's motto is Cows, Colleges, and Contentment. The first explains its dairy-rich history, the second provides the population and the third is what you'll experience when biting into a fully loaded hoagie on homemade honey-cracked wheat at this beloved sandwich spot.
When you walk in, look up. The ceiling is lined with an upside-down garden of toothpicks from years of creative diners blowing their sandwich picks through a straw. In addition to local lore, there's reliable Southern food at this standby that's known to be one of Ole Miss alum Eli Manning's favorites. Bonus tip: In addition to his well-loved restaurants, local chef (and dedicated fan) John Currence caters football tailgates.
The walls are lined with collectors' items, the plates are filled with burgers and the Dart Room is bustling with students channeling their competitive spirits somewhere other than homework assignments. The late Chuck Berry played more than 200 shows here, further securing Blueberry Hill's place in local history.
Let's drop the extra syllables: It's really called the Mo Club, and everyone's here for the burger. It's hand-patted with onions, cooked on a miniature flat-top grill behind the bar, and best topped with horseradish cheese and seriously spicy mustard. The place was recently purchased by an alum (and current NFL player), keeping it in the Grizzly family.
When you think wings, you likely envision a deep-fried, sauce-laden happy mess waiting to happen. But the experience is one-upped here, where the expertly seasoned wings are then grilled before they're served. There's magic in those char marks, and generations of students know it.
A large banner on the ceiling proudly proclaims "9 out of 10 vegetarians don't eat here." That's because of the Awful-Awful burger, a half-pound-of-steak burger on an onion bun with all the toppings and a hefty serving of fries. It's both awful big and awful good, and proof that good things can come out of the back of a casino.
Dartmouth students are known for taking the Lou's Challenge, which involves pulling an all-nighter from studying (or partying) and making it to Lou's for breakfast promptly at 6 a.m. when the place opens. The cruller French toast is an excellent choice, even if you're not in a delirious state. The mile-high apple pie, malted shakes and apple cider doughnuts are all contenders for dessert after "breakfast."
One student sums up the hoagies here to us as "super elaborate and unhealthy," which is basically everything an overworked Ivy Leaguer could want in a sandwich. Case in point: the Phat Lady, which is a cheesesteak with mozzarella sticks and fries. Perhaps the true testament to its legacy is that when a Subway branch opened down the street, it promptly went out of business three years later.
The sweet roll at this campus-adjacent icon is an irresistible plate-sized spiral of sugar, cinnamon and joy. But since one cannot live on dessert perfection alone, there are house-made tortillas (which you can buy to go) and plenty of dishes that use green chile, the hallmark of regional New Mexican cuisine.
State University of New York at New Paltz; New Paltz, NY
There's never not a line around the corner here. The atmosphere is always welcoming; there's rock music on full blast; and the food is excellent, comforting and inexpensive. None so much, though, as the $1.95 breakfast special, which gets you two eggs any style, home fries and whole-wheat toast.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Chapel Hill, NC
Time-Out never actually takes a time-out, as it's open around the clock, which must be because students' love for the classic chicken cheddar biscuit knows no temporal boundaries. Consider it an edge that the Tar Heels will always have on their rivals over in Durham.
All that cold weather clearly drives a need to consume as many apple fritters and maple bacon doughnuts as possible for an extra layer of warmth. NDSU even has a Sandy's Donut Club, whose oath includes phrases such as "Let the light of donuts shine upon my allies and enemies alike" and "Changing the world, one donut at a time."
There's barely an inch of blank wall space here, thanks to the quirky framed posters that advertise the more than 90 steamed bagel sandwiches. One favorite is the Crunch 'N Munch, a turkey number with smoked cheddar, honey mustard, Parmesan peppercorn ranch dressing and nacho Doritos. There's also the Messy Katie, with which you'll get cream cheese, avocado, Colby and honey mustard all over your face, but it'll be more than worth it.
There's a lot of character (and an equal amount of beer) that oozes out of this popular hangout spot. It's known for the cheese fries, but don't bother unless you're going to get them topped with sweet peppered bacon. And if you don't walk away with one of the famous T-shirts, did you even really go?
What screams college louder than a freshly baked three-cheese calzone delivered to your door at 3 a.m.? Getting that cheesy pocket of bliss with a side of oven-warm cookies, with milk. But should you operate on a more regular schedule, The Dough Co. offers a quality lunch special, and the 30-plus calzone options are all good choices.
In case you needed any further excuse for an ice cream pit stop, consider that the namesakes behind Ben & Jerry's went to Penn State to learn how to make ice cream. It's home to the largest creamery in the country, which shouldn't be surprising given the more than 120 total flavors. Wave hello to the cows next door to thank them for your scoop of death by chocolate.
