Taking a bite out of Kent’s food culture

Individuals enjoying dinner at Bricco in Kent on April 6, 2017.

Matt Poe

Let’s be honest: you’re going to gain some weight in college. Take it from someone who can relate. But you can optimize your packing of pounds by chowing down on some of the great food that Kent State and Kent has. Whether you’re a vegan or a carnivore, there is something for everyone to enjoy. So eat up, venture out and enjoy all the food this place has to offer. Besides, you can always burn it off later at the rec center!

Restaurant

Best Restaurant is the ultimate prize on Kent’s Best Food list. Bricco is great because it’s a little more upscale than most restaurants in the area (I love a good martini) and Mike’s is great because they have every dish known to man. But there can only be one who reigns supreme at the top of our list, and it belongs to Ray’s Place. The joint has been around since the 1930s, and I firmly believe everyone should eat here first upon your arrival at Kent State. One thing that makes Ray’s so great is the double role it plays: classic, chill vibe with great food during the day and then they open the upstairs on weekends for pool and pounding down their signature Long Island’s with your squad. A burger here is a must, but they also have great sandwiches and killer sides (the sweet potato fries are a must.) Plus, I love the old school cash register which is probably 100 years old but still younger than that one math professor you have. Every time I hear that distinct “cha-ching” noise, I get happy inside and begin to plot how I may steal it (don’t tell them I’m going to steal it.) Ray’s is the king of Kent and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  

Campus Dining

Ah, campus dining: It’s usually pretty bad! But from some of the other colleges I’ve visited over the last few years, I’ve found that Kent State has some pretty great dining options on campus. Fork in the Road is the trendy new place that features tons of hand held options wherever the truck may be that day. And Quaker Steak is perfect for chowing down some wings on that meal plan card. But Eastway is about as traditional as you can get with college eating and I mean that in the best way. Grab a burger, get a chicken wrap or head there on Sunday morning for some breakfast when you’re super hungover because you’re a freshman who loves Fireball too much. Regardless, you’ll make some great memories sitting around in your sweats and having a classic meal with your friends.

Best Place to take your parents

This was the toughest category for me to rank. On the one hand, you have to take your family to Ray’s because it is the epitome of Kent State’s downtown: friendly, iconic and great food. Definitely go here if you’re of legal age because you can drink on your parents tab and may get them loose enough to spill some classic college tales of their own. That being said, you have to take them to Mike’s Place where the portions and menu are absolutely massive. They literally have anything you could think of, so much so that we don’t have the room to name it here. That’s great for pleasing dad who wants wings, mom who wants a chicken salad and you when you order my favorite, the Reuben sandwich. It’s triple layered toast and I think they put close to an entire pound of corned beef on it. SO GOOD.

Best Pizza

Pizza: we all love it and if you don’t, you’re a communist and need to leave the country. Now! Guy’s Pizza is great for that late night snack as you’re wrapping things up at the bars and Pizza Fire, which is relatively new to the Kent scene, is great for its oven fired pizzas that you can customize with just about anything. And while I love tons of toppings on my pizzas, sometimes I get a craving for a classic slice of cheese or pepperoni pie. That’s when I hit up Lucci’s, which makes pizza the New York way: big, cheesy and has to be folded over. You can obviously still load up with traditional toppings like mushrooms, sausage, peppers and onions but there’s something about that old school slice of pepperoni that keeps me coming back to this place.  

Burger

Five Guys is great for a fast burger that you can load up with toppings. I get every single topping and it is just a pile of cheesy, meaty goodness. But if you want something more unique to Kent, then you hit up Ray’s Place for a burger. Just mention the word burger to someone who knows the area and they’re going to say let’s head to Ray’s. What makes Ray’s burgers so great is the quality and the price. They have everything from the classic cheeseburger with the works (lettuce, tomato, mayo, onion, pickle) to veggie burgers and double bacon cheeseburgers. It’s always fresh and for anywhere from $5 to $8, you’re not going to find a better burger in town. It’s the perfect size that allows you to opt for a single if you’re wanting something for a quick meal or you can go all out for a double if you really want to chow down. A burger at Ray’s with a cold beer on tap and some sports? That’s quintessential Ray’s and Kent State.

Best Sandwich

While there are many more traditionally historic food options at Kent State like Ray’s Place, I can’t think of one that is more unique than Twisted Meltz. Why you might ask? That’s because every sandwich is named after a famous person who went to Kent State or has ties to the university. It’s grilled cheese on crack and my God is it awesome. You’ve got the traditional classics like the Josh Cribbs (fried turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese) the Drew Carey (buffalo chicken and caramelized onions) and my personal favorite the Michael Keaton: shaved ribeye, roasted peppers, a horseradish chive cheddar cheese and ale mustard. SO GOOD. They also have vegetarian options and some great sides like onion rings, fried pickles and damn good French fries. You can get in and out of this place for under $10 with an experience that you won’t find anywhere outside of Kent State.   

Best Delivery option

Everyone knows Jimmy John’s is freaky fast and affordable. But if you want something that’s got a little more variety (and is hot) than you need to make that call to Euro Gyro for some late night delivery. I can’t tell you how many times my crew and I have been too inebriated to drive and these great people came through and saved us. When it comes to Gyros, I’m a pretty traditional guy, opting for meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion with some sauce. Euro Gyro has some of the best daily deals in Kent, like two Gyros for $6 or $7 and one-topping large pizzas for $5 on Wednesday (check this). But the one you have to try is the loaded jo-jo pizza, which consists of jo-jo’s, bacon, melted cheese and a buttery sauce. Drown it in ranch and eat it like there’s no tomorrow.  

Best International Food

Kent isn’t exactly a place you think of when looking for authentic Mexican food at a great price. That is, until you go around the corner on Erie Street and stumble into Taco Tontos where you’ll find all your usual Mexican favorites but done with the authenticity and flavor of south of the border. Their soft tacos are killer and wrapped in an 8-inch flour tortilla, you can stuff that bad boy with all your favorites and be full for only around $4 or $5. If you want to get crazy and go all in, get your taco filled with “glue.” No not the kind you would eat in kindergarten. Instead, Tonto’s will make whatever taco you’d like in a massive crunchy shell and then put it in the traditional flour tortilla and the fuse the two with whatever “glue” you’d like, such as guacamole or cheese dip; it’s like a gordita crunch from Taco Bell but on steroids. Hit this local favorite up after you’ve had a few beers at Zephyr next door.

Best Dietary Friendly 

I have no idea what the hell dietary friendly is because I will eat anything. But if you want a wide variety of options that are fresh, consists of great quality and customizable, then you have to hit up Fresco. Full disclosure: this place is my absolute favorite in Kent and the one I’ve probably eaten at the most. Their salsa bar features 8-10 different kinds of salsas and the fact that I haven’t been banned yet for trying to eat straight out the Pico de gallo bowl is a testament to the friendliness of ownership. I’ve tried just about everything from steak burritos to chicken salads but there’s two items on the menu that are to die for. The first is the pulled pork tacos which feature marinated pulled pork, black bean and corn salsa, lettuce and this chipotle-like sauce that I would like to bathe in. The other is their fish tacos with fried Mahi Mahi and a creamy cilantro sauce. Go there and you will never leave unsatisfied or hungry.  

Matt Poe is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]