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Jun 8, 2006 12:56 PM

Your favorite resturant in Champaign-Urbana, IL and why

  • t

I haven't eaten at a lot of places in Champaign. Seems like we always venture to the same places and their always chains. I'd like to find some places that are favorites of the locals.

The last place we ate was Smokin Bones....I believe that was the name. Granted its a chain but we truely enjoyed it. I had one of the best steaks I've had in a very long time. It had a portabello wine sauce over it. The baked beans and slaw were wonderful also. The service was amazing too. The manager even came to each table to check on us.

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  1. There are a lot of excellent places to eat in Champaign (for a city of its size). Here are some of my favorites:

    1. Sounds like you like BBQ. My favorite place is 'Lil Porgy's (there are two locations). Many people like Po' Boys, which is a different experience (it is only open on Friday and Saturday nights). Many people also like Hickory River (formerly Longhorn Smokehouse) on Cunningham in Urbana. I haven't tried Jackson's and I'd be interested to hear if others like it. There is also Famous Dave's, which is a chain and IMO not that good.

    2. In Urbana near campus is a great restaurant called The Bread Company. During the day they pretty much serve sandwiches and salads, and sometimes some specials. But at night they have a larger menu with excellent small pizzas, pates, pasta dishes, and (my favorite) fondue. This is the best causal place in town, I think.

    3. Cafe Luna near campus in Champaign. The owner is related to the owners of The Bread Company (the child, I believe). At night Cafe Luna has a small-plates menu, similar to tapas, with excellent wines. During the day they have excellent hot and cold sandwiches, salads, etc. Very good.

    4. In downtown Champaign there's Bacaro, which is probably the most expensive restaurant in town (entrees around $25+, but with pasta dishes around $18). They have a very extensive selection of Italian wines. The food is very creative. I love it. Menu changes seasonally.

    5. Timpone's is next door to The Bread Company in Urbana. it's a little less causal than the Bread Company, but less than Bacaro. The food is Italian-based. They also have excellent small pizzas and pastas for lunch. It's excellent. Menu changes seasonally.

    6. Last year a few higher-end restaurants opened in downtown Champaign, including a steak house called Jim Gould and a Japanese-fusion type place called Ko-fusion. The steak house is good, but quite expensive. A friend characterized it as about as good as second-tier steakhouses in Chicago. In true steakhouse style, I think they served way to big of a portion. I tell friends who want a good steak to go to Timpone's (or Bacaro if they happen to have it on the menu). I liked Ko-fusion.

    7. Radio Maria in downtown Champaign is a fan favorite. Their food is pan-Asian-South American-Carribean. Very adventurous with spices, and funky atmosphere. Price-wise, it's a little less expensive than Bacaro, Ko-fusion, and the steak place. About the same as Timpone's.

    8. Many people like Farron's, in downtown Champaign. I've only been there for lunch. Not sure if they are open for dinner.

    9. My favorite Chinese restaurant in town is Peking Garden on Randolf st. in Champaign. They use very fresh ingredients, have an extensive menu of stuff that goes beyond the traditional American-Chinese food found everywhere else (though they have that stuff also). Ask your server, or the owner if she's there, for recommendations about "exotic stuff" if you want to experiment. There is also a newer Chinese place in the Marketplace Mall in Urbana that is very good, and slightly more upscale. I've only been there once and don't remember the name.

    10. Courier cafe in Urbana -- I go there for excellent breakfasts and brunches, though they are open all day. Sandwiches, burgers, etc. the rest of the day.

    11. Legends on Green street on Campus: typical campus bar, with burgers and such, but on Friday and Saturday they have an excellent fish fry.

    12. Crane Alley on Main st. in Urbana. Bar/restaurant (more of a restaurant until later at night). Excellent food, and not just burgers and such. Very causal. Good wine and beer menu.

    13. Pizza: the most popular place in town is probably Papa Dels on Green street. They make excellent thin, deep dish, and stuffed. I like them a lot. I also love Manzella's on 1st street, which has excellent thin crust pizza (they also have pasta dishes and other entrees, but I've only had their pizza). A lot of people also like the thin pizza at Jupiters, a bar in downtown Champaign. Many of the places I've written about above also have excellent, personal size pizzas.

