Bustling foot traffic, fervent fans, and vibrant surroundings turn these college eateries into powerhouse institutions.
College campuses are prime markets for full-service restaurants. Whether it’s dawn, midnight, or somewhere in between on game day, hordes of loyal students can turn a successful operation into a landmark as visible as the university itself.
Offering more than just happy hour, these eateries specialize in everything from burgers to waffles to pizza, and it’s clear what the students love: affordable comfort food in a cozy, local atmosphere … with a few TVs for the game. Here are some of the most successful full-service restaurants on college campuses across the country.
Cheese Board Pizza
University of California at Berkeley
You may be surprised to see the line out at the door of this restaurant once you learn these two details: there is no meat on these pizzas (it’s vegetarian, baby!) and there is only one pizza flavor each day (you read that right!). One mid-October day, the featured slice was topped with corn, mozzarella, pickled jalapeño, and cilantro. You never know what you’re going to get, but you know it will be good.
Frog & Firkin
University of Arizona
This Tucson-based English pub is a great place to watch a Wildcats game and grab a beer, but it’s actually known for deep-dish pizza. One slice of the thick, chewy crust is almost enough to keep students full. But they always save room for fries: choose from red, white, green, or yellow. Each is topped with different ingredients from herbs and Parmesan to pizza sauce and mozzarella.
Kerbey Lane Café
University of Texas at Austin
Most students depend on caffeine to get them through the week, but Austin undergrads power up with something else: queso. This 24-hour café serves up a special version called the Kerbey Queso, which is guacamole topped with white queso and pico de gallo. It’s a favorite menu item both late at night and early in the morning.
Mickies Dairy Bar
University of Wisconsin
Enjoying a Scrambler at Mickies Dairy Bar before a Badger football game at Camp Randall is a rite of passage for students in Madison. The “yanks,” which are Mickies’ signature fried potatoes, provide the foundation for this scrambled egg dish. But there are plenty of other breakfast options on the handwritten menu on the wall. This charming mom and pop diner has been serving heaping plates to students since the 1940s, and on game day, there’s always a line out the door.
Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage
It may be crowded and cash only, but Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage has been a Harvard Square staple since the 1960s. Every day at lunch, the lines wrap around the block in hopes of scoring a Caitlyn Jenner, Hillary Clinton, or a Beyoncé. If you haven’t guessed, their burgers are quite creative—but they’re damn good, too.
University of Colorado
“The best darn burger in Boulder” can be found at The Sink, but they’ve got some good pizza, too. Celebrities, famed foodies, students, and alumni stop by this neighborhood joint to enjoy the Ugly Pizza with honey drizzled on the crust and baked into the dough as well as a delicious burger, which can be topped with ingredients like fried onion straws and Sriracha sauce.
The walls of The Tombs are full of secrets from students and faculty of yesteryear. This bar and restaurant opened in the 1960s in a Federal-style townhouse that dates back to the 1850s. Students have plenty of reasons to swing by here on a typical night, from happy hour to the late night menu, and they’ll feel right at home with all the Hoyas memorabilia on the walls. If that’s not enough reason, this is: the Tombs is included on the campus meal plan.
Top of the Hill
University of North Carolina
TOPO, as it’s come to be known in Chapel Hill, is the self-proclaimed "social crossroads" of the city. Tar Heels love the lizard chips, which are beer-battered pickles and jalapeños, almost as much as they love the beers, which are brewed on-site. There’s also foosball, pool tables, dartboards, and a Trivia night. What else does a college kid need?
Triple XXX Family Restaurant
This West Lafayette, Indiana diner has been around since the 1920s. They sell the original pure can sugar root beer (the recipe can be traced back to 1895) as well as the Duane Purvis All-American Burger. It’s topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and … peanut butter. It’s a challenge many Boilermakers are willing to take.
Penn State University
Students in State College, Pennsylvania, crave one thing for breakfast: waffles. This cash-only diner often has a line out the door, especially on game days. Since the 1970s, the Waffle Shop has been serving up oversized portions of Belgian waffles, Iowa corn pancakes, and French toast as well as the savory classics like omelets and steak and eggs.