Apart from textbooks, professors and course registration, a major concern for many college students is the quality and accessibility of food. With four dining commons situated around campus, UCSB students are not without choices when it comes to where they dine, and making that decision is easier said than done.

The Daily Nexus conducted a survey of 72 students living in the Anacapa, San Miguel, Manzanita and Santa Catalina dorms during the last week of Winter Quarter to get the lowdown on UCSB’s campus cuisine.


Surveyed students were asked four questions: 1) “At which dining common do you eat most often?” 2) “Which dining common has the best food?” 3) “Which dining common offers the best atmosphere?” and 4) “Which dining common needs the most improvement?” Responses were acquired directly through students’ self-reports during brief interviews that focused on what students felt drawn toward regarding each dining venue.

Results revealed the De La Guerra Dining Commons as the most visited, Carrillo the server of the best food, Ortega the area offering the best atmosphere and Portola the location in need of the most improvement.

According to first-year environmental studies major Cora Kammeyer, DLG is a tossup due to an ideal location and noisy crowds.

“De La Guerra is usually pretty busy, so it’s not my favorite atmosphere,” Kammeyer said. “But it’s convenient, close to the dorms and you can always make a good Mexican dinner there.”

Assistant Director of Dining Services Bonnie Crouse said the dining experience at Carrillo, the students’ choice for best food, offers the biggest variety of seating areas from nooks and crannies to singles and doubles to tables accommodating parties of up to 20 people. The pizza oven, Crouse said, is one of the biggest attractions since students can see their food come fresh out of the oven.

First-year biology major Sophia Tiene said eating at Carrillo is a treat for special occasions due to its focus on fresher ingredients and dedication to a more personalized dining experience.

“It’s like a splurge when we go out to Carrillo,” Tiene said. “Their pizza is good, they have berries and a lot of times I feel like they have better quality food.”

Ortega, despite being the oldest of the dining commons, was chosen as having the best atmosphere, attributed to the views of the lagoon and to iconic ID checker Lizzie, also known as “Mama Ortega.” According to Jake Sternhagen, a first-year biopsychology major, Ortega’s unique ambience makes eating there a calm, intimate and delicious dining occasion.

“I came for the view; I stayed for the food,” Sternhagen said. “The little lady who swipes you in has a smile on her face everyday and goes out of her way to make you happy. I think she’s part of the reason the food tastes so good.”

The mural on Ortega’s wall, according to Crouse, is a depiction of The Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic by the debatably-blind bard Homer. The illustrations were incorporated into Ortega with the stipulation that they can never be removed, Crouse said.

“Even if we renovate, which we hope to [do] in the next couple years, the mural has to stay,” Crouse said. “It’s never gonna go away unless the building falls down.”

Surveyed students reported Portola, the dining commons located on the basement floor of the Santa Catalina residence hall, as spirited but in need of multiple improvements, from food quality to interior design and decor.

According to first-year biology major Laura Cruz, who frequents Portola only due to its proximity to her dorm room, the commons lacks both variety and selection.

“I don’t like it, but I have to eat here,” Cruz said. “There’s just not a lot of selection and the food’s not very good at all.”

Survey responses concluded that one of Portola’s biggest benefits is its development of a familiar homey feel, due to the fact that many of its frequenters reside in the Santa Catalina dorm. Portola management has also worked towards establishing a feeling of familiarity through putting on various events throughout the school year.

According to Crouse, each dining common at UCSB has its own in-house bakery, allowing for fresh desserts, breads, pizzas and entrees.

“All of our entrees and things that are served- they’re made from scratch. We don’t buy pre-made things,” said Crouse. “All the baked goods, desserts, rolls and things are made from scratch and homemade right there, even pizza crust.”

The dining commons, Crouse said, also pride themselves on their made-to-order policy that prevents food from sitting under heat lamps for more time than is absolutely necessary.

Although each dining common has its own unique personality, the dining services system works hard to ensure that each student, regardless of where they eat, is able to enjoy a healthy meal that comes from the most environmentally friendly sources possible. According to Crouse, there is a system-wide commitment to buy as many organic and sustainable products as they can from local farms.

Students are encouraged to voice their opinions regarding the dining commons’ policies and procedures through online submissions at www.housing.ucsb.edu/dining.



A version of this article appeared on page 4 of the April 4rth, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus