Eat Drink Style 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.

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