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February 29, 2024

The great Hopkins dining war: FFC vs. Nolan's vs. Levering vs. CharMar

By DARRELL LA | December 1, 2021



The FFC is traditionally freshmen's first dining hall experience.

For most freshmen and sophomores arriving on campus this fall, this semester is the first time in a while that activities are in-person. Consequently, this piece is dedicated to assessing on-campus dining options more thoroughly for first-timers.

Of all Hopkins dining locations on and around campus, most standard meals are offered at the Fresh Food Café (FFC), Nolan’s on 33rd, Charles Street Market (CharMar) and Levering Kitchens. Light meals such as salads, sandwiches and desserts are also available at the Crepe Studio and Levering Café (which is on top of Levering Kitchens; very confusing, I know), but for the sake of this review, only four of those options will be discussed.

Fresh Food Café

As the most famous, or perhaps infamous, dining location of Hopkins, the FFC is very controversial, among the likes of Vegemite and Donald Trump. However, no matter which camp you are in, the FFC is quintessential for Hopkins dining and the undergraduate experience.

One thing can be agreed on this, though: The food is repetitive. You can always expect pizzas, pasta, burgers, fries and grilled cheese on the menu (RIP to the omelet and waffle bars), which can be boring to some and terrible to most. It’s no wonder that the Root-Scratch-Carvery and Wok stations have the longest lines: They are the only stations where the food updated for each meal.

Some also argue that many of the foods are either over-seasoned or overcooked. The specials at Wok and sausages at Sizzle (and sometimes, even the specials at Scratch) seem too salty, even when paired with pasta or rice. On the other hand, the Carvery and patties at Sizzle tend to be on the dry side, though it is understandable since they are left outside at room temperature for long periods of time.

The verdict is that you can still enjoy the FFC, but be clever. If the vegetables at Root do not suit you, go for the Greens station. If the patties are too dry, try the tuna salad sandwich to your right. If the pasta is too bland, the lo mein at Wok should be your substitute. The FFC caters to a lot of needs and allows for more options, so if you’re done with something, look for alternatives to make the most of your meal swipes.

Nolan’s at 33rd

Those at the AMRs wish they could go to Nolan’s every day. Those who live in Charles Village would beg to differ.

In the true fashion of “the grass is greener on the other side,” Nolan’s is what most freshmen fancy only to be let down when they move up to sophomore year. Though the food at Nolan’s appears to be better prepared, the options are scarce and more or less a copycat of the FFC.

When examining the regular options at Nolan’s, the FFC has them more, and better. The FFC’s pizzas are better. Their salads are better. Even the fries are better there. On the other hand, if there is a special so good that students love it, more often than not, it’s at Nolan’s. If you’re lucky, they may serve that delicious fried chicken, the BBQ brisket or the fries with gravy combo. And when you’re not, expect “yellow grass” for lunch.

In conclusion, trading marginally better food for a smaller array of options makes Nolan’s the “freshman fever”; it’s still good while you haven’t gotten a try.


CharMar sells not only tasty meals, but ingredients.

Charles Street Market

Known as CharMar, this dining location on Charles Street may look like a 7-Eleven inside and out, but it holds a variety of fresh produce and meals. Every school day, there are two options for Meals-in-a-Minute: the Entrée section, which is exclusively ordered in-person, and the Deli section, acquired only through the Transact Mobile Ordering app.

For most students, the Deli is good for a quick meal that fits the schedule of a busy pre-med. However, while the sandwiches are better handled, they are not far off from the make-it-yourself section of the FFC, save for sauces.

In contrast, the Entrée section (which is only offered at lunchtime) is probably the longest wait on campus because the food is heated immediately after your order. The quality differs, but some dishes are clear winners: the lasagna, brisket and stir-fry chicken in particular. There are also frozen meals that are worth a try.

In general, there can be a lot of options worth sticking around for at CharMar, and they offer a good change of taste from the dining halls.

Levering Kitchens

From what I hear and experience, this is the “cream of the crop” for Hopkins dining, where food is the best prepared and the most convenient. Although only open during weekday lunchtime, Levering offers a more refined version of the FFC’s meals, as well as a range of options for order, either through the app to grab-and-go or in person.

The Wok section has rice and noodles as well as a number of toppings to go with. Additionally, unlike the FFC version, the exact combination is your choice (and most of them go really well together). Meanwhile, Butterfly, the station for Mexican food, offers many varieties of tacos and tortillas, though food portions are slightly less than what a normal student would want.

The remaining stations (Grill, Toastee and Fresh) are good choices, albeit the same price as many similar, non-University options near campus.

Therefore, Levering is about the better spot when it comes to quality and flexibility. And so the commitment to save dining dollars begins...


Even when food can be improved at Hopkins, most of the meals are a bang for your buck if you know how to use your dining plan properly. I hope that with this review, some of you can better adapt to get the best experience with dining on campus.

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