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The University of Michigan has long been characterized by its robust offering of dining options, treating those lucky, dining-plan-endowed students to a wide range of meals and eating experiences. Some prefer the bustling monolith that is South Quad’s dining hall. Others pledge loyalty to East Quad for its sustainably-minded dining options and its ambiance — a medley of languages serenades the space as Residential College foreign language faculty buzz from station to station. Others find culinary haven in Twigs at Oxford Residence Hall, tucked away among the trees and away from the bustle of Central Campus.

Campus Culture writers took to exploring the various corners of the campus’s dining options to discover what draws students to these particular spaces, three times a day, seven days a week.

In-person dining is back, and we could not be more excited to write about it.

— Grace Tucker, Campus Culture Senior Arts Editor

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South Quad: A staple

As a South Quad local, I should’ve known better than to get in line for the dining hall at 7 p.m. The line went all the way down the hall. But thanks to greeters like the always-smiling Gloria, who proudly says that her favorite part of the job is “the men and women who walk in here every day,” getting past the hall’s threshold took five minutes. 

South Quad is the pinnacle of the University’s on-campus dining. With many diverse stations, the only kosher kitchen on campus, a stunningly stocked salad bar, a usually-identifiable soup or two, incredible fried pita chips, hummus and yes, a self-serve ice cream machine, South Quad serves thousands of students daily. The cafeteria itself is massive, with several distinct rooms and counters, booths and communal tables. The lines inside take a while, but there are plenty of people to socialize with while you wait (or put in your headphones and pretend not to see any of your peers).

It’s not difficult being a vegetarian at South Quad, but if you don’t want a salad, you have to go for some odd interpretations of flavorful dishes: tofu piccata at 24 Carrots, swiss steak tempeh at the Kosher station or red curry tofu at Two Oceans. These dishes, which when done right (at restaurants or at home) are delicious, were too complex, poorly seasoned and oddly textured here. The best way to go at South Quad is classic sides, ranging from long-grain rice at Two Oceans to “greens” (unidentified) at the vegan 24 Carrots. For my meal, I made do by drenching the sides in hot sauce or one of the seemingly infinite salad dressings. 

South Quad also has classic comfort foods like the plain pizza at Pizziti (which runs out fast) and some “healthier interpretations” like the more divisive selections of mushroom and beef or chickpea beet burgers at the Wild Fire grill.

Lastly, dessert at South Quad never disappoints a sweet-toothed student. A true expert always combines desserts. My invention on this trip to the dining hall? A macadamia white chocolate chip and cherry sundae. Such a concoction can offer an excellent end to every on-campus foodie’s favorite dining experience. South Quad is far from perfect, but there really is something for everyone (even if it’s just soft serve).

— Kaya Ginsky, Daily Arts Writer

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Mojo: A homecoming

I arrived at the Mosher-Jordan (“Mojo”) dining hall at noon on a very rainy Tuesday, excited for some lunch and a dry place to sit. I lived in Mojo’s residence hall my freshman year and ate almost every meal in its confines — with it being well over a year since I’d set foot inside the building, I had been increasingly anticipating this visit.

Once inside the dining hall, I did a quick survey of the food options to find only one station had a line, so I figured: “Why not let the student body pick my meal for me?” I wanted an authentic dining hall experience, after all. After a modest wait, I arrived at the front of the line to find the food in question was an appetizing spaghetti in red sauce. I grabbed my dish, added a spoonful of parmesan cheese and went on my way.

Anyone who’s frequented the Mojo dining hall knows you can’t leave without going to the dessert station, so that was my next stop. I was on the lookout for the famous Mojo cookie: a chocolate-chip masterpiece undercooked to the perfect degree of gooeyness, but they, unfortunately, did not have any when I visited. I grabbed two blondies instead, snatched a cup of Bubly from the soda dispenser and began my meal.

I’m going to give Mojo some slack on the available selection since I went during the lunch rush instead of dinner. But the fact that essentially plain spaghetti was the most popular option that afternoon was a pretty good indicator of how my dining hall experience was about to go. 

It tasted how you’d expect: The sauce was sweet and most likely from a jar, and it really could have used some veggies or protein in the mix. The real stars of the show, however, were the blondies. I am unashamed that I grabbed two because, as time continues to prove, Mojo’s dessert always reigns supreme.

Eating in Mojo again felt like something out of “The Twilight Zone.” It was like everything was the same except shifted an inch to the left, ever so slightly different that it was unnerving to think about. There were a few new drinks in the dispensers, stations had swapped what they carried and the convincing silverware was actually plastic. I suppose that’s how a homecoming always feels, though. In your absence, time continues to move and change without you.

— Hadley Samarco, Daily Arts Writer

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Twigs at Oxford: Frat row’s safe haven

Twigs is the forgotten child of the University’s on-campus dining halls. Hidden in the interior of the neighborhood-like Oxford Housing, it’s so inconspicuous that I missed it three times as I roamed the neighborhood of fraternities and almost ended up in the Arb. The line outside lasted a mere second at the 11:30 a.m. lunch rush, and the friendly greeter simply waved me in. 

Twigs’s diner-style space features large tables, tall seats with beautiful leaf designs (fitting for the remote, woodsy vibe), and shockingly comfortable couches. During my visit, residents mingled with each other and with the chefs. Susan, one of the amazing members of the Twigs dining staff, called Oxford Housing a “close family.” I found myself wanting to join in on the mingling rather than doing my usual dining hall routine of pretending my phone is interesting.

For lunch and dinner, there is one food stand: the “Signature Maize” station, which rotates its menu daily, frequently switching food styles (and sometimes offering two at once) while always providing a vegan option, meat option and carbs. 

This Friday, “Signature Maize” featured two very different options: The take-out classic Mongolian fried noodles with tofu or beef set beside a Halal chicken quesadilla with brown rice. The Mongolian fried noodles were certainly fried, as was the tofu. In the right late-night mood, the dish would’ve been delicious, but it was a no-go for a light lunch. 

After being spoiled by South Quad’s vegetarian offerings, I was immediately disappointed by the lack of vegetarian-friendly meals. However, the stocked salad and sandwich bar awaited, featuring fresh toppings like pico de gallo, tortilla chips, sour cream, jalapeños and guacamole, among every salad and sandwich topping imaginable. 

The yogurt bar was also fully stocked with fresh fruit and toppings. I was thoroughly impressed. For dessert: whoopie pies with tahini filling, cereal s’mores bars, classic chocolate chunk cookies and some beautiful self-serve ice cream (though my stomach couldn’t handle a second day of dining hall ice cream). The elevated whoopie pies and gooey, buttery s’mores bars were a hit, and the chocolate chunk cookies were perfect. 

Twigs at Oxford feels like home — if home was stuffed with carbs and hidden in a row of frats.

— Kaya Ginsky, Daily Arts Writer