Non-Chain Recommendations in Champaign-Urbana, IL
- Jason Dumo May 30, 2006 10:26 PM
Looking for indie good eats at the U of I...
Below is a list I keep on computer for e-mailing re: my favorite places in Champaign-Urbana and comments on ones I dont like as much. These are in no particular order. (Have lived in Champaign for 20 years.)
Timpones, Urbana (710 S. Goodwin Avenue, 344-7619) This is my favorite, favorite, upscale restaurant in C-U its on the UI campus next to Krannert. Pastas and other entrees made from scratch and very creative. You can actually go here and just get a pizza too but the other entrees are more expensive. Resos a must. The desserts are made from scratch and just to die for. (And you pay for it, I think $5 or $6 per dessert, but worth it in my book.) I go here for practically every special occasion and we like to go here for New Years eve every year. The owner is big into wine and has wine tasting dinners too. www.timpones-urbana.com
Sunsinger, Champaign (http://www.sunsingerwines.com) Wine bar café. I just love this place and I dont even drink. Terrific creative menu for lunch or dinner (menu is the same for both) and wines by the glass. Tables inside and outside. Terrific hors doeurves, great cheeses, wine shop is part of restaurant. I love to go here in the summer for lunch and sit outside.
Hickory River Smokehouse, Urbana (1706 N. Cunningham, 337-165) One of our eat-here-every-two-weeks (or more) places. This is a good bbque place. We actually like Lil Porgys sauce better (several locations around town) but the meats here are such good quality. Its a locally owned place and the restaurant is just kept immaculate. I cant ever seem to get anything here except brisket its so tender. My hubby gets ribs too sometimes. They have this heavenly cornbread it seems homemade, sweet and has corn kernels in it. Beers on tap, cobblers for dessert. Good stuff! http://www.hickoryriver.com (Speaking of Lil Porgys too these are such dive places one in Champaign, one in Urbana. Love the sauce but not real happy with their meat quality. They have a great bbque sauce as Ive mentioned above, mild to hot we like their roasted chicken the most. Very dive-ish -- theyre not into pretty-ing up their restaurants! I always take it home to eat . Meats are cooked on a grill that you can see when you order a massive brick grill. I am tentative to order their sandwiches because they dont watch what they slice I always seem to get way too much fat and once they sliced bone on multiple slices onto a pork sandwich.)
Courier Café, Urbana (111 North Race, 328-1811) I cant begin to tell you how many times I have eaten at Courier over the years it has to be 100s and 100s of times since weve lived here almost 20 years. Its good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner definitely a local institution. People will just cry if this place ever closes. The hand-dipped milkshakes are the best in town, I think, served in the metal cups they mix them in so you get every last drop. It wins for best salad bar often in the Best Of Champaign News-Gazette issue. Good burgers, wonderful homemade soups, and good entrees at night. Great coffees too if youre a coffee drinker. The atmosphere of Courier is so neat all wood floors, booths, old tin ceiling. Small place, no resos. This restaurant is owned by the same person who owns Silvercreek. http://www.couriersilvercreek.com
Silvercreek, Urbana (402 North Race, 328-3402) same web site as Courier. Another of our locally-owned non-chain favorites. It took several years for the owner to restore this old brick building (I think a lumber business?) and IMHO the inside is one of the prettiest in Champaign. Varied American menu recently they switched to printing menus frequently, every day I think. The homemade soups are very good and they bake their own bread on-site, a little basket of it is served with dinners. I used to find the dessert menu disappointing but recently they hired a new pastry chef so could improve. They have a brunch every Sunday very nicely presented and creative dishes.
Apple Dumpling, Urbana (2014 N. Highcross Road, 344-0076) This place cant be more family-style dining. Their specialty is fried chicken, noodles (beef or chicken), mashed potatos, apple dumplings w/ caramel sauce and ice cream everythings made from scratch. They have pan rolls like my Grandma used to make 3 or 4 tall, brown tops, w/ apple butter on the table. The dining rooms lighting is so bright its garish but the food is good. During the week, they have specials every night like one would make at home goulash, etc. Very inexpensive. Hubby and I probably eat here once every two weeks we have a handful of inexpensive places that we rotate on a two week basis! The one negative about this place the owners (a couple in their 60s) smoke and it seems most of their staff do too. The restaurant is one big room (plus the kitchen in a separate but open room) and part is non-smoking and part is smoking, no wall, nothing to separate them so the whole room is essentially smoking. We try to go at lunch when restaurant is less busy but smoking is almost always a problem. No web site.
Fiesta Café, Champaign (216 S. 1st, 352-5902) www.fiestacafe.com Another once-every-two-weeks place for us. There are so many Mexican restaurants in town, Im sure everyone has a different favorite. This place is locally owned, very dive-ish. We just like the simple food and that you can order a la carte instead of getting those huge platters. I like their enchiladas with mole sauce here. If youve ever been in Mexico, this place feels like its in Mexico i.e. seems run down, charming Mexico-type bright paint, good food. I like their salsa here too seems more homemade than others. Dos Reales is our 2nd favorite place for Mexican (1407 N. Prospect Avenue, 351-6879). Good homemade-type salsa there and love the queso cheese dip. They are popular and just added another restaurant in Urbana recently. Our third favorite Mexican is the chain Chevys by the mall. I love their roasted-tomato salsa and their fajitas. They make their tortillas from scratch there too love em.
Milos, Urbana ( 156-D Lincoln Square, 344-8946) Another of my favorite local non-chain restaurants. Everything made from scratch here too. One of my favorite dishes is their homemade mushroom ravioli. This winter I had a stew over mashed potatos, both homemade. They have menus for each season. Its a small restaurant resos required if you want to get in. This place has been open quite awhile so an established restaurant. A review in the paper described the cuisine as eclectic American. Neat story behind the owner/chef: http://www.illinimedia.com/di/feature... No web site for the restaurant yet unfortunately.