    14. I like Dos Reales on Prospect for Mexican, although there are quite a few other good places. El Toro, El Toro II, El Torero,

    15. Finally, there are a lot of cheap, causal, ethnic places on or near Green street that mostly cater to graduate students and faculty. Many are very good. There are several Korean places; Chinese places; a couple Japanese; one Indian; a few get the idea.

    I'm sure I'm leaving a few places out. Let me know if you have questions or any other type of cuisine in mind. If I was going to eat one dinner in Champaign, it would be at Bacaro. If I wanted to eat for less than $25 per person, it would be at Cafe Luna or The Bread Company. Luckily, though, I don't have to go to just one place. :)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Darren

      Thank you so much for the response. I've eaten at Lil Porgys many times. Thats my husbands favorite place. I've printed off your list and we're going to try these places out. I think our first stop will be Timpone's. Thanks again for your suggestions!

      If your ever in Danville, IL I suggest you try Charlottes........its on South Gilbert Street. Its a quant little place. I highly recommend the Broccoli Soup, Italian Beef and Chicken Salad Sandwiches. If you like Mexican La Potosina on South Gilbert is excellent....their Fiesta Fajitas are amazing and their margaritas are out of this world....1 small will get you buzzed. Certain nights they have mariachi bands......I think this Sunday they have one.

    2. Below is a post I put on this site a week or two ago - I've been on vacation for a few days. --

      Below is a list I keep on computer for e-mailing re: my favorite places in Champaign-Urbana and comments on ones I don’t like as much. These are in no particular order. (Have lived in Champaign for 20 years.)

      Timpone’s, Urbana (710 S. Goodwin Avenue, 344-7619) This is my favorite, favorite, upscale restaurant in C-U – it’s 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 Year’s eve every year. The owner is big into wine and has wine tasting dinners too.

      Sunsinger, Champaign ( Wine bar café. I just love this place and I don’t 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 d’oeurves, 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 L’il Porgy’s sauce better (several locations around town) but the meats here are such good quality. It’s a locally owned place and the restaurant is just kept immaculate. I can’t ever seem to get anything here except brisket – it’s 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! (Speaking of L’il Porgy’s 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 I’ve mentioned above, mild to hot – we like their roasted chicken the most. Very dive-ish -- they’re 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 don’t 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 can’t begin to tell you how many times I have eaten at Courier over the years – it has to be 100’s and 100’s of times since we’ve lived here almost 20 years. It’s 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 you’re 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.

      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 can’t be more family-style dining. Their specialty is fried chicken, noodles (beef or chicken), mashed potatos, apple dumplings w/ caramel sauce and ice cream – everything’s 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 room’s lighting is so bright it’s 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 60’s) 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) Another once-every-two-weeks place for us. There are so many Mexican restaurants in town, I’m 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 you’ve ever been in Mexico, this place feels like it’s 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 Chevy’s by the mall. I love their roasted-tomato salsa and their fajitas. They make their tortillas from scratch there too – love ‘em.

      Milo’s, 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. It’s 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: No web site for the restaurant yet unfortunately.

      Bacaro, Champaign (113 North Walnut, downtown, 398-6982) If you’re up for an expensive dining “experience”, I really like this place. ( 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 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!).

      Kennedy’s, Urbana (2560 S. Stone Creek Bvd., 384-8111) One of C-U’s 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 Mother’s Day, Easter, etc. 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 it’s 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 don’t like ribeyes but hubby says they are good. It takes reservations on one night of the weekend but not the other (Fri/Sat) can’t 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. We’ve 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 – it’s gone non-smoking, the menu has changed, and service seemed better so it’s 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.

      Guido’s, 2 East Main, Champaign, 359-3148. If you want to go someplace that’s “cool” to hang out, you‘ve will see Guido’s driving through downtown Champaign. It’s neat to sit outside their restaurant in the summer. Food is honestly just so-so but there aren’t too many places in town with the kind of outside set-up they have. If you want to go somewhere for beers/drinks/snacks, it’s a fun place.

      Also a funky fun place to go is the Cowboy Monkey. Outdoor dining – bands at night. It’s smack downtown and has this wonderful patio area with tables with umbrellas. ( It’s a little menu but so creative. I like the shrimp tacos.

