Get ready for March Madness, food style. The matchups here are played out on the food court, not the basketball court. Our selection committee has chosen this field of 16 schools to participate in Menu Madness. Each week we’ll narrow the field until we crown the ultimate college food champion. Can Villanova repeat, or will a Cinderella take it home?
Here’s how it works. Our bracket is made up of the top four seeds in each of the NCAA men’s basketball regions. There will be four rounds of voting to determine the winner. The school that gets the most votes in each round will move on, so make sure you get your student base involved. For the competition, each school put up its all-star player—a best-seller, student-favorite or innovative dish.
To get started, check out the all-star menu items and vote your favorite in each matchup.
University of Kansas
The Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap has held its ground this past year amidst multiple menu changes at four of KU’s dining locations and on the catering menu. This wrap is stuffed with two powerhouse snacking components: chicken tenders and ranch dressing. Adding some kick to the mix is the jalapeno-cheddar tortilla that wraps it all up.
The kale, pomegranate and roasted butternut squash salad is part of the new plant-forward menu at Brown’s, a café at UC Berkeley. This gorgeous (and vegan) jewel-toned salad was a star on Food Day, where hyper-local ingredients were highlighted, including a recently discovered pink peppercorn that’s grown in California. Cal Dining has visited farms and producers close to home to build the menu at Brown’s, and the result is vibrant.
The Southwest toasted salad comes with a bonus: a hefty slice of focaccia bread slathered with mayo and melty mozzarella. Served at the Innovation Kitchen in the Hurricane Food Court, the salad also features black beans, roasted corn, chicken and red peppers, all on top of field greens drizzled with cilantro-ranch dressing.
The Nova chop salad is made fresh to order on an average of 1,765 times per day at Café Nova, the top-rated eatery at Villanova. This entrée salad, created by GM Patti Bommer, is more substantial than your typical salad. It starts with romaine lettuce for a crisp foundation, then gets serious with grilled chicken, black beans, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, avocado, Jack cheese, ranch dressing and, oh yeah, sweet barbecue sauce. The crunch factor comes in the form of tortilla chips.
The cedar plank wild salmon with marionberry glaze, purple Thai sticky rice and asparagus is a featured special at Barnhart Café, one of the University of Oregon’s dining locations on campus. This item is very Pacific Northwest, featuring salmon, and marionberries, which are both iconic ingredients in the region.
These grilled fish tacos are a favorite for Blue Devils fans at the new campus brewpub, Devil’s Krafthouse, a cool new spot that features lots of comfy seats to view the game. The tacos (also available in carnitas, chicken and beef) are served on corn tortillas with slaw, pico de gallo and sour cream.
The Aggie chicken burrito provides Aggies with a real sense of place: a place where Tex-Mex food is king and the flavors are smoky, fresh and bright, all rolled into one. The burrito is stuffed with slow-roasted chicken that’s been seasoned with chipotle, black beans, cilantro-lime rice, fresh pico de gallo, crème fraiche and guacamole.
The hot chocolate cobbler is a decadent diversion at the University of Oklahoma’s all-you-care-to-eat spot, Couch Restaurants. This item would be the result if molten lava cake and fruit cobbler had a food baby. First, warm chocolate cake that’s more like a half-baked brownie is spooned into a bowl, then topped with ice cream. Simply a sweet dessert.
The open-faced barbecue biscuit slider with slaw and sweet potato fries is proof that UNC takes barbecue and biscuits very seriously (not to mention basketball!). This is a student-favorite served in residential dining halls as a monotony breaker/limited-time offer. With a fluffy and flaky scratch-made biscuit that’s topped with melted cheese, smoked pulled pork, coleslaw and barbecue sauce, there’s no monotony here.
The K-Lair Wildcat burger at the University of Kentucky has a lot going for it. That includes double patties made with local beef that are stacked with smoked bacon, free-range eggs (also from Kentucky), cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. This big burger is then drizzled with chipotle-infused mayo for a little bit of kick.
The pepperoni roll was invented in West Virginia back in 1927 when baker Guiseppe “Joseph” Argiro was looking for a meal that hardworking coal miners could grab and take with them for an underground lunch. Truly an example of early grab-and-go options, pepperoni rolls are iconic in West Virginia to this day. This one is made with yeast dough with pepperoni baked in the middle, sometimes with pepper jack or cheddar cheese as an option.
Barbecue pork chops and scalloped potatoes are a nod to Cincinnati’s pork-producing past. Now known as the Queen City, back in 1831 when Xavier was established, Cincy was known as “Porkopolis.” Students can get this hearty plate at Hoff Dining Commons in the center of campus. It’s served once a month and there’s a line every time.
The Got Dumplings dumpling platter is a student favorite as either a meal or a snack to be shared with friends on Jefferson’s Lawn. Got Dumplings is the campus food truck that draws long lines with on-trend Asian menu items including this platter, which includes a sampling of chicken, pork, tofu and shrimp-chive dumplings with sesame noodles and soy sauce.
The cilantro lime beef burrito at ISU’s Memorial Food Court is made to order and made to be a satisfying Midwestern lunch. The sirloin is marinated in lime and cilantro then seared. Right off the griddle it’s topped with guac, sour cream, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. The burrito concept where it’s served, Fresh Burrito Works, is new this year and already topping the charts in sales.
The pan-seared bison flank steak with bacon-blue cheese roulade was the winner at last summer’s NACUFS national conference in an upset, where the University of Utah’s 18-year-old chef Cassie Kelsch bested her elders in competition. This dish went home victorious and ended up on the menu of Crimson View restaurant. It’s quite the composition, with a casing of potato, cauliflower silk and demi glace on the plate and seasoned veggies with huckleberry gastrique to round it all out.
This twist on chicken ‘n waffles is a slam dunk grab-and-go item. It’s served to fans inside Spartan Stadium, designed for easy eating while cheering on the team. The waffle part of the dish is actually a waffle cone, and it’s filled with cheesy mashed potatoes and crispy chicken tenders, then topped with housemade coleslaw and barbecue sauce.