The subs are lunchtime heroes. Especially the Chicken Italiano, laden with chicken, prosciutto, roasted red pepper, fresh mozzarella and balsamic: "I dream about it," one student confesses. The true specialty is the Godfather sandwich (or "sangwich," as it's called), a five-meat combo that's as Italian as its name.
The hangover hash browns are the way to go, even if you're not cowering under the weight of an alcohol-induced headache. They'll leave you wishing everything came with banana peppers. And good news for people who can't decide between sweet and savory breakfasts: You can order a single cinnamon pancake, because decisions are overrated.
University of Sioux Falls, Augustana University; Sioux Falls, SD
You're close enough to Canada at this diner that you can trust that the poutine is on point (which it is), and the loaded milkshakes are as great as the plains that surround this picturesque city. Plus, it has the diner vibe perfected, Airstream trailer, linoleum tiles, aluminum counter stools and all.
You'll catch boaters from the Vol Navy docking up to this waterside restaurant on game day, as it's fully accessible by boat from the Tennessee River. The vibe is definitely what will attract you, but once you're there, you might as well polish off a rack of the signature hickory-smoked baby back ribs.
The Dixie Chicken, another legendary hangout, might house a live rattlesnake and be home to so-called Bottle Cap Alley, but it doesn't have 24/7 breakfast tacos. That's why the Texas crown goes to this beloved taco joint, which also puts fried chicken and gravy in a flour tortilla for the Southern Comfort and makes some of the best queso around.
You're practically not allowed to get your diploma until you have a scoop of Aggie blue mint, a school spirit-hued mint flavor with Oreos and white chocolate. Considering it's run by members of the university's food science program, maybe this is proof that ice cream really does make you smarter.
One bite into a classic Shiner, and you'll be wondering why you haven't always put a slab of hash browns on every sandwich. Think bacon, egg and cheese but one giant step better, available until 3 a.m.—so technically two giant steps better.
The bagels at this local institution are boiled then baked, New York-style, satisfying even the toughest of NYC expat critics. And no matter how long you think the line is, it'll breeze by—partially because they refuse to toast bagels—just like a true New York establishment.
Whitman College & Walla Walla University; Walla Walla, WA
Let the neon polar bear sign point you in the direction of the best burgers, fries and milkshakes around. Washington native Macklemore recently called its cheeseburger "the best burger ever" before launching into a performance of the ultimate food lover's song, so consider the secret out.
The tiled floor and red-and-white checkered deli paper belie the fact that this place has been open only since 2010. But the signature burgers—like one topped with peanut butter, fried banana and smoked bacon that would make Elvis weak in the knees—will snap you back to modern times.
Don't even think about graduating without getting the cheese curds because, well, Wisconsin. For extra credit, order an old-fashioned—weird pairing, sure, but it's what the place was named after, and you have to put your ID to use somehow.
It may be a relative newcomer on the Laramie scene, but the two UW alums who started this wing- and burger-shaped hole in town are filling it in style. If you're the type who's bad with decisions, beware of the 16 wing sauce options—or just embrace the wing flights (ha), which let you sample six at a time.
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Whether you're heading off to college for the first time or just looking for a delicious road trip, be sure to study up on the classics. Think places with signs that read Since [insert year your parents were born here]!, landmark ice cream shops and sandwich joints that will fill you up for days.
Here's your guide to eating in some of the most iconic college towns in America, where there are quiet streets, loud football stadiums, a disproportionate ratio of school affiliates to everyone else or all of the above. Get ready to give these spots the old college try.
Families flock to Alabama’s Gulf Shores, just an hour south of Mobile, to escape the heat of Bama summer. This public, white sand beach offers activity for the whole clan, from volleyball and boarding to deep sea fishing tours.
Each spring, Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park fills with water flowing from the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, perfect for activities like skim boarding and tubing. But act fast; come August, the creek dries up until the next year.
Choosing the best beach in Hawaii is no small feat, but we’ll give it a go. Located in Oahu, Lanikai means “heavenly sea,” and it's easy to see why thanks to crystal blue water, soft sand, coral reefs and a protected lagoon that’s basically a swimmer’s paradise.
Bear Lake, set on the border of Idaho and Utah, is known as “The Caribbean of the Rockies” for its gleaming turquoise waters. On the northern and eastern shores you’ll find the state park, a popular spot for water sports and camping.
Who says you can’t find tranquility in the middle of the city? Just steps from Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, Oak Street Beach is surrounded by bars and restaurants, a running and biking path and a panoramic view of the downtown skyscrapers.
That said, if you do want a respite from Chicago, head to this state park about an hour east of the city. Here, the rugged dunes, quiet hiking trails and tranquil shores are the perfect counter to a bustling urban lifestyle.
