The meal exchange system is confusing. What can we get with them? Where can we spend them? Where should we spend them?
The locations and options are easy to find with a simple Google search, but the decision of what restaurants warrant your meal exchanges is harder to make. Luckily, I decided to do the work for you.
I set out with an empty stomach and had four criteria in mind:
How much food do you get?
Are there long hours, and is it easy to get to?
How many options are there, and are they customizable?
Does the food taste good?
To rank them properly, I used a 0-10 ranking for each of these criteria, then gave each restaurant a total score from 0-10. Here they are:
- Wildcat Deli - Build Your Own Sandwich Rating: 5/10
Portion size: 6/10
For a sandwich, Wildcat Deli gives you a pretty decent portion size. Nothing outstanding, but a good size for lunch.
Wildcat Deli has such short hours that I thought that the restaurant was shut down for the first month of class. Still, if you’re stopping by Norris on weekdays between 11am and 3pm, you can find something to eat here.
There is a decent variety of rolls and sliced breads and sandwich fixings, but the vegetarian option, which was a sandwich filled with a limited variety of roasted vegetables, looked a little sad.
These sandwiches pretty much taste like they’re from Subway - not great, but good enough.
- Patty² - Burger and Fries or “The Shred” Salad or Wrap Rating 6/10
Portion size: 7/10
The wrap and burger were well-portioned and a good lunch size.
Patty² also has pretty limited hours, only weekdays from 11am-6pm, so it is really only an option for lunch or an early dinner. However, it is centrally located in Norris with a nice view of the lakefill.
You only have two options: a burger and fries, a salad, or a wrap, and the salad and wrap can only be a specific option.
The wrap was actually very flavorful, and the burger and fries were both pretty good. A pleasant surprise!
- Fran’s Cafe - Burger or Quesadilla and Waffle Fries Rating 8/10
Portion size: 9/10
The meal exchange at Fran’s comes with waffle fries and either a quesadilla or a burger, which makes for a sizable dinner or late night meal.
Fran’s definitely loses points in the availability category, as meal exchanges are only available 7pm-1am. The cafe is also located in the basement of Willard, which is at the far end of the sorority quad, which means a lot of walking even if you’re already south.
There are only two options at Fran’s, so this is definitely not the place to go if you’re looking for variety..
The cheeseburger and quesadilla are both great, and a welcome change from similar foods in the dining hall, but the waffle fries are what really earned Fran’s this rating.
- Lisa’s Cafe - Pre-packaged and Made To Order Sandwiches Rating 9/10
Portion size: 6/10
While Lisa’s sandwich selection is on the smaller size when it comes to meal exchange options, they are still perfect for a grab-and-go bite or quick breakfast.
Lisa’s is open late (until 1am every day) and is right next to the fraternity quad, making it perfect for snacking with friends after a night out. However, it is pretty far north, so it’s a bit of a hike from south campus.
There are a wide variety of sandwiches to choose from, including four different kinds of breakfast sandwiches and many pre-packaged options. There’s even a vegetarian breakfast option and a vegan pre-packaged sub.
The refrigerated sandwiches are generally good, and come in creative options like curried chicken and caesar salad. The breakfast sandwiches come on tasty brioche or pretzel buns, but the ratio of egg to bread to other ingredients can be a little off sometimes.
- Mod Pizza - Build Your Own Pizza or Salad Rating 10/10
Portion size: 10/10
Definitely the most food for a meal exchange, Mod gives you an entire personal pizza or salad and a water bottle - plenty for a sizable dinner or leftovers.
Mod is conveniently located in Norris and is open until 11pm every night except Saturday, which makes it perfect for lunch, dinner, or a late night snack. However, if you’re looking for something to eat after a night out, Mod, and Norris in general, is not your place.
While many of the restaurants limit your order when using a meal exchange, Mod allows you to choose any sauce, cheese, and toppings, allowing for endless pizza combinations. You can also pick any salad greens, plus any additions and dressing.
All in all, Northwestern has some great meal exchange options, but Mod Pizza’s steaming hot, personalized pizzas clearly take the cake.