      Crane Alley, Urbana, 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 Gould’s, Corner of Main and Neil, downtown Champaign, 531-1177. Upscale eatery. I’ve 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 – I’m sure I’ll 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. (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.

      Other mentionables:
      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 don’t understand why they are popular but you can see that they are on weekend evenings. Manzella’s Italian Patio and Dom’s, both in same block in Champaign. We think Manzella’s is a smoke pit (cigarettes) and have not been impressed with the food the two times we tried it. Dom’s is in a building with no windows – that may be a weird thing to get hung up on but we just don’t 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. Can’t understand the attraction.
      Minneci’s is also in same area (maybe same family?). Atmosphere, lighting, and music are hokey, and seats are too close together so we don’t 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. ( I want so badly to like this place – the restaurant in appearance is so neat. It’s the old Brown’s 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. I’ve gone twice and just haven’t 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. I’ve heard they also have tapas.

      If you like the hokey teppan table thing, - Miko and Kamakura are both good. I’ve tried Kamakura many times and like it. Kamakura tends to be expensive – least expensive Teppan entrée is $15 chicken. I like to get shrimp. It’s 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 I’d try it but I need someone to go with me and instruct me!! It seems to be a popular place.

      Fun little extras:

      Culver’s on Prospect, yummy custard ice cream, good “butter” burgers.

      Jarling’s 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 Monical’s and Papa Del’s. I’ve had Monical’s so much since I was a kid I’m pretty much sick of it! The Monical’s in Tolono is the best one – there’s a new Monical’s restaurant on Mattis and one on Kirby, both are okay but the Tolono one is the best. Crunchy thin crust pizza. Papa Del’s is on campus. It’s 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 Del’s. 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. It’s like he won’t 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.
      Jupiter’s, 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 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.

      The Cake Artist’s Studio, Champaign, 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.

      Reuben’s Chocolates, Champaign, local exquisite chocolate place. The display case is also a visual feast here.

      Pekara Bakery & Bistro, downtown Champaign, 116 N. Neil, Champaign 217-359-4500, Pekara means “bakery” in Serbo-Croatian. Article about Pekara: Breads, pastries, baklava, scones, crepes, coffee, soup. Really neat place.

      Hedgerow Bistro, Urbana, new restaurant. Review from (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 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 it’s 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 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!!!

      Here’s 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. It’s called a “supper club”. The huge brick grill is inside – great grilled steaks, pork chops, salmon. There’s a piano player on Fri/Sat nights. If you sit in the right area of the restaurant you can watch them grill. It’s 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 they’ve 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 wouldn’t tell us. Very dive-ish. No web site.

      Not a fan of:
      Zelma’s on Windsor
      Tang Dynasty in Urbana Mall
      Rainbow Garden on Neil

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chuck

        Just a few retorts:

        Try Dom's again. Secret specialties are pan fried chicken livers and fried chicken, of all things. Also try the Chicken a la Dom and the canneloni. The canolis are the best I've ever eaten.

        Thin pizza crusts: All places that serve them in town get them from the same supplier. They are frozen and come 80 to a box for $40. I sometimes buy a box and share them with friends. A little fresh mozzarella and tomatoes with oregano and pop it in the oven. mmmm mmmm good

        An immigrant from Taiwan told me that Tang Dynasty is one of the two most authentic Chinese places in C-U. Try the whole steamed flounder with scallions and ginger. And whatever you order, tell the waitress you want it prepared "Taiwan style."

        If you want authentic Mexican food, there is only one place in town to get it, and that's El Charro, a little grocery store on Green Street next to Illini Media (old place). On weekends they have tamales that are like dumplings, and pozole. They have menudo, but I'm not a tripe fan. Be prepared to speak to people who don't speak English very well.

        If you like "catch of the day" fish, hit a fish fry over at the Urbana VFW. They do it monthly, and it's a mix of catfish, bluegill, crappie, and maybe some carp.

        The Urbana American Legion has a buffet open to the public on Tues. nights, and the home cooking is prepared by the Auxiliary. They've got some great cooks, and don't skip dessert, pie or cake.

        Steaks are great at the Long Branch in Gifford, IL.

        I don't go in for fru-fru food, and I guess you can tell I'm a stickler for the real deal.

