Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Don Antonio’s Tacos: An Escape From UCLA Dorm Food

In retrospect, college is truly a wonderful experience. You’re 18. Legal. No longer under your parent’s rule. And ready to unwind at any given moment. Some of us decided to stay near the parents, in fear of being homesick. Some of us applied to as many colleges furthest away from home. Either way, you were probably living in the animal house also known as the dorm. And dorms, particularly at UCI’s Mesa Court and Middle Earth, were known for punching out some of the nastiest food ever. TO this day, I still remember what was on the menu:

Tacos from Hell. This station served up tepid ground beef or turkey that had been discolored even before it was cooked. You know, the meat that’s always on sale for a $.25 a pound at your local market. This madness was held together by stale tacos even bums wouldn’t eat along with tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and lettuce.

TeriYACKi Chicken. Using an ice cream scoop, the server would lay down a soggy, mushy helping of rice. He would then use tongs to grab some soggy, minced carrots/cabbage and unused chicken parts and drizzle something that tasted nothing like teriyaki sauce. Not sure if anyone noticed that almost everything in the cafeterias were high in starch. Corn starch thickens food and gets you full quite fast, which cuts down on the university’s food expenditure. So they even added starch to the carrots/cabbage. Oh god, it gives me the shudders.

Baked Potatoes. These were strategically placed next to the taco station for one main reason: the toppings were nearly the same. Almost the same selection you’d get at Souplantation, only with Bacon Bits, not actual bacon. You had to put so much salt and butter for eat to even taste good.

Burgers/Hot Dog Grill. If these were considered burgers, then I have a new term for a ‘dry sponge’. It seriously doesn’t take a long time to grill a 1/16 lb. burger yet they would precook them and leave them in a pan. I remembered getting water from the tap and adding it on top of the burger with salt and pepper and throwing it in the bagel toaster just to make it ‘juicy’.

Deli Sandwiches. All I have to say is that nothing beats a peanut butter & jelly sandwich from Kindergarten. These fine sandwiches catered by Sysco had no flavor whatsoever. And all of a sudden, I'm craving a Subway sandwich. The roast beef was hardly beef – maybe some alternate form of red meat from like a zebra, wildebeest or dinosaur.

Pasta bar. Two kinds of pasta: spaghetti or spinach fettucini with red sauce or white sauce. These dishes made Olive Garden and Souplantation shine. Table for two please with this $5.95 endless pasta coupon!

And after 6 days of regular ‘food’, we were treated on Thursdays, otherwise known as “Premium Night”. There, we were served fabulous 9 course meals by Thomas Keller himself… righhhhhht. “Premium Night”, yeah, the day that contributes to the ‘Freshman 15’. Upon sliding your meal card, you were given a ticket to redeem a higher end piece of crap. You had the option of a rubber tire steak or chicken fingers. The steaks were all labeled with those wooden ‘doneness’ indicators. No matter what you ordered, it was going to be well done. The meat was so bad that they couldn’t risk some college student getting sick over. The strips, although dry, were decent because all the students would drown them in ranch or barbeque sauce. Sauce makes or breaks a dish.

Considering my experience with dorm food and probably everyone else’s, it’s no wonder why UCLA students flock over to Don Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant for “$1 Wednesdays” which starts at 5pm. All tacos are $1 are beers are $4. No tax. Last week, I met up with my friend BR, a former Bruin, for $1 tacos. I drove down Pico Blvd. expecting to find parking. Nope. There were cars lined up at the valet booth directly in front of the restaurant. I was about 8 cars back. After 20 minutes, the valet attendant drove off with my car and found myself in a crowd of college kids. Mainly fratboys and Asian kids.

Don Antonio’s was even more crowded. It was dark and really tight inside. I probably saw around 15-20 waiters running around with tacos and beer. I felt like I was in Rosarito on Spring Break minus the foam and little kids selling me Chiclets.

