The best and worst dining options on West Campus (a ranking)

My friends and family often give me a hard time. I tend to want to rate any and everything — particularly food. It’s to the point where my own mom dreads coming out to dinner with me, and to be honest, I don’t blame her. I would hate to go out with me too.

“The linguine vongole — 8.7. Perfectly al dente.”

“The lamb kofta — 7.7. Only because I’m feeling generous.”

“The carne asada — 4.3. No seasoning and overcooked. A shame.”

“Alex, can’t you just shut up and enjoy the food?”

Now maybe this makes me a “foodie” — or, more likely, just a complete snob. On my Notes app, you will also find extensive rankings lists of all the movies and TV shows I have seen, the trips I have been on, favorite actors/actresses, NFL players, animals, cereals, pasta dishes and memorable moments in my life. Practically any and everything is on limits — besides people I know of course. Obviously …

Fine, I will concede. I am going to work on restricting this type of obnoxious dinner practice to those closest to me. But besides that, the rankings bit is here to stay. For me, asking someone what their favorite “x” is allows us to discuss topics that we are oddly passionate about. It also sparks a friendly debate that — in my case at least — may go on for hours. And I mean, who doesn’t like to go blow for blow with their good friends, as surface level conversations about the best point guards in the NBA transforms into personal digs about each other’s social lives. Isn’t that just the best?

So, for example, the food scene at Duke is great. We have all been at least a little bit spoiled by WU — likely one of the best dining halls in the country. However, what’s the fun in saying, “WU is awesome. The food is amazing. Duke’s amazing. Everything is just perfect and great.”?

This is my point. Of course, it is important that we express our gratitude and appreciate everything that is offered to us. No one is denying this. However — and maybe this is just me — I would much prefer to read an opinion piece that ranks all of Duke’s dining spots rather than one that simply tells me how thankful I should be for the food at this school. So that is precisely what I will do. Let’s get into it. (Full rankings for the top 20 West Campus dining options will be revealed at the end of the article.)

Best Value: Tandoor/The Chef’s Kitchen 

In terms of value, you will have a tough time beating out Tandoor. For under $12, you can find yourself a more than generous serving of two proteins, a vegetable, white rice and naan. Of course, everyone love chicken tikka masala and chana masala, but if you want to try something new, check out the Chicken 65 (deep fried marinated chicken with curry leaves and green chilies), beef aloo (Indian curry made with ground beef and potatoes), and a vegan take on saag paneer (cooked spinach studded with cubes of tofu). 

With that said, the biggest surprise on this list may just be “The Chef’s Kitchen – ‘A Taste of the Hawaiian Islands!’” Oh, the Hawaiian place? I didn’t realize it had a name. As part of a new six-week rotation of pop up spots on the top floor of WU, the “Hawaiian Place” is the first to be featured. Now, in this past week alone (and my first time learning of its existence), I have already eaten here four times. The sticky short rib may just be the best item in all of WU, the grilled mahi mahi is an amazing change of pace and all the sides — which include mixed grilled vegetables, mac salad and slaw — are perfect complements to create a savory, sweet and absolutely loaded lunch. It is unfortunate that it will only be around for six weeks, but I look forward to trying some of The Chef’s Kitchen’s new creations.  

Needs to Step it Up: It’s Thyme

Now, on to the not so good. I can confidently say that “The Chef’s Kitchen” has had one of the greater glow ups in recent memory, in its transition from It’s Thyme to the "Hawaiian Place." “It’s actually really good, I promise. Just give it a chance.” I have given it a chance. I have given it seven chances.  Trust me, I don’t find joy in writing this review because I wanted to love It’s Thyme so badly. 

In theory, the concept of healthy, ethnic bowls is right up my alley. Each time I go into It’s Thyme, I plan on tasting a new bowl, whether it be the Santorini Sunset, Blue Devil’s Thyme or Charbel's Bowl Beirut, hoping that this is the one to win me over. Yet, I have been left constantly disappointed. 

It tries so hard to include many different cuisines, from Mediterranean to Caribbean, Lebanese to Thai. However, the result is that no single bowl feels entirely authentic or encapsulating of the cuisine that it is trying to represent. May I say It’s Thyme is truly a “jack of all trades, master of none.” My suggestion to “It’s Thyme” is that it works on revamping its menu to be more centralized in focus (e.g. focus on Greek food … please). What I imagine we would then find is a great improvement in quality.

Hidden Gem: Yalla!