Bacaro, Champaign (113 North Walnut, downtown, 398-6982) If youre up for an expensive dining experience, I really like this place. (www.barcaro.thadmorrow.com Although he is not keeping this web site up-to-date, not sure why?!) Resos a must. Very gourmet. I wish I could afford Bacaro more often. See menu at web site you will see what I mean by very gourmet. A small restaurant that probably only has 20 tables decorated in a very modern style. Thad was recently featured in a national magazine, the name of which is escaping me just now. Also has a neat little gourmet grocery called Persimmon next door.
A review about Bacaro from lthforum.com recently:
I love this restaurant. On Sunday nights the wines are half price and so I've tried plenty! The staff make excellent wine pairings suggestions and they have the best deserts in town (without doubt). On my last Sunday visit - thanks to the cheap wine - I splashed out and tried the truffle risotto. The experience was exquisite. Before I was served, my meal I was brought out the truffles to smell, touch and admire before they were shaved onto my meal by the chef. They are amazingly aromatic and a gustatory treat. It was a wonderful evening, as always at bacaro. Note also that it is open until 11pm - making it one of the few places in Champaign where you can get a good dinner after 10pm - you can eat at a table (more romantic?) or at the bar (lots of fun with friends!).
Kennedys, Urbana (2560 S. Stone Creek Bvd., 384-8111) One of C-Us more upscale places. The restaurant itself is very Frank Lloyd-ish in appearance. Surrounded by the Stone Creek golf course. Lunch and Sunday lunch are actually quite reasonable compared to dinner prices (and dinner prices are not terrible). They have an expensive buffet on Sundays for the major holidays like Mothers Day, Easter, etc. www.kennedysatstonecreek.com Grilled steaks, seafood, etc. I love the atmosphere but I wish they would change their menu more often. Service also is often not the greatest.
The Ribeye, Champaign (1701 S. Neil, 351-9115) This is just your basic good-ole-boy grilled steak place very popular local eatery. You can decide on your entrée in just about a minute because they only have I think 7 entrees and the only steak is, of course, ribeye. I love their salad bar employees attend to it constantly. We laugh that we do go there because we speculate that the owner has put maybe two nickels back into the place since it opened (like in 1955 maybe?!) but its just an institution around here. They have a very simple menu that they do well and efficiently. I get fried shrimp quite often and they are good quality large shrimp. I also love their twice-baked taters here. The steaks are served on the sizzling hot black cast-iron plates I dont like ribeyes but hubby says they are good. It takes reservations on one night of the weekend but not the other (Fri/Sat) cant remember which night is which. Never go here on a UI game day crowds out the door and a closet of a waiting room. No web site.
Pickles, Champaign, IL (505 South Neil, 356-1930) It almost looks like a chain but it is local-owned and run very nicely, kind of a local jewel. Good sandwiches and entrees. Good place for a basic inexpensive dinner soda, burger, fries, etc. I like their chicken strips have been getting them for years, excellent quality. Fries are always prepared fresh. Bar in middle but not a rowdy place in the slightest definitely family-type place. Weve been going here for years and years. No web site. (Just went completely non-smoking recently.)
Great Impasta: Great Impasta was on my list of favorite, favorite places under a previous owner, then it was off my list for awhile because of smoking, service, and menu problems IMHO under a new owner. We gave it another chance recently its gone non-smoking, the menu has changed, and service seemed better so its back on our list again. Pasta is made from scratch and the homemade clam chowder is wonderful. Really neat visual restaurant one big open room with wood floors, high ceilings, and original art on the walls.
Guidos, 2 East Main, Champaign, 359-3148. If you want to go someplace thats cool to hang out, youve will see Guidos driving through downtown Champaign. Its neat to sit outside their restaurant in the summer. Food is honestly just so-so but there arent too many places in town with the kind of outside set-up they have. If you want to go somewhere for beers/drinks/snacks, its a fun place.
Also a funky fun place to go is the Cowboy Monkey. Outdoor dining bands at night. Its smack downtown and has this wonderful patio area with tables with umbrellas. (www.cowboy-monkey.com) Its a little menu but so creative. I like the shrimp tacos.
Crane Alley, Urbana, www.cranealley.com I want to like this place but service seems to struggle and menu does not change enough for me. Although, it is a very creative menu. Dining in the alley next to the restaurant in the summer is neat. Last time I was there they also had homemade ice cream that could be ordered individually in different flavors. Billiards also available inside. If you eat inside, restaurant is at back of building, past billiards.
Jim Goulds, Corner of Main and Neil, downtown Champaign, 531-1177. Upscale eatery. Ive been here twice I wish I liked it better. It is a gorgeous restaurant terrific location. Inside and outside seating. Both times I went, the bread basket was disappointing, once it was as if it was stale. Awfully disappointing for the price paid. Another time, I ordered the pan roasted beef tips and the beef was chewy. Again, disappointing for the price. Hope they improve Im sure Ill try it again.
Original Pancake House, 1909 West Springfield Avenue, Champaign, 352-8866. Just a great place for coffee and a decent breakfast extremely popular with locals. Good griddle pancakes. Always extremely crowded weekend mornings.
Texas Roadhouse, Champaign (by Schnucks off Mattis Avenue). We are not big into chains (and rarely go to any of the ones on Prospect) but this one is just a good one. Their salads are good, they make homemade rolls w/ cinnamon butter I would go to TX roadhouse for just the rolls. Their prices are so reasonable good grilled pork chops. Just a good chain. We also really like their grilled burgers. http://www.texasroadhouse.com (Outback Steakhouse on Prospect is also a decent similar chain. It is very similar to Texas Roadhouse but prices are steeper, still quite good for a chain. http://www.outbacksteakhouse.com)
People tell us that the El Toro Mexican places in C-U are good 3 locations now. We just have not gotten around to trying them.