Hello, classic lake vacation. Cabin rentals surround this reservoir on the Des Moines River. Outdoor activities are endless, but the real reason to come is for the fishing. Rent a boat for the day and cast a line for bluegill, crappie and bass.
Sure, this state park in south-central Kentucky offers great swimming, but it’s best known for fishing. During the daytime, locals cast their lines off the marina to catch local bass, bluegill and catfish--then by night they camp out and cook their haul.
Sunbathers, this one’s for you. The water in this stunning cove on the Atlantic Ocean hardly ever rises above 60 degrees, even in the warmest summer months. In other words, you probably don’t want to venture in the water.
You’ll find a handful of beaches along the coastline of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore, but none quite like Glen Haven, known for windswept dunes, turquoise water and quaint, nearby fishing villages.
There’s no shortage of swimming holes in the state dubbed "Land of 10,000 Lakes" but this one in Minneapolis has it all: Canoes and kayaks for rent, running and biking paths galore and calm water perfect for swimming.
Long Beach, located along Mississippi’s 26 miles of Gulf Coast, is a laid-back, Southern getaway just west of the popular vacation town Biloxi. Families bike to the public beach with picnic baskets and colorful kites in hand.
Lake of the Ozarks National Park has lots of beaches, but this lively enclave stands out. Home to the renowned “party cove,” Osage is a haven for rowdy boaters looking to drink, swim and otherwise get down.
Along a seven-mile glacial lake in Whitefish sits the picturesque City Beach. With a roped-off swimming area, day boat rentals, lifeguards on duty, gazebos and picnic tables, it’s the perfect escape for the whole fam.
This state park, an hour north of Boston, is a New England favorite. Think: sandy dunes, an active boardwalk and sweeping shores along the pristine Atlantic Ocean. It also boasts an annual sand sculpture contest and fireworks every Wednesday night throughout the summer.
Of all the beaches that make up Cape May’s shore, Cove Beach is definitely the best. When you need a break from the sun, climb to the top of the famous Cape May Lighthouse for a panoramic view of the peninsula.
This refreshingly laid-back enclave in Montauk is a far cry from the glitzy beaches of East Hampton. Come for the iconic lighthouse and scenic cliffs. Stay for the stellar surfing and a pressed sandwich from Ditch Witch food truck.
Set on the shores of Lake Erie, East Harbor State Park in Marblehead is a popular spot for boating, camping and swimming throughout the summer months. The lake is perfect for children since the water stays shallow far beyond the shoreline.
Calling all teetotalers. Keystone Lake, found on the Arkansas River just 15 miles from Tulsa, contains three alcohol-free beaches. The most popular, Keystone State Park is great for families or couples looking for a low-key getaway.
Fred Benson Town Beach, or Crescent Beach, as the locals call it, is the most spectacular part of Block Island’s 17-mile coastline. With lifeguards on duty and cabanas, umbrellas and boogie boards for rent, it’s one of New England’s best summer spots.
This windswept haven is only a short drive from Charleston, but feels a world away. Plus, while most beaches on Kiawah Island are private and accessible only if you’re staying at a resort this one is open to any and everyone.
This lake in the southern Black Hills is known for crystal-clear waters and 36 miles of flat, sandy coastline.
Tennessee: Percy Priest Lake Swimming Beach
Its convenient location, just ten miles from downtown Nashville, makes Percy Priest Lake a popular summer escape. Kayak to Luau Island, a secret spot in the middle, for a picnic lunch. Or if you’re a daredevil, try cliff jumping from the towering rocks.
Unlike the beaches of South Padre Island, which are filled with rowdy spring breakers, Malaquite Beach on North Padre Island is rarely crowded. Visit during nesting season, from April to July, and you could see hundreds of baby sea turtles break out from the sand and run toward the sea.
Vermont has a handful of picturesque beaches on the shore of Lake Champlain, but most have awfully rocky terrains. The beach at Sand Bar State Park in Milton, however, is sandy, shallow and great for kids.
Chincoteague, a small barrier island off Virginia’s coast, is known for its oyster beds, clam shoals and 14,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge. You won’t find any boardwalks, beaches or crowds--just miles of sprawling, clean coastline.
A popular spot along the southern coastline of Olympic National Park, Ruby Beach is known for its picturesque sea stacks and shores lined with driftwood. When the sun goes down, campers pitch tents and light fires on the sand.
Sandstone cliffs, clean water and about 60 miles of shoreline are what you’ll find at West Virginia’s largest lake. Summersville Beach is also situated right on the dam of the Gauley River, home to some of the country’s best white-water rafting.
When you think of Yellowstone, you probably think of geysers and hot springs. But America’s favorite national park has some awesome swimming holes, too. We love Firehole River, a deep pool surrounded by indigenous rock.