Cal Tech Cafeteria

I’m very proud of my friend. He is a Philosophy Professor. He recently received his first teaching position at Caltech in Pasadena. In all honesty, he didn’t know why a college that propels students to higher learning in the fields of math and science needed a philosophy professor, but he concluded that even in those fields there are ethical and moral principles that need to be dealt with so people can rationalize the future to be instructive instead of destructive.

Our lunch spot is the cafeteria on campus. It has been our lunch spot every Wednesday since he started at the beginning of this past year’s Fall Semester. I know there are many other lunch options, but he receives a faculty discount, and you can’t beat that.

Caltech is a highly ranked university that receives millions of dollars worth of funding. Unfortunately, none of those funds go to improving the quality of the food and cuisine.

The cafeteria is what one would expect at a college campus. The design of the cafeteria is boring, bland and doesn’t hold many students. It’s not chaotic or loud like something you would find at a party state school or prison. An evil lunch lady would put some spunk in the place, but here, she is only a figment of the imagination. There are few vending machines, which at times, might actually be a good alternative option.

The cafeteria holds enough options for the picky. They have a station for salads, pizza, grill, pasta, Asian, baked goods, and sandwiches.

I felt it is ironic that the University houses some of the most brilliant minds that are so particular in what is right and wrong in the way the world works, that when it comes to food, it is only seen as fuel to them. It is nothing special and it doesn’t need to be because that’s all they need, fuel. But I feel it could be super instead of regular unleaded. I would have expected Caltech’s food choices to be more energizing.

The water isn’t alkalined with fresh lemon. In fact, I had to pay extra for a glass of water. There aren’t healthy nut and green options that would provide all of the future Nobel Prize winners proper energy that would enliven their red blood cells to work better than ever before.

Yes, this happens to be more of an opinion than a review because there isn’t anything to review. A Tuna salad sandwich? A Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap? I’ll review those when there is a time and place but this is definitely not either.

Except for one day. One day out of the entire school year, the Latino cooks redesign the menu and put every single ounce of love into the food they make. That date is September 16, Mexican Independence Day. There isn’t a lot of a Latino presence at Caltech, but the cooks behind the stove do their best to teach some food culture 101 to the geeks. It’s not super authentic. The smorgasbord of food is definitely a white man’s version of a Mexican restaurant, but it is some of the best Gringo Mexican food I’ve ever had (the only exception being Alto Cinco in Syracuse, New York).

They put out moles, tamales in corn husks and banana leaves, mountains of guacamole and street corn, enchiladas (machaca, chicken, and spinach), queso with chorizo, churros with the caramel and chocolate sauce stuffed inside, tres leeches cake, flan, horchata, frijoles, tortas, al pastor street tacos, and huevos rancheros. There are 8 different kinds of salsas, all hot. This is one day where the allergic, hyper sensitive, right brain prodigy needs to do his or her own neural reconditioning and tell their own mind and body to not be a wussy. This day at Caltech’s cafeteria is its best and brightest. It’s better than a Las Vegas buffet.

I’m sure anyone who has a family oriented ma and pa Mexican food establishment next to where they live has experienced far better food than the goods served at Caltech, but compared to everything else that comes out of this kitchen the rest of the year, the food served on Mexican Independence Day is definitely good for the brain.

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ATMOSPHERE: Snooty undergrads, grads, and faculty mix and match food options going over the day’s collegiate events and gossip in the world of science and technology.

SERVICE: Solid. The employees serve the food, plate the plates, and come around to clean up the trays and wipe the table. It’s a well-ran cafeteria.

SOUND LEVEL: Calm. A few guys sometimes have a verbal altercation here and there, but it’s rather comedic than irritating.

RECOMMENDED:  Go on Mexican Independence Day

DRINKS: Sodas, Vitamin Water, Juices, and water

PRICES: $1.95 – $4 for drinks. $7-$15 for meals

OPEN: Monday – Friday 8 am – 8 pm.

RESERVATIONS: Yes

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

Wi-Fi: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Smoking: No, heaven forbid;p