There are related family Italian places that are quite popular in Champaign hubby and I dont understand why they are popular but you can see that they are on weekend evenings. Manzellas Italian Patio and Doms, both in same block in Champaign. We think Manzellas is a smoke pit (cigarettes) and have not been impressed with the food the two times we tried it. Doms is in a building with no windows that may be a weird thing to get hung up on but we just dont like it. We gave it another try recently with a group of friends who wanted to go and were shocked at how old and run-down it seems. Cant understand the attraction.
Minnecis is also in same area (maybe same family?). Atmosphere, lighting, and music are hokey, and seats are too close together so we dont go here often but food is pretty good. We like their pizza best homemade crust, good sauce. A group from work goes for lunch sometimes I like their tortellini with marinara sauce.
There is a really neat restaurant in downtown Champaign called Radio Maria. (http://www.shout.net/~radiom/dinner1....) I want so badly to like this place the restaurant in appearance is so neat. Its the old Browns Paint store wood floors, big windows. I think the menu influence is Cuban and it is just really, really unique food. You would not want to take a picky eater here because it is really unique stuff. It is always busy. Ive gone twice and just havent picked well off the menu I imagine. We keep saying we should try it again. Definitely need resos here on Fridays/Saturdays. The neat thing here is you can wait at the coffee shop just down the street for your table. Ive heard they also have tapas.
If you like the hokey teppan table thing, - Miko and Kamakura are both good. Ive tried Kamakura many times and like it. Kamakura tends to be expensive least expensive Teppan entrée is $15 chicken. I like to get shrimp. Its hokey (re: cooking show) but I like the preparation / grill taste.
Basmati is an Indian place near campus. Being a typical Midwesterner, I just do not know Indian food. I might love it if Id try it but I need someone to go with me and instruct me!! It seems to be a popular place.
Fun little extras:
Culvers on Prospect, yummy custard ice cream, good butter burgers.
Jarlings Custard Cup - 309 West Kirby Avenue, Champaign, 352-2273, speaking of ice cream, huge local favorite in C-U. Smooth custard ice cream in four or five flavors.
Curtis Orchard on Duncan Road apple orchard, etc. Neat store sells homemade apple donuts in the mornings, maybe just on the weekends. Great homemade apple cider. Fresh apples from the orchard.
Pizza: Two favorite local pizza places are Monicals and Papa Dels. Ive had Monicals so much since I was a kid Im pretty much sick of it! The Monicals in Tolono is the best one theres a new Monicals restaurant on Mattis and one on Kirby, both are okay but the Tolono one is the best. Crunchy thin crust pizza. Papa Dels is on campus. Its been around since I was in high school one of our teachers would pay people to bring him back frozen pizzas so he could bake them. There is a good thing and a bad thing about Papa Dels. To me, their pizza is unquestionably the best in town. Unfortunately, the guy who owns it will not keep his restaurant up. Hubby and I swore off it for about a year recently because we were so disgusted. Its like he wont put out a dime to clean it or keep it painted, etc. He just barely does what he has to. Eventually we could not resist and returned we just hope we live when we eat it! It is truly good pizza. I wish the owner would wake up. I guess dives are just that dives.
Jupiters, downtown Champaign. Is also supposed to have great pizza but the one time we tried to go the excessive cigarette smoke sent us right back out the door. A review from lthforum.com: After the bars, we grabbed a pizza to go at Jupiter. A trendy bar atmosphere belies the the high quality of their pizza. A very good cracker crust and quality toppings. Ours had spinach, basil, sun-dried tomatoes and large chunks of extremely tasty sausage. http://www.jupiterspizza.com
The Cake Artists Studio, Champaign, http://www.thecakeartistsstudio.com Great place to stop for individual servings of wonderful pastries! The display case is a visual feast. Also has cookies and other smaller treats in a side case.
Reubens Chocolates, Champaign, local exquisite chocolate place. The display case is also a visual feast here. http://www.rubens-chocolatier.com
Pekara Bakery & Bistro, downtown Champaign, 116 N. Neil, Champaign 217-359-4500, Pekara means bakery in Serbo-Croatian. Article about Pekara: http://www.thehubweekly.com/community... Breads, pastries, baklava, scones, crepes, coffee, soup. Really neat place.
Hedgerow Bistro, Urbana, new restaurant. Review from lthforum.com: (I have not been yet.) Had dinner tonight at a new restaurant in Urbana, Hedgerow Bistro. As the name suggests, it serves bistro-type food. The dishes I had -- an appetizer of seared bay scallops and an entree of salmon -- were simple, but very good. The menu is very short, but the entrees will change weekly. It's pricey, with entrees averaging around $20, but if the meal I had was typical, I'd rank it as the best fine dining restaurant in C-U.
Hedgerow Bistro is located on the SE corner of University and Lincoln Aves., and is tucked in the back room of a flower and gift shop called English Hedgerow, which is the only name on the building. It's only open Tue. through Sat. between 5:30 and 8:30. Since the room is pretty small, it's probably a good idea to make a reservation on weekends, to be on the safe side. The telephone number is 365-0055.
KoFusion new downtown Champaign restaurant. Inside and outside dining. I have not been yet another review from lthforum.com: Also has outdoor seating. Inside at KoFusion the decor is worth the trip, modern, great lighting, very cool. The menu is eclectic, lots of sushi, a sake and martini list, steak, fish, vegetarian. We were snacking, and ordered a salad, a meatball appetizer and a volcano roll. The salad was artfully plated, half a kalamata olive on a grape tomato in each corner of a square plate, romaine set on end in the center, a nice sprinkle of feta and a good vinaigrette. Not a particularly generous portion, but not bad. The meatball app was OK. The volcano roll was tasty, baked shrimp on top of a California roll. Price for each dish was around $7. Service was very good. I'd like to return and check out more of the menu. One thing I really liked is the variety of price levels available. You could easily roll up $100 a couple, or get by with sushi and sake for $15 a person.
