2023A Pre-Run Report: The Food Review

As we wait for the first members of MagAO-X make their way to Chile for 23A, we bring you a holdover over from the 22B run, an extensive review of food at Las Campanas.

When we live up on a mountain for weeks on end with the same folks day-in and day-out, we start to get attached to the little things. You’ve seen us squealing over the animals, fawning over the telescope, but here’s the definitive guide to the favorite snacks of this team of AOistas.

The Meals:

As of the 2022B run, we have been asked to spend the first few days in quarantine, where each meal was delivered to the room of the isolate-ee. After the 3 day quarantine, guests are welcome to join meals in the Lodge’s dining hall.

The Lodge Experience:

Once given access to the lodge—open 24/7, which is of importance to nocturnal types like us—you will gain access to these wonders:

For lunches and dinners, you get a selection of salad items, hot foods, and desserts from the bar.
In addition to fresh food, the dining room fridge boasts a full section of sodas, juices, yogurts, and some desert treats.

Seating arrangements:

When we can, we opt for patio seating, basking in the sun and admiring the telescope-filled view.

Blue Plate Reviews:

The blue trays from the dining hall allow hungry AOistas to haul more plates than they have hands. They’re also grace the front doors of those in quarantine as food gets delivered to them. We’ve collected a gallery of representative meals, although our sample skews vegetarian due to the documenter’s biases.

Special Dinners

Here we recognize dinners that our taste buds remember with particular fondness.

A special U.S. Thanksgiving feast

The exotic U.S. American dish of “hamburguesas”

Chilean specialties:

Though the kitchen accommodates for our American palates, notably adding freedom French fries to their rotation in recent years, some dinners we spend guessing what’s on our plates.

Heart of Palm

A delicate crescent addition to salads, perpetually confused with artichoke hearts, but notably softer and less bitter.

Heart of palm finally caught on camera after many days of discussion.

Mystery fruit (Chilean papaya)

Served like many of the fruits here, in its own bath of fruit juice, the Chilean papaya took a while to properly ID. The buttery yellow treefruit has a rubbery but hollow shell, reminiscent of a starfruit.

The question remains, how to eat?

Midnight Lunches:

When you go to bed at 7am and wake up at 3pm, you miss two of the three meals the kitchen crew is awake for. For our night meals, we fill out a sandwich form, prepped at dinner, and brought to the telescope by our telescope operators. The form asks the hard questions such as: How badly do you need vegetables, really? Are they worth making your sandwich soggy? And how many sandwiches do you think you’ll need to stay awake all night? If two, do you double the same sandwich, or mix it up?

You can also ask for a plate from dinner on the form, though you have to select it long before you know what dinner will be. Be sure to submit the form before the afternoon, or the cooks won’t see it, and you will be one of the sorry astronomers eating cereal all night.

The aluminum wrapped haul.

McLeod’s Sandwich method

Now if you want to enjoy your sandwich to the fullest, might we suggest the Avalon McLeod method for maximum crunch and taste. First, unwrap your sandwich and give it a good crisp up in the toaster oven provided in the observatory kitchen. Next, you’ll want to investigate the condiments, stored just above the teas. Pull the vinegar (which Avalon claims they stock just for her) and pour it into one of the small espresso saucers. Dip your sandwich for each bite for the true Avalon way!

Avalon enjoying her midnight lunch, and educating the rest of us.

Empanada Sunday:

An Institution in and of itself. Laird has been coming to LCO for 15 years and the Empanada Sunday has always been a staple. You either wake up early to catch them at Sunday lunch—difficult for an astronomizer—or you order as many as you can on the sandwich form. For some, this is the highlight of the week. Legends tell of an observer who packed an entire carry-on full of LCO empanadas for her return trip. We’re taking bets on how long it takes for Jared to make the same request.

The cheese empanada option shown with the full sit down lunch spread.
A full observing crew’s worth of empanada snacks

The Observatory Kitchen Experience

Critical to the second half of our food review is knowing the contents and layout of the kitchen we inhabit while observing. It is stocked with all the small things that make overnight working bearable – from drinks to snacks to the infamous block of cheese.


Beverage Options run-down:

We live in an age of abundance. Not only are our dorm rooms stocked with a drip coffee pot, but we also have a full range of cola products in stock. Not to mention the plentiful espresso machines, herbal teas, boxed milk, and powdered coffee. One can afford to be picky with how we quench our thirst on this mountain.