        You shouldn't be bothered by smoke anymore since The People's Republic of Urbana and Champaign have banned smoking in restaurants and bars.

      2. Updates for Champaign-Urbana:

        There is a new Mediterranean place (Turkish owner) in an upscale retail complex in SW Champaign, off Windsor and Duncan, called Pasha. It is quite good, with typical fare - babaganoush, kebab, and the like. A Nuevo Latino place called Escobar's (by the chef at Milo's in Urbana) will be opening in a few months, north of dowtown in the beginnings of a loft district. Radio Maria has expanded and has a dedicated portion of their restaurant for tapas courses, with a sep. kitchen. This should open anytime, call to check. As for chains: Harold's Chicken Shack (S Side Chicago chain) is opening, or will open in Campustown, ditto for Flat Top Grill (also Chicago-based). Boston Pizza (Canadian-based chain) is scheduled to open in Jan. 07 on an outlot at the Meijer store in Champaign. McAlister's Deli is building a restaurant near the new Town Center development along near Marketplace Mall. Atlanta Bread Co. is coming on S. Neil where the old Wendy's was. There are no Wendy's left - the franchisee in subrurban St. Louis went bankrupt, causing the closure of many Wedny's in Central/Southern Illinois and St. Louis/suburbs.

        Heady culinary times in Champaign!

        I echo the comments that Cafe Luna and Hedgerow Bistro are probably the finest in town. Recently that would unequivocally go to Bacaro, but they have dipped a bit as they struggled some with the gourmet grocery next door. That being said, they do have 2 Charlie Trotter's alums working there (Chef/Owner and Pastry Chef), and it's still quite a place.

        Bon appetit!

        3 Replies
        1. re: ddfry3

          Btw, Escobar's north of downtown Champaign on Columbia, and just east of the Neil St. US Post office, is very good. They have been open a few weeks now, so go and enjoy. Open for brunch too, closed on Mondays. Latin fusion cuisine.

          1. re: ddfry3

            We went to Escobar's in its first week. We'll go again once they have some more time to get in a rhythm, but we weren't too impressed with the first trip. First, I'm a bit spoiled as a vegetarian in C-U and was surprised there was no set vegetarian entree on the menu. The night we were there apparently the ravioli was vegetarian, but that was the ravioli of the day--no guarantee that there would be something vegetarian on any other night. Our second issue was that the bread they brought out was pretty stale. My partner enjoyed his entree (sorry--don't remember what it was) but was thrilled with it. I had a salad that was, well, a fine salad. Dessert was good--we had the tres leches cake and it was a wonderfully light and refreshing tasting treat. I'd go back just for that. Service was not good--didn't know the menu, kept trying to take our dishes away before we were finished. I loved the look of the place and really, really hope they make some changes to their menu so that I can give it some more chances.

            1. re: debbiel

              I'm a meat eater and was happy enough, but I understand the concern. My service was fine, but the chef/owner know me from Milo's, which for what it is, is certainly a successful restaurant. Geez, it's been there 10+ years by now! I agree...the tres leches cake was very good. I am sure they will do some tweaking, and I am excited about rest. opening up in this nascent loft district north of downtown CH.

        2. Further updates.....
          Radio Maria's tapas bar is open, and quite good. They also have a limited tapas menu at lunchtime in the new section. This may reinvigorate my like of RM, since I have been growing weary of their hit or miss menu after too many brunch gatherings. There are a lot of fried things on the menu, of which I heartily approve. Many vegetarian tapas things also.

          The last dinner I had at KoFusion was truly alarming. A dining companion ordered lamb, and it came out in a cloud of rancid stench that was detectable from several feet away. The server put it down as though it was completely normal, and when she asked him to take it back, he appeared perplexed and suggested perhaps cooking it more. He vanished for more than 20 minutes, at which point he reported that the chef was "not happy with the cut of lamb tonight" and offered a replacement. Any person who works with food---actually, any person who has a nose and an instinct for staying away from rotting flesh--should have recognized that meat had turned within two seconds of taking it out to put on the grill. This really makes me question what's going on in the back. I would be mortified to send something like that out, as a chef, or carry it, as a server--yet he acted as though he didn't even notice.