Sea Boat, Champaign. 1114 N. Market, 351-6209. We finally tried this after years of living in Champaign the neighborhood can be a little scary but go during the day and its fine. Fried fish sandwiches, shrimp, chicken (I think everything is fried here). They really like to use pepper peppery homemade mac and cheese. If you like it kinda spicy, good place to go. Take out only.
Art Mart , 127 Lincoln Square Mall, Urbana, IL 344-7979, I have not been here for awhile. From lthforum.com: Not actually restaurant, this shop sells pastries, French baguettes (you can also buy partially baked, frozen baguettes, put them in the oven at 350 F for 8 minutes and you've got a hot, crispy baguette!), imported cheeses, meats, olives, jelly, chocolates...imported everything! There is a new store with imported foods, the Great Harvest Bread Co., on University Ave. in Urbana, too.
A place I have not been but have heard is a favorite of others:
Bread Company, 706 Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL 383-1007
A classic favorite of Foreign Language Building people, and not only because it's a half a block away. The owner of this restaurant comes from Switzerland and the food is delish. Sandwiches, salads, and soups for lunch, pizzas, pastas, and hot sandwiches for dinner. They also have FONDUE (cheese and chocolate) and a RACLETTE!!!
Heres a UI list of local restaurants with brief descriptions:
Other good restaurants in the area around Champaign-Urbana:
Possum Trot, Oakwood (2918 Batestown Road, 217/442-6066) In the country by Oakwood, very rural area, only about ½ hour from Champaign. Its called a supper club. The huge brick grill is inside great grilled steaks, pork chops, salmon. Theres a piano player on Fri/Sat nights. If you sit in the right area of the restaurant you can watch them grill. Its wild to watch them use the pulley to pull the grill rack up high with the food still on it and add more charcoal/wood. A younger couple just bought the restaurant last year and we think theyve improved it. Reservations are a very good idea on weekends. No web site.
Sadorus Pub, Sadorus, IL, (109 E. Market Street, 598-2919) Closer to Monticello. Does have a bar on one side but the other side is a restaurant. Good homemade food - unfortunately it does tend to be smokey because of the bar, which we do not like, but the food is very down-home type. Steaks, burgers, fried chicken, homemade desserts, etc. Sometimes they have special things like blue gill (which my Dad used to catch and fry for us). We joked with the waitress about who their blue gill "source" was she wouldnt tell us. Very dive-ish. No web site.
Not a fan of:
Zelmas on Windsor
Tang Dynasty in Urbana Mall
Rainbow Garden on Neil
Thank you so much for posting your comprehensive list of Champaign-Urbana eateries. It literally made me cry. I went to graduate school at UIUC (Library and Information Science) and used to organize a "Dinner with Dave" night every week exploring many of the eateries you mention.
Silvercreek was where I first learned the joys of Creme Brulee (uhh, this was a long time ago, when it first opened [dating myself]). And sitting in the greenhouse on a summer night, drinking wine and arguing about what to sample off of the menu is one of my fondest chow-memories.
I have, literally, an empty spot in my soul that can only be filled, apparently, by a Cold Fudge Sunday from the Custard Cup. I dream about this, it comes up unexpectedly, in unrelated conversations...in the dark of the night I've considered driving from Minneapolis to Champaign (8 hours) to fulfill that need.
I have yet to have a pizza that has tasted half as good as one I had over 15 years ago, perched above Boneyard Creek in Pappa Del's. Somehow, it managed to have a crisp crust on Chicago style pie...impossible, you say, unlikely? It's true...worth the trip alone.
We always said that the Fiesta Cafe must have put crack in their salsa...as a poor graduate student I would go in, order the appetizer portion of tamales and eat the free salsa and chips all night. I was not a money making proposition...but it was so good it was hard to resist.
It's also good to hear the Courier is still up and running. For the generations of students that it has fed..it would be a tragedy of national proportions should it ever shut its doors.
One place that you did not mention, but is on the can't be missed list is Jumer's Castle Lodge...a sort of strange throwback to a 1950's idea of what a meal at a Bavarian hunting lodge might be like. I couldn't tell you what the food is like, but the strange carvings in the hotel bar (think Bosch in dark walnut) are worth whatever crappy imitation of German food they might slop on your plate...
Okay, I must confess, I, too am an Illini alum (BA and MBA 96) and wanted to see if the any new places have opened and if my favorites are still in business.
Chuck, your recommendations are spot-on!
I still crave Papa Del's pizza and its cheesy garlic bread. My favorite C-U restaurant is Courier Cafe for breakfast or a late night snack. Dig the brownie bones. The Apple Dumpling always delivered and the Rib Eye was an after football game standard back in the day. This fall, planning on making the journey back to C-U with my children to go apple/pumpkin picking, get some of those apple cider donuts and get my Papa Del's and Courier Cafe fixes.
Thank you again for your exhaustive listings!
for those of you who keep getting frustrated because English Hedgerow Bistro is not open for dinner anymore (only private dinners) - but their lunch is just as delicious! Prices range from $6-9 (as much as arby's or culvers). they have counter service now which allows us working people to get lunch quickly and eat there or go! The new hours are 11-3, Mon-Fri. When you stop by - try the soup, every time i've had it, its been absolutely delicious.
This may be the most comprehensive post I have ever seen. I am heading to CU for three nights next week and am wondering how current this list still is. I recognize a few of these from other posts. I will have a very adventurous 15 year old with me. He likes almost everything. Thanks.
