You Don’t Have To Be A Carnegie Mellon University Student To Enjoy Its Global Cuisine

The Oakland campus has 32 dining options open to the public, including 9 run by local restaurateurs.


Mark Hastie has been going to Carnegie Mellon University for 24 years. 

The former co-owner of Gullifty’s, a beloved Squirrel Hill restaurant that closed in 2013 after three decades in business, has run The Underground campus eatery since 1999. 

Consider him the unofficial Dean of Food. 

Just because Hastie’s scratch kitchen is located on the subterranean level of Morewood Gardens doesn’t mean he flies under the radar. The Underground, one of the most popular hangouts at CMU, provides all-day breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, wings, chicken fingers and desserts, which are prepared by Dormont’s Potomac Bakery according to Hastie’s recipes. 

On Thanksgiving, Hastie and his team make between 800 and 1,000 traditional Turkey Day meals for folks who don’t go home for the holiday, including international pupils who may not be familiar with the ceremonial bird and all the fixins. 

Even before opening in 1999, his iconic Murray Avenue institution had a strong CMU following thanks to the school’s proximity to Squirrel Hill. 

“It’s Gullifty’s-ish,” Hastie says of The Underground, which, like all campus dining facilities, is open to the public. “I had the final say in my restaurant, but not here. We still have a lot of autonomy though.”

He also operates Zebra Lounge, a small cafe in the College of Fine Arts. 

With 15,000 students on campus and an influx of visitors from the surrounding food desert, there are a lot of palates to please. CMU has one of the most unique and robust food programs in the country, boasting 32 dining concepts run by 11 different vendors, nine of which are local restaurateurs. A grocery store is slated to open this year on the heels of a student-designed and operated venue called Capital Grains. (Look for a Pittsburgh Magazine story about these two projects soon.)

Au Bon Pain, located in the Cohen Center, is the only corporate chain represented. The third-party delivery service GrubHub is also used across campus eateries for contactless pickup. 

Joseph Beaman, director of dining services, says CMU sees approximately 10,000 dining transactions each day, from full meals to snacks and drinks. Meeting the dietary needs of a large international population is a challenge he and Jessica Tones, program director of nutrition and marketing, are happy to accept. 

The pair took me on a tour of the 157-acre campus, which, to a hungry food writer, is like exploring EPCOT at Disney World — it’s a tasty blend of cultures and cuisines. There are numerous vegan and vegetarian goodies, kosher and halal options, grab-and-go bites and safe eats prepared and sealed at Nourish, a dedicated allergen-friendly kitchen in the Cohen Center. It’s staffed by trained professionals who create pick-up orders devoid of gluten, wheat, milk, egg, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts and most tree nuts. 

Tones, who served as an in-store dietician for Giant Eagle before coming to CMU, says teaching healthy food habits now will hopefully lead students down a nutritious path for the rest of their lives. Most residence halls are equipped with kitchens and students are invited to partake in cooking workshops. 

As a bottomless Pitt-grad, I opted for a Reuben and chicken fingers at The Underground.


CMU partnered with Chartwells, a national food service provider and its primary dining vendor, in 2018, but has been on the forefront of the local culinary scene for decades. Several businesses, including Taste of India, La Prima Espresso and The Exchange, have been dishing out heaping helpings longer than most students have been alive. 

The university also embraces newer companies, such as Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, which operates Millie’s Coffee ‘n’ Creamery in the Tepper Building and sells Larimer-based KLVN Coffee Lab products and juices from Live Fresh, which owns three storefronts in the city. My affogato, a generous scoop of vanilla doused with a shot of espresso was divine and kept me going the rest of the day — and night. 


For the past year, de Fer Coffee & Tea, which CMU graduate Matt Marietti and his wife Vanessa launched in the Strip District in 2017, has been keeping his fellow Tartans fed and caffeinated for the past year at a small space inside Hunt Library. In addition to a full hot and cold beverage menu, the café serves pastries, paninis and parfaits prepared at de Fer’s Troy Hill location, the former Pear & The Pickle site at 1800 Rialto St.

Before the pandemic, Wifi and Leilani Chen ran Oakland’s Hunan Bar and several other businesses. As COVID restrictions eased, they decided to focus solely on Hunan Bar, but a Chartwell chef loved their Chinese specialties and asked if they wanted to bring their authentic flavors — and some Americanized fare — to the school. The couple shut down their off-site brick-and-mortar eatery to operate Hunan Express in the Newell-Simon Atrium and Revolution Noodle in the Cohon Center. 


After a year and a half, Hunan Express is still the busiest eatery at CMU.

“Making the students happy is our main concern,” Leilani Chen says. 

The newest campus venue The Edge Cafe & Market, located inside Tartans Pavilion, opened in January. It serves Vaad-certified kosher cuisine, from hearthstone-cooked, thin-crust pizzas and bagels to pastries and pasta. 

Judah Cowen, a veteran chef and owner of Elegant Edge Catering, began operating Tahini, a food truck slinging Mediterranean eats on campus in 2019, but the demand for the kosher offerings was so high, Tahini now operates in an indoor space across the room from The Edge.


I had already downed an everything bagel with cream cheese and a chocolate horn when Cowen kindly introduced me to my new favorite thing: Turkish Bourekas, a savory stuffed pastry. My third lunch of the day was filled with spinach and cheese accompanied by Israeli salad, Israeli pickles, a sliced hard-boiled egg and Tahini sauce. 

Cowen says for too long students looking for kosher sustenance had to make do with frozen dinners that lacked flavor and freshness. 

“We aren’t just checking a box,” he says. “We want to give them the most delicious food. Everyone can enjoy it!”

Even with a wealth of options at hand, some students face food insecurity. Through the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement, The CMU Pantry was awarded a $60,000 grant from PA Hunger Free Campus, which was matched by Chartwells. The funds will be used to purchase more culturally relevant food and three new freezers and a cooler to allow for bulk-donation storage. The money enables the food service provider to offer significantly reduced meal plan swipes at Schatz Dining Room


And everyone has a say in what goes on CMU’s collective menu. The Dining Student Advisory Committee meets on the third Wednesday of every month. All undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff are welcome to attend to share suggestions and feedback with campus food vendors. 

“Our students have so much to teach us,” Tones says. “They’re here learning while sharing their own cultures and passing down culinary traditions that have nourished their families for generations.”

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