The most asked question by incoming freshmen, as old as the University of California, Santa Barbara itself, can arguably be, “How’s the food at UCSB?”
Food has always been an important part of my life. Armed with an access card in one hand, and my UCSB lanyard in the other, I was determined to find the best dining commons my freshman year. Within a couple of weeks, I quickly got the hang of navigating the dining commons.
Carrillo Dining Commons
Carrillo is located by Manzanita Village and sits right next to the pool. This is where most freshmen get a taste of their first dining commons meal during orientation. Many people swear up and down that this is the best dining commons. What’s true is that they offer the most variety. They occasionally have a lot of ethnic food that the other dining commons don’t have. They also have themed food days and introduce dishes from different cultures (the shish kabobs during Greek Day were hands down the best shish kabobs I have ever eaten).
If you are really into customizing your food, give Carrillo a try. They have at least 3 different types of sprouts to add into your salad. They also have small areas dedicated to salad toppings and sauces including, but not limited to: sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, brown sugar, A1 sauce, and more. Carrillo also offers eggs made to order every morning at breakfast, as well as during brunch on the weekends.
De La Guerra Dining Commons
De La Guerra, or commonly known as DLG, is the place to go if you’re craving Mexican food, as they always serve some at lunch and dinner. DLG is the home of late-night meals. From 9 PM to 12:30 AM, you can give in to your late night cravings and indulge in some midnight munchies. This is especially useful during finals week and for those who have classes during dinner hours.
If you love your ice cream, DLG might be the place for you. They have the most variety of flavors than any other dining commons, and you can choose between a waffle cone or classic wafer cone. There is also ample seating with long tables to fit you and your squad. Although DLG does not serve breakfast during weekdays, it is open during brunch on weekends, where, like Carrillo, you can custom order eggs.
Ortega Dining Commons
Ortega is the second dining commons located near the freshman dorms. This dining commons has a take-out option for breakfast and lunch for those who do not have enough time to eat in the dining commons or want to eat outside. Basically, you get a takeout box and shove as much food as you can inside. If you truly have no time to get some food, you can request a sack lunch the night before and pick up your pre-selected meal at Ortega or DLG. Be aware that Ortega usually is not open on weekends, so always check before you eat.
Ortega is most known for its sushi and paninis. They alternate between paninis and pizza during lunch. Two types of sushi (vegetarian/non-vegetarian) are served for lunch and dinner every day. The fish is thoroughly cooked and comes with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger on the side. This dining commons also offers a different specialty bar every night at dinner, including (but not limited to) a chili bar, a waffle bar, and a taco bar. Each bar offers ample toppings for each specialty dish.
Portola Dining Commons
Last, but maybe not least, is Portola, located at the Santa Catalina dorms. This dining commons is notorious for its bad food; however, this isn’t necessarily true. I think their breakfasts are a good bang for your swipe. Portola also goes all out for major holidays, and has themed food and decorations. What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than at Portola with your significant other? (But really, they had a chocolate fountain that day.)
They are usually always stocked with whipped cream and strawberry syrup to drown your breakfast in. If you are also really into teas or coffee, they are the only dining commons with Torani syrups, which are perfect for making custom drinks and satisfying your inner barista.
All dining commons are stocked with fresh fruit, bread, peanut butter, jam, butter, milk, and cereal for each meal, in case you don’t fancy anything on the menu that day. You are also allowed to take one fruit or dessert with you when you leave each meal, which I highly recommend doing in case you get midnight munchies. Each dining commons also has at least four different types of fruit juices, a tea station, milk (and dairy alternatives), soda, iced tea, and coffee. They also carry Sriracha, Cholula, and Tapatio for those who like a little more spice in their lives.
To truly get the best dining commons experience, check the menu for each dining commons online before you go. The dining commons put up their menu for the week and the following week online, although the menus are always subject to change.
Lastly, if you’re a carrot cake lover and can get your hands on some at DLG or Ortega, do it. Just do it.