Located in the parking lot behind Kilgo, this Kosher and Halal food truck is serving up Mediterranean classics, including pita sandwiches, hummus bowls and limonana — a minty lemonade of Lebanese origin. In terms of freshness and quality, Yalla! may just be the best option on West Campus. My go-to is the Uruguayan ribeye platter — served with Israeli salad, cabbage slaw, a pita and house-made hummus. 

If you are looking to try something new, check out Yalla’s Wednesday special — the arayes, a grilled pita filled with a mixture of minced meat (typically beef or lamb), a variety of spices and tahini dressing. If you haven’t been to Yalla! or have yet to even hear of it, this is your sign to go check it out. 

Underrated: Farmstead

Is it American? Maybe it's Thanksgiving themed? But they also offer lamb gyro, falafel wraps and burger sliders. Perhaps farm to table is the best way to describe it. What is clear about Farmstead is that it is far from the flashiest option in West Union. What likely works against it is that unlike its counterparts, there is no clear ethnic theme in the food they offer. When you are in the mood for Asian fusion, you go to Ginger and Soy, when you want bar food, you go to Kraft or Gothic. Sushi? Gyotaku. Barbecue? Skillet. Italian? Il Forno. But, do not overlook Farmstead, as I can assure you that their food is without question among the best in WU. 

Now maybe my family is just comprised of bad cooks, but Farmstead’s oven baked turkey is far better than any Thanksgiving turkey I have ever eaten. Their roasted potatoes, balsamic glazed brussel sprouts and green beans are the perfect sides to any hearty meal. And if you are looking for affordable, try out their $5 option of bourbon garlic chicken served over rice. We apologize Farmstead … we were not familiar with your game. 

Overrated: Il Forno

Now, it is likely that I have been spoiled as a New Yorker who has grown up on excellent Italian food (I’m sorry NYC kids, I meant to say that I am from Westchester), but Il Forno just does not do it for me. Their pasta is often overcooked and has a mushy texture, and their signature red sauce — which is used on both their pasta and pizza — is way too sweet. 

One more thing, chicken or salmon have no business being served on pasta. I don’t care if you are trying to get your protein intake for the day or even if it actually tastes good. It’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong. But if you are really craving pizza, order a personal pie fresh to order; and make sure to add their hot honey. It’s a tremendous improvement from their individual slices. 

Best Overall: Ginger and Soy

Could it really have been anywhere other than G-Soy? The versatility, the freshness, the explosive flavor combinations — Ginger and Soy takes the crown as the best overall dining spot on West Campus.  May I mention, as someone who enjoys offering a hot take, I regret slotting Ginger and Soy here. In a way, it was almost too predictable. I mean, if you are reading this now, you have likely waited all this time to see what is ranked as the best at Duke, only to arrive at the most glaringly obvious choice ... Borrrrring. 

But most of the time, when something or some place is so widely recognized as the best, it is likely because it quite simply is the best. The taste of their food is almost as delicious as it is aesthetically pleasing to look at. The tuna poké bowl is my personal favorite. But their ramen is equally flavorful, and their unique bowl creations offer a ton of variety, with every ingredient being clearly fresh and well seasoned. Congratulations Ginger and Soy!

Special Shout Out: The Nasher Cafe

Now, before I get to my final top 20 rankings, I must shout out The Nasher Cafe, which was solely omitted from this list because it is not located on West Campus. However, when considering all of Duke’s dining options that take food points, The Nasher most certainly offers the freshest and most flavorful food creations. All of their dishes are farm to table, their weekend brunch is among the best in Durham, and their sandwiches are absolutely delicious. My personal favorite is their fried green tomato sandwich, served on pressed ciabatta with fresh mozzarella, bacon and chipotle aioli. The Nasher is an absolute must try. 

Now, for a full ranking of what I believe to be the top 20 dining options on West Campus:

Full Rankings

  1. Ginger and Soy  
  2. “The Chef’s Kitchen – ‘A Taste of the Hawaiian Islands!’”
  3. Yalla
  4. Farmstead
  5. Tandoor
  6. Devil’s Krafthouse
  7. Sazon
  8. Gothic Grill
  9. JB’s Roasts and Chops
  10. Pitchfork’s 
  11. Twinnie’s 
  12. The Skillet 
  13. Zweli’s 
  14. Sprout
  15. Beyu Blue Coffee
  16. McDonald’s
  17. The Skillet 
  18. Il Forno
  19. Cafe 
  20. Panera Bread
  21. It’s Thyme

Alex Berkman is a Trinity sophomore. His column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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