Ever since the University of Wisconsin made meal plans mandatory, students have been more active in trying to sample the finest things Wiscard can buy. Excluding Badger Markets, Union Dining spots and those odd cafes found in the nice buildings I wish I had my classes in, the six dining halls are the best places to spend all of this required money.
No journalist has tried to rank these fine dining establishments. That is, of course, until now.
From my experience as a food connoisseur with cash to burn on my Wiscard, here’s my definitive ranking of the dining halls, from worst to best.
6. Liz’s Market
The real tragedy about Liz’s Market, beyond its sparse options, is its proximity to superior cuisine. You’re already in the center of campus, why not just walk to Memorial Union and get some chicken tendies at the Rath? It’s like, right there.
Liz’s Market doesn’t have a terribly large selection and often finds itself closed during crucial spring break munching periods. Sure, it is convenient to any Liz Waters dwellers, but that’s only 504 people on this large campus. I don’t have much to say besides “meh.”
5. Newell’s Deli
Newell’s is the only dining hall that isn’t a “market.” While I’m disappointed I apparently can’t barter here, this does make Newell’s different from all the rest. For the most part, though, the reason it isn’t a market is due to its incredibly tiny size. There isn’t a ton of food as a result, with options even more limited here than at Liz’s.
What saves Newell’s from the bottom of the rankings is its commitment to something different. It is refreshing to have nachos away from a “¡Que Rico!” Newell’s wings are proven to be better than any other wings and that is a straight fact. Keep your eyes peeled to spot football players dining at Newell’s — with many freshmen players living in Smith, they’ve been known to congregate here.
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4. Carson’s Market
I’m going to admit, I’ve never dined here. I can’t even tell you where this place is. All I know is prior to googling the proper name of this dining hall, I thought it was called “Carson’s Gulley” and therefore wondered why it wasn’t featured in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. This really is a shame as its namesake Carson Gulley, head chef at the university for 27 years in the mid-1900s, was an inspirational figure who led the Madison branch of the NAACP and was the head chef at the university for 27 years in the mid-1900s.
Yeah, I can’t find where it is, but the real problem with Carson’s Market is a lack of variety. When “Global Kitchen” starts serving turkey breast and mashed potatoes, the problem becomes apparent. Still, it has more on the menu than Liz’s or Newell’s, so it gets a little boost here on the list. Plus, Carson’s has the beauty of Lakeshore architecture unparalleled by anything Southeast has to offer.
3. Gordon Avenue Market
Gordon’s is the quintessential UW dining hall. There’s every station possible available at most times of the day, and plenty of seating lines the space so everyone can sit with their closest floormates. Better yet, there’s a Bean and Creamery for when you just can’t justify paying a slight premium for seriously superior coffee from Peet’s.
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The ambiance of Gordon’s just isn’t right, though. There are way too many people in line for stir fry talking about whatever party is going on that Wednesday night — I swear, it’s always a Wednesday. Overall congestion and lack of privacy move this hub down the list.
2. Rheta’s Market
Nestled inside Chadbourne, Rheta’s Market reminds students to not judge a book by its cover. Rheta’s is easily the least aesthetically pleasing dining hall and its signage is terribly outdated, but this makes the delicious food experiences unexpected. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, check out the Mongolian barbecue station for the best food offered in UW dining halls, period. The pasta bar here also has surprising variety, and its proximity to Humanities is perfect for a quick breakfast between an 8:00 a.m. power lecture and a 9:55 discussion.
The subpar Bean and Creamery, easily the worst of the three locations, prevents Rheta’s from obtaining the top spot in my ranking. The coffee bar is crammed into the location’s Flamingo Run, leaving no space for any line to form. Despite this, Rheta’s is my go-to dining hall for convenience.
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1. Four Lakes Market
I’m honestly half-convinced every time I walk into the mystical confines of Four Lakes Market, I’m dreaming. The joint feels like a nice hotel food court, one that is certain to not lead to food poisoning. A stop by the luxurious Bean and Creamery not only feels like a real coffee bar, but like home. Seriously, the cashier gave me like five stamps on my loyalty card the last time I purchased a cup here.
Though definitely off the beaten path for many students, its location in Dejope Hall is a scenic retreat for any Badger who just wants to get away from it all and enjoy some ribs. Yep, that’s right, Four Lakes Market can actually smoke ribs. Four Lakes Market can truly go toe-to-toe with the top collegiate dining halls in the country and — dare I say it? — win. I might have to snack at a University of Michigan dining hall again to confirm, but Four Lakes forever reigns supreme in my heart.