Esmé Puzio / Daily Nexus

Santa Barbara is known for its sprawling coastline, delicious seafood and Mediterranean climate. As a vegetarian, I worried about the second feature, thinking that perhaps the dining halls at UCSB would have difficulty catering to my lifestyle and diet. However, I was pleasantly surprised that this was usually not the case. While I have had my fair share of run-ins with shark and other seafood delicacies on the menu, there have also been plenty of fairly delicious vegetarian options. However, not all the dining halls I ate at were consistently vegetarian friendly. With that in mind, I created a guide for the best dining options for vegetarians at UCSB. This is not an immutable ranking, as the menus continue to change and evolve at our school but is a pretty thorough one. 

Here are, in my experience, the best dining halls for vegetarians:

1. De La Guerra Dining Commons, fondly called DLG.

DLG  offers most of what UCSB’s other dining halls offer, with a far more extensive breakfast menu that currently includes multigrain waffles and applesauce coffee cake. You can find many cuisines at DLG, from Asian and Pacific Islander dishes to more traditional Western or Hispanic flavors. The most striking feature of DLG is the ice cream bar, which cannot be found at any of the other dining halls. It has a variety of delicious scoopable ice cream flavors, with dispensable wafer and sugar cones. DLG also contains a taqueria section where you can assemble your own tacos with a mix of rice, salsas and different types of tortillas, though typically there isn’t a vegetarian protein option. Overall, this dining hall offers the most vegetarian options for each meal, with ample seating area to boot, which is why I would rank it first on my list for vegetarians.

2. Carrillo Dining Commons

As a freshman in the San Rafael Residence Hall, Carillo was the closest and thus the dining hall most frequented by me and I can confidently say that they serve the best vegetarian dinner. The Mongolian grill always features some combination of vegetarian rice or noodles with a variety of savory and sweet flavors, and visitors are always provided with the option of dousing their dish in chili oil or peanut sauce if they please. They also have an array of delicious meatless pasta, my favorite being the pesto penne pasta, which I always sprinkle heavily with parmesan cheese.

My favorite meal at Carillo is lunch when the veggie burgers are served. With a variety of patties from lentil-based to black bean that you can top with vegetables, cheeses and dressings of your own choosing, lunch at Carillo is hard to beat. I also enjoy the variety that Carillo provides, with surprise dishes presented in certain weeks. My favorite surprise dish on the menu is likely the cream of tomato soup, which I was lucky enough to get one day with grilled cheese from the grill section. This dining hall might be my personal favorite, but it isn’t as vegetarian friendly as DLG. 

3. Ortega Dining Commons takeout

Now I know Ortega is not a dining hall in the traditional sense, but the takeout options provided can sometimes be a great option for vegetarians. I have had some poor experiences with certain items, such as the bean burrito and veggie burger, which came out a little soggier than I would’ve liked due to the foil wrapping trapping the heat. However, if you order pasta, curry and rice or salad from Ortega, you are likely to not be disappointed. In fact, Ortega has managed to exceed my expectations at times. I would say my favorite all time Ortega order would be between the strawberry fresca salad and cheese ravioli. In general, Ortega offers substantial snack options such as celery and carrot sticks with hummus and cookies. However, in the entrée department, Ortega is not so vegetarian friendly.

4. Portola Dining Commons 

While Portola is the largest dining hall at UCSB, its off-campus location can make it inaccessible for students situated in on-campus dorms. For that reason, I have only journeyed to Portola a few times and found myself disappointed by the lack of options. The interesting dishes, such as the sushi, that make Portola so well-loved among students are obviously inaccessible to vegetarians. One of the times I went to Portola, I found myself unable to eat most of the dishes, save for some soft, boiled vegetables. While this can be filling, it isn’t the first option I or any vegetarian, in my opinion, would choose. I’m sure Portola has its better days and features more vegetarian-friendly meals, but overall I found them unappealing. Portola doesn’t offer anything vegetarian that one couldn’t find in another dining hall, and so I would rank it last on my list. However, if you do live in the San Catalina towers, stick around and you may be surprised.

Each dining hall does offer at least some vegetarian meals which you can modify yourself using the provided condiments if unappetizing. The beauty of having four dining options is that you never have to eat at the same dining hall consistently if you don’t want to. So, mix it up! I recommend checking the menu online each week for all the dining halls, picking out which vegetarian meals you prefer best and scheduling accordingly. No matter what you choose, you won’t be left hungry. Except if you have pizza …

A version of this article appeared on p. 20 of the Aug. 24 version of the Daily Nexus.