I think Silvercreek is not worth trying anymore, too much turnover, unpredictability...there are better choices with better service.
Pickles is gone, Persimmon grocery (part of Bacaro) is gone, and Bacaro has slipped some. Ribeye is still there but I think is forgettable...time -worn Illini atmosphere and some questionable service/food of late. Sea Boat has moved to Kirby, not far from the stadium, still excellent. There's a new Mexican place just east of the railroad viaduct on Springfield, just east of Neil, Mas Amigos. I think the best Mexican in town. There is fabulous new bbq (with in-house smoker and hardwood scraps) called Black Dog, it's on Broadway in Urbana. Definitely try to get there, great 'cue, great sides, fresh squeezed lemonade, pleasant atmosphere.
Bread Co. on campus is still excellent, though can be a little slow. Great Impasta has moved to Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana (ok place but there are better), it's in the old Milo's location. Milo's moved to an office/retail development off Windsor in SE Urbana. Ask someone where the Urbana Meijer grocery store is, and it's nearby, not far from a Monical's pizza.
There are two other new places: Carmon's, a reincarnation of a smoky breakfast place, is a lovely little French bistro with crepes galore, other they are lighter buckwheat crepes. A little north of that on Columbia is Escobar's, management shared with the Milo's folks, it's vaguely Latin fusion and very good. There are new places in Campustown (there are 3 downtowns here, Champaign, Urbana, and UI)...in the UI donwtown is FlatTop Grill, a do it yourself stir-fry type place...not bad, I like the Sat/ Sun breakfast best. There is also a revamped Clybourn with a nice cafe on the lower level, that's on 6th south of Green. Lots of ethnic places come and go in the UI Campustown...Bombay Grill is a good one near 4th and Green, it also has a swankier location on 1st St. There are several more newer ethnic eateries...Vietnamese in the Schnucks plza in Urbana and Savoy(Saigon), Yellowfin has expanded near the Hilton off Kirby, also upscale Korean on Neil across from Atlanta Bread, forgot the name.
Whew....I am sure there's more, but those are the highlights.! Bon appetit...you'll find the eating good!
Just a heads up on Bacaro. I lived in Champaign-Urbana during grad school and recently returned for 2 weeks. Was looking for clean, good food with an excellent upscale atmosphere. Money not a huge concern. Chose Bacaro over Cafe Luna and Radio Maria as I thought it seemed a bit more upscale.
Atmosphere: good: great vibe
Service: we sat at the bar, our bartender was adequate. Moderately knowledgeable (didn't know what was in a Sazerac, but eeked out an Old Fashioned with real Luxardo cherries with some help, though she added seltzer, my pet peeve!)
Food: where it fell down, big time. I'm vegetarian, I don't expect people to cater to me, but in a medium range gourmet restaurant (the prices and vibe seem to reflect that goal) I do expect more than a single vegetarian dish consisting of the standard pasta with a boring sauce. That's all they have. I asked the bartender for other suggestions, she said they could leave the meat out of any of the other pastas. Which basically leaves... pasta with a boring sauce based on the menu descriptions. I told the bartender the single veg item seemed really unappealing, so I asked if I could throw myself on the mercy of the chef (assumed it was a chef) and let him make me whatever he wanted and I'd deal with the consequences, as long as it didn't have meat. My dining partner ordered grouper I believe. In my experience, good restaurants can handle that, and the meal that comes out is often superb, even if not to my liking (hey, if it comes out covered in peppercorns and I hate peppercorns, that's my fault for ordering off menu).
Want to know what came out? the boring single vegetarian pasta dish on the menu. And guess what? It was boring and bland. Want to know the worst of it? My dining partner tried my dish and pronounced it better than his but boring and bland...
So very disappointing.
Service:3 1/2 stars
Ambience: 4 stars
Food: 1 star (for the price, would be 3 if I'd been served the same dish at a more moderately priced family style restaurant)
Wine list (I'm a cocktail gal, but my dining part is an oenophile and pronounced the wine list surprisingly good.
Maybe I had a bad experience, but 0 for 2 on dishes is so very disappointing. And please note, while our bill was $100+, both of us would have been very happy paying that IF it had been the experience we hoped for based on menu and atmosphere. It was the size of the bill we were expecting, but the food was not what we were expecting.
113 North Walnut, Champaign, IL 61820
Sorry to hear about your experience. We don't frequent Bacaro--I think it is just too pricey for C-U and have found dinner service to be a bit pretentious (they used to do lunch--that was wonderful and service was always superb). I am surprised about your veg experience. I used to be a veg and the few times I had dinner there, I put myself in the chef's hands. Always had something off-menu, very good.
Thad has opened a second place, Carmon's Bistro, which we've been at once. My roast chicken was absolutely fantastic. Overall a very good meal, though I don't remember what else we had. It's still a bit pricey to be a regular stop for us, but it is cheaper than Bacaro.
Thanks so much for the heads up. Going back in january and will try the bistro as well as cafe luna. I'll be alone this time: opinions on solo bar dining for the two? (Or radio maria?)
Glad to hear I'm not the only veg head who orders off menu, not sure if back of the house likes it (chance to go nuts and be creative) vs. hate it (busy dinner service and you're asking me to come up with a new dish??)....
FWIW, I've never complained abput an off the menu dish, I know I'm taking a chance!
I haven't solo dined at any of these spots, but I have solo dined a LOT in other towns. Opinions based on that:
Carmon's looks like a very comfortable place for solo bar dining. It's a small space, the bar looks welcoming and comfortable. It's a nice restaurant without a stuffy feeling. The bartender, if not too busy, would likely be a friendly chatter with a solo diner looking for that.