The Caffeine Selections:

We each have our own way of coping with the long hours and late nights. For some of us, that means an intensely emotional connection to the supply of our caffeine. We asked folks about their favorite coffee machines around the mountain.

The Historical

Our predecessor tells of times when we needed to bring our own coffee in instant form. Though we only needed this option during bubble isolation, it is kept here in reverence to it’s historical support of astronomers at Las Campanas.

PIs continue to bring VIA instant

Old Reliable

The first coffee machine you’re met with is a humble drip machine in each room. The room doesn’t always come with complete sets, so some cross-room trading occurred to obtain all desired elements of coffee production.

The in-room support system

La Fancy

Of all the machines we have available to us, the main attraction is La Finca, the automatic espresso machine. From shots to espresso, vanilla and mocha flavorings, it almost makes you forget that you miss Starbucks. Avalon’s recommended mix? One mug of Vanilla Cappuccino, one mug of regular for just the right sweetness. Fits a thermos just about perfect.

We visit La Finca almost every night before heading up the hill.
Avalon mid-pour, loading up before a night of observing.

La Finicky

Though the Experto has a variety of options, Warren has words of support for the smaller, daintier, and more finicky machine at the other end of the dining hall. Notably, we have only been able to get it to make espresso despite it nominally being able to steam milk….

Warren pooh-poohs all other espresso sources at Las Campanas.

The Obs room Coffee machine

“It’s fine.” The machine in the observatory kitchen lacks the bells and whistles of La Fancy and the cult following of La Finicky. Really, the only thing it has going for it is being the only machine in the observatory, and thus, better than Nescafe.

It does its job

Though Nescafe is offered in the kitchen, it was determined to bear no resemblance to coffee nor anything potable for that matter, and disqualified from this list.

The Tea Crowd

For complete historical accuracy, this report would be remiss if it didn’t mention that the team is not all on the coffee train. On any given night the tea kettle sees it’s fair share of action as well.

A dedicated tea enthusiast.

Fortunately for the tea fans, the observer kitchen boasts a wide selection of tea varieties. Notably, most of these are herbal Sebastian tested and ranked the options in the observers lounge.

Tea Ranking

  1. Premium ceylon – The one and only black tea, highly respected by the caffeine deprived
  2. green tea – truly supremo
  3. mint ceylon tea – “mint with some punch”
  4. minta tried and true classic
  5. chamomile – “drinkable, but not the best”
  6. plantain
  7. lemon verbena – tester couldn’t finish the cup, this won’t convince black tea fans on herbal teas
  8. Boldo – “not nice” but widely regarded for its health properties
Tea offerings in order
Our intrepid tea taster Sebastian braving a boldo tasting.

Yerba Mate

Distinctive and separate from the mostly herbal tea collection is the Yerba mate, enjoyed as a national drink. Unfortunately it is a “bring your own filter-straw” establishment.

Warren Reviews: “when forced to drink at a teabag-limited rate, the benefits to mood and caffeine are outweighed by the uniformly horrible taste”

Warren attempts to sample the loose leaf Yerba Mate with a home-made filter.

The Fizzy Alternatives:

One of the blessings of our observer kitchen is the bounty of the Chilean coke products. We each have our own fizzy weakness, and the long nights see many bottles line the tables and walls of our control rooms.

Golden Hour for the fizz
Proof that ll of these beverages are a Chilean special!

The people have spoken, and by a landslide Benidicto’s Bubble water has won as fan favorite fizz. Two honorable mentions go to coke zero for being the actual soda favorite by numbers and Fanta, for having one extremely devoted fan.

The crowd favorite, being appreciated by Joseph


Note, the milks aren’t a particularly popular option as thirst quenchers. Occasionally they will be used for cereal, or espresso dampeners, but most will remain untouched over the duration of our long runs. Boldly going where most astronomers are wise enough to not tread, we tested them all.

The milk lineup
  • Chocolate Milk – “That’s a good chocolate milk right there” It’s a sweet, chocolate forward milk that reminded us of grade school.
  • Skim Milk – “gross” and “looks weird coming out of the straw” it’s somewhat like American skim milk, but with a weird mouth feel, possibly from being shelf stable.
  • Whole Milk – has a “weird mouth feel” with and “off” finish. It’s somewhere between weird coffee creamer and buttery milk.
  • Vanilla – like “flan, if you didn’t jello your flan properly” a very sweet milk drink that gives off more “melted ice cream” energy than proper drink
  • Strawberry – “2/10 gogurts” and “The worst memories of elementary school” This flavoring may smell like strawberries, but its off, overly saccharine and artificial
Least FavoriteStrawberryStrawberrySkimSkimWhole milk
Final rankings from our stalwart testers

Observing snacks:

There are two classes of snacks here on the mountain (1) the provided Chilean fare, and (2) the bring along snacks from friends of the team. Here we summarize and give our reviews.

