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Freshman 101: Eating Downtown

As a freshman at Penn State, most of your meals will likely come from the dining commons on campus. When your taste buds and stomach get sick of the commons, however, there are plenty of options for you to choose from in downtown State College.

Downtown State College’s landscape has changed a lot over the past few years, and even over the past few months. Plenty of chain restaurants have opened throughout the town, but through it all, many long-standing staples of the community have stuck around and kept State College’s small-town charm.

Places like Chipotle and Starbucks are great, but you can find them anywhere. State College has tons of food options unique to the area that make Penn State feel like home. Here are some of the best of those spots:

Breakfast/Coffee

Irving’s on East College Ave. is one of the most well-known coffee shops in downtown State College, offering bagels and breakfast sandwiches that were voted as the best in town by State College Magazine. The restaurant’s main competitor is Bagel Crust, and the debate between which breakfast sandwich is supreme rages on. (Editor’s note: Irving’s. Trust me on this one.)

Additionally, The Waffle Shop on East College Ave. serves a healthy selection of waffles, pancakes, and omelets on top of a strong list of sandwiches and burgers for lunch. Long lines stretching out the door are a fairly common sight, especially on football weekends, but a warm order of pancakes or waffles makes it all worth it.

Doughnut lovers have plenty of options to pick from in State College, as Duck Donuts and Peace, Love, and Little Donuts have both opened within the last year.

If you’re looking for a smaller, cozier spot, Saint’s Cafe on West Beaver Ave. may be the spot for you.

There are also plenty of chains scattered throughout downtown, including Starbucks on either end of town, Dunkin’ Donuts on Fraser Street, and Panera Bread on Beaver Ave.

Lunch/Dinner

If you’ve seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you might remember that your rite of passage as a new Penn State student is a grilled stickie at the Diner. Well, I’m here to crush your dreams and tell you that the Diner closed a few months ago.

Luckily, the Corner Room is basically the new home of grilled stickies in the heart of downtown State College across from the Allen Street Gates. Take note: This is also the quintessential first date restaurant in State College.

The Tavern is another recognizable State College staple, offering American-style food in a cozy setting. The Tavern isn’t as casual as some of the other spots in State College, so it may not be the best for a quick meal with your friends on a Tuesday night. However, it’s perfect to bring your parents to when they come to visit for a weekend or for an extra-fancy date.

There are countless pizzerias and Italian places scattered throughout State College. Margarita’s on West Beaver Ave., Mamma Mia’s on East College Ave., and D.P. Dough on East Beaver Ave. offer pizza, calzones, and wings. Folks from “just outside Philly” can even get a taste of home at Bradley’s Cheesesteaks on Pugh Street.

For those looking for something familiar, there are plenty of familiar fast-food and sandwich chains like Subway, Jersey Mike’s, Chipotle, Qdoba, and others.

Delivery/Late-Night

Whether you simply don’t want to step out of your dorm or you need a drunken snack after a night out, there are plenty of delivery and late-night food options in State College. Many of the restaurants listed above also deliver straight to your door via GrubHub, but these spots stay open late.

Wings Over Happy Valley is one of the most widely known late-night delivery spots at Penn State, as is Gumby’s Pizza. Gumby’s famous Pokey Stix — cheesy garlic sticks served with any type of sauce on the side — is a must when you get back to your dorm and need a carb fix. (Editor’s note: I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend ordering both ranch and hot sauce.)

If you find yourself wandering around downtown after leaving a party, Canyon Pizza and College Pizza are two of the most popular late-night eateries. Canyon’s $1 slices are hard to beat and attract plenty of customers on any given weekend. This means you may have a long wait in line, but it’s all worth it to satisfy your drunken hunger.

You might hear upperclassmen grumbling about how old Canyon was better. Respect your elders and agree.

Sheetz on Pugh Street is another popular spot late at night since it’s open 24/7. The chain’s made-to-order food is hard to say no to, and it will surely make western Pennsylvania natives feel right at home. Sheetz’s popularity has led to a spike in traffic which, you guessed it, causes long lines.

Yallah Taco has become a late-night fixture in State College for those looking for Mexican cuisine. If you’re feeling particularly nimble, try a quesadilla and you won’t be disappointed. Be prepared to wait in line if you’re leaving the bar or a party on a weekend, but Yallah can also be the perfect midnight snack during the week without much hassle.

Other popular late-night spots include the Taco Bell and McDonald’s locations on East College Ave.


Downtown State College is undergoing a sort of transformation right now with numerous restaurants moving in and out, but these options should get you started to make the most of Summer Session 2019. Check back in the fall for a more comprehensive guide to downtown eateries.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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