Radio Maria: There are always folks at the bar, sometimes in groups, sometimes couples, occasionally solos. You[ll get good service at the bar; the bartenders are quite accustomed to folks eating there, ordering in stages (for tapas), etc. A note on RM--Tuesdays is half price wine by the glass. (Monday is 25% off bottles of wine)
Bacaro: I'm not sure; I haven't been there enough to really have an opinion on this.
Glad to hear some good stuff about the new-again Carmon's. I moved to St. Louis about 2.5 years ago and get back to CU at random times. I have had pretty good meals at Destihl, which of course is nothing like bacaro, nor is it trying to be. I found it a good example of gastropub fare with good in-house brews. Seems like these days, in the middle of the cornfields, no less, that some of the best food in CU is at ethnic places (Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese). No surprise to me that Jim Gould folded, the only thing I thought they had going for them is location and the Sunday brunch, as I still don't think there was a better one in town. That's saying as much about brunch in CU as anything else.
I agree on Jim Gould's. I was surprised they stayed open as long as they did.
There are a couple of new Mexican restaurants to try, both of which I'm hearing wonderful things about, neither of which I recall the name for. One is on 1st and Green (where ye old donut shoppe used to be, many years ago), and one is on Philo, where Sweet Betsy's used to be.
I'm not a huge fan of Destihl. I've been there regularly because I work in BloNo and it's a workplace happy hour spot. There food always seems a bit much to me...to much cheese or dressing or sauce or too many ingredients. Good ideas without great execution in my mind. And I think the beer there is pretty poor.
Carmon's does brunch now. We haven't been yet. I'll try to go at some point in January and report back. Luna does a nice brunch, but I have some issues with them in terms of accessibility and won't be returning.
Guess we have had different experiences at Destihl. I didn't find it revelatory, but overall quite good - but to each his/her own. I have read excellent things about the Mexican at Ye Olde "fill in the blank". Issues with accessibility? What does that mean? Too bad the original location of Luna was leveled by a backhoe, had the best food and experiences there. Black Dog is my go-to place now when in the area.
Black Dog is a very, very, very good place to have as your go-to place. Thursday night is smoked duck night. You should try for it some time if you haven't yet.
Luna--its accessible entrance is very, very inconvenient, even though they could have accessible entrances in the front, where everyone else comes in. They also managed to put a family member with a mobility disability (but not a wheelchair) at the absolute furthest table they had from the entry and seemed unconcerned when these issues were pointed out to them. I'll go back and give another try if they fix the accessible entrance problem.
I see, thanks for the Luna clarification. Sorry to hear this. Have not tried the duck, usually I can only get to town on weekends, but will consider it. I think their pork belly sandwich and burnt ends are food of the gods. Been there dozens of times, only once did I get a smart alecky server behind the bar. The place could reopen in Jim Gould's space and probably have a line as well, it's that good.
Aging myself here, but Garcia's pizza used to have a branch at Purdue. Around the same time pel-freez also tried out a fast food rabbit establishment.
I recently mentioned Garcia's to semi-recent UI alums and they looked at me like I was crazy for liking them. Does anyone know the current status and wether or not they are still good?
I love the Basmati Indian Restaurant. I eat there whenever I'm in town (once every couple of years).
Their buffet is great - the quality of the food is much higher than anything in my home town. I've never ordered off the menu, but I'll bet that's even better.
I would highly recommend a visit to Basmati if you like Indian food.
Basmati is closed, and IMO was not very good recently. The lunch buffet had marginal items and things were not very fresh,. Bombay Indian Grill (also on Green street ) has taken it over, and the food and service is much better. No weekday lunch buffet that I know of, but there is a weekend lunch buffet for $11.99 that I liked.
Timpone's - Probably the best meal I've had in the C-U area. Excellent all-around. Try the foie gras paired with french toast, I was very impressed.
Farren's - Pretty good, very small menu but good choices. Portions are small and felt somewhat overpriced for the pub setting.
Lai-Lai Wok - Good all-around, I have been here many times.
Rainbow Garden - Try their Mongolian Beef, it's fantastic. Not too sure on their other dishes.
Woori Jib - Excellent BBQ meats (not traditional Korean DIY BBQ, they just give it to you on a plate). High quality ingredients and good all-around. I usually go here at least once a week.
Apple Dumplin - All around good food and service. Don't expect a gourmet meal by any means, but they do a great job serving homestyle country cooking. They have a fixed menu with only 2-3 items every day.
Bread Company - Good sandwiches for lunch, fondue for dinner.
Pasha - I really enjoyed my meal because I was craving this type of food, but nothing special. Meats are tough.
Courier Cafe - Sandwiches are good but nothing amazing. Would still recommend for great value.
Slivercreek - Very nice interior, food was nothing great compared to the high prices. Didn't like the service.
Fiesta Cafe - Nothing too great. I had heard good things about it and was pretty disappointed.
Guido's - Food is mediocre but pretty good value with their specials. Their outdoor seating is nice.
Kamakura - Terrible Sushi
KoFusion - Garish interior, terrible sushi, high prices
(Honestly you can't really expect good sushi from Champaign, shipping the fish simply takes too long.)
I'm in a hurry so I kept the descriptions short, let me know if you would like me to elaborate on anything or recommend specific menu items.
Great list - As some have noted, the list is a little dated. Some other places of note:
Thara Thai @ 912 1/2 W Bloomington Rd, Champaign.
When I was still working in Champaign, nary a week went by without a stop for my egg roll and Panang Curry fix.
Yellow Fin : 305w Cedar St CHAMPAIGN
I've hit this a couple of times and had some good meals. Sushi, as everyone suggests isn't really the best option for corn country, but they do alright.
El Toro 1,2, 3.... x
El Toro has exploded into Champaign and now even surrounding communities. Great service, good food and super fast. A good lunch option for those close to one.