Don Antonio’s offers six different types of tacos, all for $1. The Asada, Chicken and Carnitas all come in soft shell tortillas, wrapped in aluminum foil. The Bean, Potato and Beef come in crispy, oily hard shell tacos – the way I like them. I ordered 3 asadas, 1 chicken and 1 carnitas. The Asadas were somewhat tepid and lacked flavor. Chicken was moist. Carnitas was the best IMO. The true savior, was the salsa roja because it was about the only thing that possessed flavor. After about an hour, my total damage after two Coronas and five tacos was $13. Not bad. If it weren’t for the $1 night, I probably wouldn’t be here. Well maybe, if I was forced to eat dorm food for a year straight.

Don Antonio's Mexican Restaurant
11755 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 312-2090

I’d like to know:

(1) Where you guys went to school and how was the dorm food?
(2) What did you live off in college?

I lived off a lot of dumplings, Del Taco, canned corn and Sriracha Hot Dogs. I remembered I was so broke one time that I actually did the human vacuum for any spare change in my room. I managed to find like $1.95 and ran over to Del Taco to get three red burritos, valued at $.59 each! Haha, I totally scored. As for canned corn, it’s one of my secret good eats. I love microwaving the corn with some butter and garlic salt. Afterwards, I would drink the ‘corn broth’ which had the essence of aluminum. As for the hot dogs, I would just boil the dogs and slap them in a bun. Then I would lay on a nice glaze of Sriracha hot sauce for a nice ‘Asian chili dog’. God I’m glad I have a full time job now haha.

Thanks for reading and sharing.


BR said...

actually, UCLA dorm food was pretty frackin' good. ranked 2nd in the nation or some shit like that. i don't think i ever once complained about the dorm food while i was there... even now, i secretly crave it every once in a while. it wasn't until i was living in the apts my junior year (eating kimchi bowl and cereal everyday) that i discovered the joy of 99 cent taco nite.
glad you enjoyed it mang. when are you down to eat ATOF ("a ton of food") again? :P

Yuzu said...

I lived in Sunset Village at UCLA. Students from other dorms actually came to our dining hall to eat our food, as it was the best on campus. I have no idea how it is now, but I definitely liked it then. My roommates and I used to sneak desserts back to our room all the time.

After I moved off campus, I lived off of Hamburger Helper® (if there was ground meat in the refrigerator that hadn't spoiled yet), Stove Top® Stuffing and cans of Ensure Plus. Occasionally, my roommates and I would take turns cooking Filipino fare, i.e. pancit canton and chicken adobo (but that was rare).

Jeni said...

Dylan, I'm amazed at how much you can remember. No thank you for remembering the horrid dorm food from UCI. All I remember was gaining weight and not knowing why. :( The only good thing Pippins served was the soft served ice-cream.

Luckily my mom and my roommate's mom always stocked our bags with Vietnamese and Filipino comfort food. Banh mi's, curries, Filipino Spaghetti and adobo! Top Ramen with eggs and Billy Madison is another fine memory!

rick james said...


i remember my roommates fried homemade donuts once using Pillsbury dough from those exploding paper cans...... they would let the dough sit and then stick their finger in the middle of it to make a hole... i refused to eat one....

Colleen Cuisine said...

Did the entire LA foodblogging community go to UCLA?
I lived in Saxon Suites...we didn't even have a cafeteria. I usually walked over to Sunset Village as it had the most choices. Contrary to most people, I had the freshman "negative 15" because of the dorm food and THAT HILL. Jeeesh. That hill. What I wouldn't give to have to climb that each day again - I'd never have to work out. As far as the food, I couldn't touch it. The only thing I could bring myself to eat in the dorms was salad, hard boiled eggs, and oatmeal.

Passionate Eater said...

I agree with BR, I thought UCLA food was pretty good. I think UCLA even got reviewed by the LA Times as being a "premier dining spot."

No joke.

s'kat said...

I never lived in a dorm, but certainly lived precariously paycheck-to-paycheck. I'd buy a loaf of bread, a box of cereal, a gallon of milk, and a carton of eggs. There was breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about a week and a half.

Depending on what condiments, packets or otherwise, that lurked in my cupboard, mealtime was usually an interesting affair.

Once a month, the newspaper would run a special coupon, and I could actually get free eggs and bread. Those were the best egg sandwiches ever.

