What Grinds My Gears: UC Irvine’s Dining Halls
If there is one thing that my friends and I agree on, it is the questionable quality of the Mesa Court dining hall food. I personally do not trust the fish, and my roommate has never touched the meatballs. We also tend to avoid dishes that begin with the words “kung pao,” and most of the vegetarian dishes.
In fact, on most nights, I would rather eat the crackers and yogurt in my room than whatever is in the dining hall. People worry about gaining the freshman fifteen, but thanks to Lot 5 I have easily avoided that. I eat enough to not be hungry, and I walk out knowing if I get hungry again I can snack in my room.
However, there are some nights when the dining halls seem to get it right. Mardi Gras night, held just before Lent this year, was one of those nights. The deflated figure outside of Lot 5 was a little off-putting. The food, for once, was not.
The mainline had chicken. I don’t mean diced up chicken soaked in a mysterious sauce, I mean chicken breasts and chicken wings seasoned with cajun spices and served with rice and okra creole. This is a big step for Lot 5, considering that the vegetables they serve typically lack any seasoning.
Just next to mainline, in the spot where they normally serve vegetarian food, were fried green tomatoes and beignets with bananas and caramel. Again a culinary achievement, and a refreshing change from the usual tofu, rice and kale plate.
Stuffing ourselves at our table, my friends and I didn’t think it could get any better. The chicken was moist, the fried green tomatoes were addicting and the beignets were heavenly. We went back for seconds and thirds when we would normally leave after one round.
And then there it was. Just behind our table at a sparkly little bar two people were serving what appeared to be cocktails. Of course they weren’t cocktails, because we’re “too young” for alcohol. Instead, there was a lemon and ginger concoction and a fizzy orange and strawberry drink, served in little glasses with green garnish. Much more classy than what you can get at the soda fountain.
Of course, there were still dishes that reminded us that we were, after all, still in Lot 5 and not Louisiana. I took one look at the gumbo they were serving and was reminded of their strange vegetarian dishes. The King Cake was as sparkly as it was dry, and the mystery cake next to it was reminiscent of cornbread (although it was definitely not cornbread either).
Nevertheless it was one of those rare nights when I walked out completely satisfied with my meal, but it was just that: rare.
Since then, Lot 5 has gone back to rotating between meals of kung pao mystery meat and bony fish fillets with steamed brussel sprouts. Because I’ve been sick, I’ve opted for safer choices like salad and sandwiches. Not satisfying, but enough.
I used to try to give Lot 5 the benefit of the doubt. I figured that it was hard for them to please such a large audience, and that they were trying their best with what they had. Apparently, they were not. They have the resources and the taste to make delicious food, yet they seem to be holding back the majority of the time.
It is no secret that students are dissatisfied with the dining hall food. While we’re not asking for a Vegas buffet, we are asking for the next best thing to homemade food. If the dining halls truly care about our well-being, or at least making good use of our money then they should have satisfying food every night, not just on theme nights.
Michelle Bui is a first-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.