Pickles is no more. It was replaced by a Greek restaurant, and now a Chinese restaurant called Golden Harbor is moving in, and the rumor is that the owners operate The Wok in Mahomet. The Wok is known as possibly the best Chinese restaurant downstate. Dom's is closed, and it is missed. One of the last old fashioned family owned Italian restaurants in C-U. It could be hit and miss, but they had excellent fried chicken and chicken livers, manicotti, and cannelloni. The canolis were made in house and were the best I ever had. Because of the large foreign population, C-U is getting some authentic cuisine restaurants. Lai Lai Wok is jammed at mealtimes with oriental students, as is Cravings on campus. A new Mexican restaurant, Mas Amigos recently opened near campus, with freshly fried chips, homemade mole, and excellent chile rellenos. I love Zelma's Pizza. It's owned by Ralph Monical's family, os the Monical's chain. The pizza they bake is the original, and much better, Monical's. The same pizza can be had at Old Orchard Lanes in Savoy. Thin, crispy crust, and good toppings (although the mushrooms are canned), it's the best thin crust pizza in town. You can't get hung up on smoking anymore (which you mentioned seven times), IL is no smoking in restaurants and bars now.
I am in Urbana now and got a great tip from a local gourmand that took me to Black Dog Smoke and Ale House on Broadway. Casual place with a long wooden bar and a bustling open kitchen.
The service is charming... friendly and indulgent. My server was very helpful in guiding me through menu highlights. They were out of brisket ends (apparently the best the thing on the menu, and often sold old), so I ended up with ribs as a starter and chicken as a main.
The ribs were outstanding... dry-rubbed, cooked achingly slowly, with the end result meaty and juicy without being fatty. I almost cried.
The chicken was ok.. a little dry for my liking, but the sides were good. Order the twice-baked potato casserole... cheesy and delicious.
Added bonus: great micro brews and a very nice whiskey/bourbon list.
I had dinner at 4:30 (yes, really) and by 5:00 there were no free tables. No reservations... so I would aim for early or late dining here. Open for lunch.
1600 Avenue A, Springfield, MI 49037
Black Dog is one of my faves. I moved to St. Louis area over a year ago, but when in CU take a cooler and get meat and sauces to go. It's that good. Bread Co. has been good/service can be spotty and understaffed. I find it much better at dinnertime, it really is quite a different animal.
Oh... forgot to mention that I ate at the Bread Cafe yesterday, too. Everybody says it is wonderful.., I was pretty seriously underwhelmed. I had a tasteless bowl of soup full of soggy noodles, and a ham sandwich. The indifference with which the sandwich was made was palpable. Ice-cold lettuce and tomato slapped onto a very tough baguette (I had to take it apart to be able to chew it).
My advice: skip it.
Someone mentioned Escobar's in Champaign...I think it's the best place in Champaign to eat. The atmosphere is not stuffy, and the food is prepared brilliantly. Take a look at the dinner menu at escobarsrestaurant.com/Menus/dinner.pdf. No entrees over $23! The original poster mentioned that they didn't like Zelma's pizza, but it if you're a thin crust fan, this is the pizza for you. It's owned by the Monical family who originated the Monical's chain. This is Monical's pizza as it was originally made, and it's great. For Chinese food, you can't get more authentic than Lai Lai Wok on campus...so authentic that they don't have egg rolls or moo shu anything. At lunch it's packed with foreign students. Especially good is the Taiwan noodle soup, flavorful broth over a bowl of noodles with ground pork, baby bok choy, cilantro, and a whole salted boiled egg.
Lai Lai Restaurant
402 E Green St, Champaign, IL 61820
RR 16, Shelbyville, IL 62565
Lots of new restaurants in the last year. Sadly the absolute best of those new places (IMO, of course), Carmon's, closed a week ago. I'm hoping the chef (Josh?) has some success in doing pop up dinners in the near future.
Have only been to Dublin on Neil once but will give it another shot soon now that Carmon's has closed. The menu seems a bit more fall/winter to me with lots of heavy dishes. I have been to 301 twice and, well, eh, and Destihl doesn't impress me any more here than it does in Normal.
We had one great meal at Big Grove, but otherwise have been a bit "eh" on food and have had two really bad service experiences sitting at the bar. We still have hopes for it though. I do wish it were a smaller place. It just doesn't feel comfortable to me; not a big fan of such big spaces, though it is a much more pleasant space than Jim Gould was.
Oh, and a few weeks ago I finally went to a Market Monday dinner at Bacaro. Both food and service were fantastic.
Thanks for the update. I recently breezed through town on the way to St. Louis from Chicago and had limited time, so nostalgia won out and I went to Alexanders. They still do what they do pretty well, I must say. Never made it to the latest incarnation of Carmon's, and sad about that. I used to go to the previous version. I have not been overwhelmed by Destihl, but felt it decent. Have you been to the Mongolian place in M2? I was curious about Big Grove. I honestly was surprised Gould's stayed opena s long as it did, with that expensive build-out, huge staff and space. I did think they did one of the better brunches in town. Sounds like a trip to Black Dog is in order. That is BBQ nirvana.
ddfry3, I'm disappointed for you that you did not make it to Carmon's Bistro. And I see that I never reported back on brunch, as I said I would do way up top. Since about April, we had been going to Sunday brunch every other week or so, and hitting the place for dinner once every few weeks, wine and cheese on the occasional Tuesday half price wine by the glass, and occasional cocktail night. And the last few weeks they were open, we were there, um, at an embarrassing frequency? It was a fantastic place: brunch was delicious without being overly heavy as so many places are, dinner---oh the butcher's plate, the roasted chicken (that they haven't had for a while), the mac and cheese, the ridiculous pork loin, the great salads, those fries...Service was always great. Josh makes fantastic sausages. Jenna created wonderful cocktails. Really, we're still feeling a bit lost. Fortunately, Thad (of Bacaro) gave the staff several weeks notice. Everyone kitchen and FOH found a job. And again, we WILL be keeping our eyes on Josh and eating his food where we can in town.