BoLA said...

NO Bruin love from me. I went to the Cardinal and Gold State - USC! Dorm food was eh - great to meet up with friends. The only thing I really liked was the ice cream bin with Flintstones pushups and Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bars. mmmm.....

And I lived with the sisters after freshman year. We cooked a lot of good stuff...Korean, Japanese, Chinese foods. YUM! Then my roommie afterwards liked making Kalua pork so I had that lots too. ;)

Tokyoastrogirl said...

I went to Loyola Marymount - the dorm food was all junk. There is a cafeteria that NO ONE except freshman dine at, and then there's the different stations not unlike UCLA. The burrito station was alright and I lived on chicken burritos for awhile. Taco Bell was a staple, as was Tuna Helper (ee gads), pizza and frozen yogurt. Sounds healthy eh?

eatdrinknbmerry said...

BR and all of you Bruins, i hate you all haha. maybe i should've worked harder in school and scored a higher SAT! haha. many people have told me that UCLA food is decent.

Yuzu, I need to do an Iron Chef back at my college cafeteria - that'd be fun and very disgusting. why are you drinking Ensure? don't tell me it tastes good.

Jeni, my fellow Anteater. We both should've worked harder in high school haha. I gained my freshman 15 for sure, maybe even more.

DCCF, your roommates probably weren't too sober during college right? haha

Colleen, i think a good number of ppl went to UCLA - 4 of them just posting comments here. i know daily gluttony and delicious life were Bruins too. One thing i'm glad about is UCI's flat-surfaced campus. i would've died if i was at UCLA.

PE, i was supposed to be up in San Francisco today. I would've called you to go eat dinner!

S'kat, atleast you had a paycheck. i lived from change-to-change haha.

Bolita, sounds like you had it good in college w/ the roommates. my roommates were never home and i was always the one cooking on the freaking electric stove. P-O-S!

TAG, I've never heard much about LMU's dorm food. We didn't even have a fast food joint close to us.

anteater pride said...

i loved dorm food at uci. All the selection you needed after tok'n a good one or waking up from a hangover. If you didn't like the food there was always the option of Pizza or Hamburgers (w/fries), and on top of that it was always just around the corner. whats there not to like dangit?? actually the only thing that sucked was that it wasn't open 24 hours.... uhh.. too many late nights docin tacos with del scorcho.

elmomonster said...

OH MAN OH MAN OH MAN! I was a fellow Anteater and I loathed Pippin Commons.

I remember the first week as a freshman in Middle Earth I was so excited that I get to eat at what was essentially a buffet every night! But then after the second day, I was miserable. You're descriptions are spot on...and that premium night was probably the only time I actually ate anything besides french fries and salad...and the steak was indeed bad, but it was friggin' chateaubriand compared to the rest of the week.

I subsisted instead on In N' Out runs and when I could get a ride, some takeout Chinese food from Sam Woo on Culver (back when it was still good).

Those new Anteaters now are lucky...Lee's Sandwiches is across the street.

Daily Gluttony said...

all you UCLA people...are you kidding me??? the dorm food tasted like ass! i actually was "lucky" enough to work in the dykstra cafeteria my freshman year (it was the only way i could get a dorm room since it was the year some of the other dorms were undergoing seismic renovation) and i got a behind the scenes look at what went into the food. like "hey, we got leftovers...let's just put it in a tray & put a layer of cheese on it and make it a casserole" no thanks.

that's why i had a rice cooker in my dorm room so that i could eat rice & furikake every night. if i had to eat dorm food, it would either be pb&j or cereal.

Ken Sloan said...

$1 tacos?? Man, I wish we had something like that here. The closest I've got is a Taco Time :o

jo-less said...

I went to uni in Durham, UK. Food wasn't bad apart from everything being deep fried and the question 'so, what is in the pies?' getting you an evil look from the canteen staff! I cooked for myself after that, and most of my friends as they couldn't cook well. Sunday night's at our place was a feed-those-who-live-on-cereal-the-rest-of-the-week extravagansa. I taught myself to cook because I couldn't stand junk food and it was too expensive.

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