From friends of the observatory:

We are ever so fortunate to have friends to keep us in their thoughts. Particular shout out to Jhen Lumbres, a group alumni who got us so many snacks for the 22B run that it could have filled its own carry on. We had too many favorites to properly review, but of particular fun were the jelly bags.

Jhen Snacks! We ate through them too quickly to fully capture their bounty.
Alicia snacks, some brought all the way from Korea.
Specially brought Chilean snacks from our TO operator!

Snacks from the Observatory:

Ubiquitous McKay snacks are found all over the observatory campus. The majority of them are of the biscuit variety, mildly sweet and tasty with coffee. We are also provided with a salt-less cookie for cheese pairings, and flaky sweet wafers. Grill, the one salty snack, never makes it longer than a night.

The wide variety of snacks stocked in our kitchen cabinets, rotating stock

Jialin, while tasting through the array found as special for the mystery fruit wafers which some were too intimidated to try.

Jialin Recommends: The Mystery fruit wafers

Jared will recommend you the Triton Oreo knock-offs. They’re not quite the real thing, but up on the mountain will bring joy to consume. He will also be disappointment if we run out.

Jared Recommends: Triton knock off oreos.


Ah the cereals. These are an easy thing to pretend are a meal, and so become a large dietary component of an observer who forgets their sandwich form.

One of many cereal bowls filled during an observing run.
End of run cereal levels

By the end of the run simple visual inspection gave us the teams ranking of the cereal offerings (as no refills were observed during the observation period):

  1. Frosted-like flakes
  2. Chocolate covered chocolate swirls
  3. Mini-wheats
  4. unfrosted flakes

The Cheese

There is one kind of cheese offered on the mountain. This is the cheese you will get as part of your iso deliveries. This is the cheese in the dining hall. And this is the cheese you will find in every snack fridge. It is mild, almost like mozzarella, but holey like Swiss. It pairs wonderfully with crackers.

The cheese seen in its natural habitat.

Rumor has it that this cheese, having become so dear to a group of observers, inspired a cross-telescope heist. The observers, after running out of cheese themselves, ran across the parking lot to snag the unsuspecting loaf from across the way in the Baade kitchen’s fridge.

The cheese, the cheese biodome, and the cheese knife

It turns out that supplying a block of cheese requires a rather substantial knife to slice it. And when you don’t bring your own box cutters for MagAO-X unpacking, the cheese knife will be your next best option.

cheese knife by day, box cutter by night


This food blog could not have been accomplished without the team’s generous help, from picture posing to review requests and poll responses. We hope that this report will demystify the wealth of food options at our favorite observatory.

Blog Rules

Edited to add: I have been informed that as the first post of 2023A, this post needs to set blog rules and have a song of the day.

  1. There must be a post for each day of the run
    (vaguely defined as when the first team member reaches the mountain and until the last team member leaves)
  2. There must be at least one relevant image per post
  3. There must be a song of the day
  4. The song of the day must not repeat, defined as an artist and song paring
    (i.e. if we’ve already posted Queen’s LP version of “Under Pressure,” you cannot post a live version of Queen singing “Under Pressure,” as that’s the same artist performing the same song. You could post ANOTHER artist covering “Under Pressure” as that changes one part of the artist and song pairing)
    a) Edit: This excuses Glee Covers but not the laziness of not reading previous blog posts
  5. *2023A Special* Song citations – each song of the day must be cited by recounting any of the following:
    a) The person who recommended the song to you or
    b) The first time you saw the song performed live, when and where or
    c) The most memorable playing of the song in a major life event (wedding, graduation, memorable party, etc.)
    If there are no personal citations, research must be done into the cultural significance of the song and cite that instead.

Song of the Day

For today’s song I present the song request I made at my first concert, They Might Be Giants playing at the Festival of Tulips in Albany NY in 2006. As a seven year old, I was a huge fan of their children’s album Here Come the ABCs, introduced by my parents. I was also unaware that the band had other, more adult albums. I held up a little cardboard sign for the majority of the concert with an “E eats everything” request. (Unfortunately, they did not play it.) And thus was born my cynicism of concert song requests.

They Might Be Giants – “E Eats Everything”