A Critique of Swarthmore Food Options

As potential Swarthmore students, you all undoubtedly have a certain level of introspection and intellect that particularly shines through in the college search process. On account of this, you have had to ask the important questions about yourself and your potential higher education options to determine which school is the best fit for you. Thus, since we are all growing youth and college students, I will endeavor to answer the most important question of all: what food options are available and how does their fare fare? (sorry, it was too easy)

While you read this, please keep in mind my renowned pedigree and lengthy resume–or lack thereof–as both a food critic and connoisseur, which consists of a summer working at Starbucks and mastery in my main technique of cooking: dialing Domino’s. Everything in this post is strictly a personal opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. Honestly, I suggest that you try as many options as possible both at Swarthmore and in the Philadelphia metro area to find your own preferences. However, I hope that this will offer a small glimpse into the culinary scene of Swarthmore College that will no doubt have profound implications on your final school decision.

On-Campus Options:

Sharples: The only true dining hall on campus, Sharples has a wide variety of options available to students and the surrounding community. On top of the consistent daily options of pizza, a fully functional grill, soups, and rotating food bars, Sharples offers vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and allergy sensitive options to accommodate all students. While most freshmen tend to primarily eat at Sharples because of the mandatory unlimited swipe meal plan for your first semester on campus, the community-oriented seating and social atmosphere make for a pleasant meal and plenty of opportunities to meet new people from all class years. Stay as long as you want or grab a box to-go. Most complaints about Sharples tend to call out its repetition; however, other options are always available and it is always nice to have a consistent mainstay on campus. Also, Sharples staff, highlighted by Ed, Donnie, Pat, Mutabar, and Adam, all make the campus a far brighter place. Be sure to introduce yourself when you meet them! Grade: B

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Essie’s: As the main late night option on campus, Essie’s has proven itself as one of the most popular options on campus. Apart from the highly approved $7 meal swipe offered after Sharples closes, Essie’s also serves as a great option anytime Sharples’ offerings do not suit your palate. Furthermore, Essie’s always has great options for snacks for your dorm room, so stack up as much as you can, especially when you have unlimited swipes and can go every night. However, due to its popularity, Essie’s tends to run out of room and inventory, so be sure to get in early. Much like Sharples, the staff will always greet you with a smile and definitely takes Essie’s to the next level. Grade: A-

Paces Cafe: I should first mention that I work as a barista as Paces and my roommate is one of the directors of the cafe, so I may have a slight bias in this critique. Nevertheless, especially as a strictly student-run cafe, Paces really nails it as a cool place to grab food, hang out, and do work. Although it is only open Sunday-Wednesday nights and accepts Swat Points, the student cooks know their stuff, and the baristas are the best, most attractive, brilliant, and all around incredible people ever (no bias in that part at all). Furthermore, we have dope art, can play whatever music, can get as creative as you want with your order, and have overall far more flexibility, so feel free to look into being a part of the cafe admin itself, or just stop by for some great food and drink. Either way, definitely take advantage of Paces in some way. Grade: B+

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Kohlberg Coffee Bar/Sci Center Coffee Bars: Coffee, the jet fuel of students everywhere. Get it at the two main coffee bars on campus with your on-campus points and pair it with the delicious pastries and other food options for a snack or even a full meal. I end up going every day, not only because I have so many points, but also because I am quite frankly addicted to caffeine. However, the staff is also sweet and sassy as ever, making the coffee bars some of the best options on campus in my opinion, especially when you’re in a hurry. Grade: A-

Ville Options (accepting meal plan ‘Swat Points’):

Renato: As the main pizza place in Swarthmore, Renato Pizza, affectionately known as Renato’s or Renat’s (pronounced Ruh-nots), is one of the most popular and successful Swarthmore mainstays. However, Renato does merit this recognition. The pizza is solid, especially the notorious “student special,” which is $9 for a large and a soda, usually split amongst a room. Furthermore, Renato offers plenty of classic Philadelphia options including wings, steaks, hoagies, and and anything in between. Although you can’t really dine-in because of its extremely limited seating area, the take-out option has become a favorite of students everywhere. Grade: A-

Bamboo Bistro: Fun fact, Bamboo highlights their special 50% off deal on all sushi that is permanently printed in the menu, which is both a hilarious marketing gimmick and highly beneficial for Swarthmore students dining for cheap. However, Bamboo offers some great Asian food from multiple cultures at great prices with delivery, dine-in, and take-out all available. The staff definitely has their off-days, but they hide it well with their super nice demeanor and sassy charm. Although it is closed on Mondays, the main dining room is constantly packed on weekends, a testimony to the quality and value of their options. Grade: B+

Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins: The Dunkin-BR hybrid is about as prominent on campus as its location on the main corner in Swarthmore village. Although relatively inexpensive and the only true chain in the ville, Dunkin-BR tends to get a bad rep for their slow service. However, the family run franchise actually has some extremely sweet staff and offers great options for students on the go. The Dunkin side of the store definitely has far greater popularity than the BR side (because we’re in PA, its always freezing, so who wants ice cream, let’s be honest), but both offer unique options in close proximity to campus. Grab some and hop on the SEPTA, or sit down in their spacious dining area to crank out some homework. Grade: C+

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Hobb’s: Often seen as the inspiration for Paces Cafe, Hobb’s also has the laid-back vibe of a college town coffee shop down pat. Between the concerts and events going down all the time and the art exhibitions cycled through every few weeks, Hobb’s has become the heart of culture in the ville. However, the main dining room is always packed on the weekends especially, so grabbing your coffee for the road may be the best option. Hobb’s offers more than just coffee though, with their highly-acclaimed $4 lox and cream cheese bagels serving as one of the best breakfast options around. Grab it for the road or work there all day, but definitely appreciate the unique atmosphere of Hobb’s while you can. Grade: A

Aria: With the best staff around and great inexpensive options for Mediterranean cuisine, Aria does not always get the recognition it deserves. However, each time I go there, I have tried something different and loved it as much as the dish before. I would highly suggest going as long as you have the time to spend at one of the few true sit-down places in the ville. Grade: A

Co-op (aka The Coop): The Co-op is basically a smaller, nicer Whole Foods with the same healthier brands, higher prices, and fresh options. The sandwiches and sushi, freshly made every day make for a quick option for students, and the groceries allow students to take advantage of their own culinary skills. Most of all, the Coop has some great social media, and I would highly suggest at least following their Instagram page for great promotions, contests, and community events. Thus, if you can afford it, the Coop is great for students, but it is inevitably great for the overall Swarthmore community. Grade: B+

Vicky’s Place: If you can get in on the weekend (when you most likely have time for it, because it is sit-down and breakfast/lunch only), Vicky’s is a great breakfast option. However, the cute little diner is exactly that: little. Do your best to get there at some point, but definitely don’t rely on it for a consistent meal option. Grade: C+

Off-Campus Options:

Center City, Philadelphia: Growing up in DC, I love the city as much as the next person, so going into Philly to sightsee, people watch, and get the rush of the urban scene entices me every day. Plus, Philly has one of the best culinary scenes in the US. However, frankly I have never found a need to go downtown simply for good food other than maybe for dates, and anything in the city is bound to make for one expensive trip anyway. If you want to check it out, props to you, but it really doesn’t happen that often. Grade: n/a

Chipotle: Enough said. Grade: A+++++++++++++++

Happy Wok: As the other main Asian dining option other than Bamboo Bistro, Happy Wok tends to get less business because of their distance relative to Bamboo. Furthermore, the prices are slightly higher and the food is essentially comparable. Thus, Happy Wok just acts as a slightly faster delivery service, but overall has far less popularity. Grade: C

Chick-fil-A: I went to Swarthmore’s local Chick-fil-A on a Sunday one time. It was open. Life goal achieved. And the opportunity to get delicious chicken sandwiches and nugs at any point, makes it one of the best options available.  Grade: A

Delivery: Honestly, the UberEats $5 delivery charge is totally worth it, especially if you don’t have a car and constantly order food with your friends. Particularly, if you get sick of the options nearby or need a pick-me-up (my roommates and I order out once a week “for our mental health”), UberEats, Domino’s, Chinese food, or any other delivery option serve as the best use of your precious time and money. Granted this all depends on where you order from, but there are always plenty of options even for the pickiest of eaters. Grade: F-A+ (it depends)

Cook for Yourself: As most of us will inevitably be living on our own in a matter of years after Swarthmore, it would behoove us all to gain some culinary skills of our own for both our health and our finances. Particularly when each dorm on campus has their own fully functional kitchen and the Co-op offers groceries for both Swat Points and real money, there is no excuse to take advantage as much as possible. Plus, it can work wonders in the dating department, so you really might as well. Grade: A+

All of this being said, I again urge you to take advantage of the great culinary scene here at Swarthmore. My roommate this year ran his own delivery service for a semester last year, my big brother in my fraternity is a chef by training, and I, well, I just love eating. Swatties love their food, and you would be remiss not to take advantage of that in your time here.

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