301 is the mongolian place in M2. And...eh. I've just done rice noodles, sauce, and veggies at lunch, once with a cocktail. Just, eh...Seems a bit pretentious for what it is (something I rather hate about downtown Champaign these days and one of the reasons we loved the atmosphere of Carmon's).
Another possibility for you when you're in town: Check out Buvon's, the wine bar in Corkscrew. They have a wee little menu in house, but a couple of times a month they run a pop up with Shades from Black Dog. We were there for hot dog pop up, taco pop up, and I think one other pop up I can't recall. All great. Oh, and if you are there, perhaps for wine and/or music, you can also order a Mirabel's pizza for delivery Thursday-Saturday.
Black Dog has recently put duck back on the Thursday specials rotation, which makes me quite happy.
Now I want a place in town that does a nice rabbit dish or two.
Thanks for the info. Did you ever go back to Luna? I keep up on resto goings-on there as I can. No surprise that Kennedy's closed, I don't think I had a good meal there since it was at Sunnycrest. Any new Campustown places? I admit I'll always have a soft spot for a bacon mega at Murphy's, and loved getting most anything the Derald's truck had to offer. How's Silvercreek these days? That place is a trooper... I think it opened when I got to town for my undergrad, and that was 1990! Another spot I misssos Mi Pueblo, which was a two level place in the back of Johnstowne Center. I think it closed around 1992 or so.
Looks like we got to town the same year. I just got stuck here. :)
We don't get to campustown much. Zorbas has reopened and is getting happy nods from a lot of folks. There is a tiny place on green and locust (I think locust) that many folks think has the best tacos in town. White Horse is reopening in a new location with a focus on sausage. But they aren't house made sausages. That's all that comes to mind for campustown. Lots of chains have opened.
We haven't made it back to Luna's. One of the Carmon's servers is now going to manage there. Maybe we'll use that as impetus to give it another shot.
We haven't been to Silvercreek for ages. When we lived in Urbana, we went every so often, but we just don't head that way often. I admit to giving high priority to restaurants we can walk to.
Updates for ddfry and anyone else interested:
A tequila bar will open in the Carmon's space, probably next month. It's from the same folks who gave us V Picasso (lasted a year or two in Urbana, old Office Pub space). I was not impressed with V Picasso. I like the idea of a place to sip good tequila but I do not have much hope for this place (and I think Boltini has a decent tequila selection).
We've now been to Dublin O'Neils (Neil st., M2 building) three times. I doubt we will be back. We've had two dinners and one brunch. Food was consistently poorly seasoned. I had two fried eggs at brunch that were incredibly bland. I can't remember the last time I didn't enjoy fried eggs.
Josh Boyd, who was the chef at Carmon's, is making meat again! The last two weeks, he's gotten hold of a whole Berkshire pig, butchered it, and made great products. The first week, he had his coolers at the Bentley's beer garden. Yesterday, he was at the Blind Pig (brewery, not the Walnut St pub). We picked up pork liver mousse with bourbon jelly, pork rillettes, hunters sausage, and an asian sausage. We've tried the mousse and rillettes so far. YUM. He knows his pig. If you think you might be in town on a Sunday, it's probably worth following him on Facebook so you know when/where to be some place. The Wurst Place: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Wu...
We also put a little bug in his ear that we'd love, love, love for him to do a pop up brunch at some point. Pretty please.
That's all I have this time around.
Thanks debbiel. I've heard good things about the new Mexican place in the old Sweet Betsy's spot. Have you been? What's the latest in the various dining spots at Village at the Crossing? I must say I'm spoiled living in St. Louis, in the city, the food scene is really exploding here.
Maize... Is that in place of Ye Olde "fill in the blank" at 1st and Green? I'm hoping to get up next weekend overnight, trying to find someone to stay with. No home football game but hotels are sky high, even in Bloomington Normal. Is there something at ISU I wonder...what's the lowdown on the replacement in the TGIF space? I find myself craving Seaboat, may have to make a stop. Black Dog is without question. There is BBQ at that level in St. Louis, but not a place with as many things I like as BD. There are over 30 food trucks in StL and nearby, and most are very good.
Yeah, I think that is where Maize is. I still haven't made it there. ISU homecoming is next week, though I wouldn't expect that to hit C-U hotels too badly (though there is currently a hotel shortage and apartment shortage in Blo-No due to some State Farm stuff).
I haven't heard anything about the quality of food at the old TGIF. It kind of looked like they were still trying to do a little bit of everything. I guess you have to in that kind of setting.
ETA: If you're into wine...There is a a mini-music fest at Buvon's on Saturday. Always many wines by the glass available, and of course you can pick up a bottle of your choice in the wine store (and have leftovers sealed up to take home with you). They always have a few little nosh choices available. I had a great leek and kale crostini last week. Or you can order a pizza from Pizza M to be delivered. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Buvons...
I should update my thoughts on Big Grove. Since my post in September, I have come to like it quite a bit. The food has been consistently good to great the last several months, and the service has been mostly good. They have a side of roasted veggies and a side of cheesy grits that together make for an outstanding small meal. The chicken with dumplings if fantastic. Right now they have a mushroom farro dish that is absolutely incredible. They also just recently started doing Saturday and Sunday brunch.
I no longer live in Champaign, but I am there ~once per week. Big Grove is the place I'm mostly likely to meet up with friends for a bit of nosh at the bar or a meal. They've evolved into a great choice for dining in Champaign.