Food feuds: Berkeley versus Palo Alto

Nov. 17, 2022, 12:02 a.m.

Some of the main concerns of college students when looking for off-campus dining options are cost and atmosphere. Finding comfortable, cost-friendly options is an important aspect of college life, though it can be a difficult task.

“Two of the most popular eateries in Palo Alto that are more affordable are Mendocino Farms, which is a regular sandwich and salad place, and Ramen Nagi, which is the best ramen in town,” said David Dunn ’23.

Mendocino Farms sits at 167 Hamilton Ave., with a wide selection of items ranging from sandwiches to salads to steak and chicken bowls. The cost ranges from $12 to $15 for most items. Ramen Nagi, at 541 Bryant St., has a smaller menu than Mendocino Farms but includes a make-your-own ramen bowl as well as pre-selected ramen, all ranging from $13 to $15.

Though priciness can discourage students from certain restaurants, students desire food that reminds them of home. Ramen Nagi does this for Dunn.

“For a very white family in Tennessee, we ate a lot of Japanese food in our home. My parents lived in Japan for a while and brought a lot of stuff back, so when I go to Japanese restaurants, it’s like a taste of home,” Dunn said.

The struggle to find and get to homey and affordable spots is not a Stanford-specific problem. Students at Berkeley likewise experience this frustration in a town known for its numerous food options.

“Fast food is banned on campus, so cheap food is already hard to find,” said Berkeley sophomore Layla Metni, referring to the fact that there are no fast food restaurants directly on Berkeley campus. “The ‘Asian Ghetto’ comes close.”

The Durant Food Court, known colloquially as “Asian Ghetto,” is a collection of cheap Asian food restaurants just a block away from Berkeley’s campus. Some student favorites include Punjabi Dhaba, Steve’s Korean BBQ, Thai Basil and Katsumi Sushi.

“They have many tables outside. It’s just a really great spot. It’s where I had my first date with the person that I’m now with, and it’s where I went after the first time I went to a party from the frat row,” Metni said.

“If you said ‘Asian Ghetto,’ I think any Berkeley student would know exactly what you’re talking about,” Metni added.

The abundance of reliably good and affordable food options in Berkeley compensates for the fact that for students who live off campus (about 74% of all students), meal plans cost an additional fee.

“Most sophomores, juniors and seniors take the bus to Trader Joe’s and live on groceries because it’s just cheaper,” Metni said.

Proximity is also an important factor in determining whether or not students go off campus for meals.

“Compared to Berkeley, the restaurants [in Palo Alto] are definitely slightly higher quality, but at a price, literally,” said Berkeley junior Davis Leland. “The walk to downtown Palo Alto is also a little farther, but the shops are larger, cleaner and in a tighter area. It does seem, however, that the general customer for a downtown Palo Alto restaurant is not a student, while in Berkeley it is. Though I don’t know the ins and outs of Stanford dining, I imagine that a meal plan might be just as expensive as eating out, but much more convenient.”

The trend in cheap food over quality food is not a coincidence. Choices for quick and affordable choices are much slimmer.

“I wish Palo Alto just had a nice fast food joint, like a Raising Canes. I don’t think that Palo Alto really has an indulgent, kind-of-bad-for-you restaurant,” Dunn said.

The nearest Raising Canes is, in fact, closer to Berkeley in Oakland. Stanford freshman Matthew Gück recently went there.

“I made the 40 minute trek to Canes because Canes fulfills my emotional and nutritional needs like no other,” Gück joked. He grew up going to Raising Canes in Texas and wanted a taste of home.

Favorite restaurants are an important aspect of the college experience for many across the Bay. It is freeing to find a place that belongs to you and your friends outside of your home.

In Berkeley, Metni said that she “would go [to Niko Sushi] every other Tuesday with my best friend in freshman year. We would watch ‘The Bachelor’ with our headphones in while we ate.”

In Palo Alto, it is slightly harder to find these types of restaurants.

“This is the problem with Silicon Valley,” Dunn said. “There’s not really anywhere that I go that makes me feel like the college experience.”

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