          For those who find the original Seaboat location Just TOO Scary---my gosh, the last time I went there it was full of 12 year old girls, truly menacing!--a new location is opening on Kirby, west of Neil in the former Denny's cleaners. Probably that location will not service so many members of the darker nation, and will be deemed entirely safe, day or night. No excuses for missing out on some really great fish fry. And mac and cheese!

          7 Replies
          1. re: miss_nadine

            Ummm....I lived in the Chicago suburbs and Quincy, IL, am a typical middle-class white guy, and have NEVER had a problem with the original Seaboat location. In fact I am happy to patronize establishments in all parts of the city. For anyone who has lived in an even remotely urban area, the so-called worst areas of Champaign are nothing. Not that I will not be happy for another location, because it is a little closer to the center of town. I just ate at the old one 2 days ago, and the owner said look for a later winter/early Spring 07 opening.

            As for KoFusion, I have only eaten dessert and starters there, and, aside from the electic decor, was underwhelmed. There are a number of better places to eat!

            1. re: ddfry3

              Well, apparently, some of our fellow C-U inhabitants find the Bradley and Market location of Seaboat tenable only during daylight hours (see above post by Chuck). I have yet to find a single corner of these towns that gives me pause, but I will be delighted to be able to pick up my Seaboat Jr. on the way home from work.

              I found the decor at KoFusion almost as disturbing as the food, actually. Overall I don't get what they are up to.

              1. re: miss_nadine

                Yes, I saw those post(s) and was entertained. I have seen people of all stripes and income levels in there, and never had a problem. And the fish....OMG!! I daresay better than the late Deluxe.
                If these people have a problem with that location, how about the late Po' Boy's location!! LOL....

                It's great to have some postings from some CU chowhounds who are local. You gotta admit, dining in this area has gotten better the last five years than ever. I actually have to plan a bit to have an appreciably better meal in Chi-twon and the like.

                For nostalgia's sake, anyone remember:

                dining at Katsy's/Katsina's
                Rick's, An American Cafe (closed just before I got to town)
                Chef Jean Louis/Mongolian Palace
                Maggio's (in the Mike & Molly's building, first upscale place downtown, just a little too early, it was there in the early-mid 90's)
                Bombay Bicycle Club
                Land of Mexico

                1. re: ddfry3

                  Oops...also Top of the Inn. When that place was on, that was some good stuff. I blew big bucks in about 1991 trying to impress a date with money from the suburbs! Man their Steak Diane (flaming, prepared tableside) was great.

                  1. re: ddfry3

                    Chambana? Dodgy neighborhoods? Try East St. Louis and Detroit. Oy, these western suburb kids.

              2. re: miss_nadine

                Another thumbs up for the new RM tapas bar. We've been three times and had great food each time. Service has also been great, and that was one area that I think had been on a downslide in the old RM for a while. My partner would probably want to go there daily just for the olive/chorizo skewers.

                What a horrible KoFusion experience! I haven't been there for months and months.

                1. re: debbiel

                  Had my second trip to Radio Maria tapas bar, and I have to say this is good stuff. Their tapas fare consists of more light-type stuff (empanadas, little burgers of chorizo-blended meat, meat skewers) than Cafe Luna, which is more geared toward a main meal (fish, game) but also is a little more expensive. RM was packed tonight, and I have to say the service was quite good considering. I find this latest addition much preferable to the old, better service, nice space and vibe, and because of the nature of tapas, a more focused presentation of cuisine.

              3. Thanks for all the detailed reports! I'll be heading to Champaign-Urbana later this spring for some training, and you've all just made my dinner research much easier!

                15 Replies
                1. re: tammylc

                  Okay, I'm sorry, Champaign, but I just went to Escobar for the first time and it was neither good nor particularly Latin. This doesn't surprise me tremendously, because I don't get the Milo's love either, but .... very, very disappointing. I'd much rather have "Latin" at the sort of reinvigorated--of-late Radio Maria. Escobar was overpriced for what it is, which was hotel banquet food plus a slight amount of Latin spices. The pile of zucchini/yellow peppers/green beans as veg just gave me flashbacks to the last conference I went to... It was highly recommended by several people I usually trust, but I must conclude that their tastebuds have been dulled by too many years in C-U. Next time I want to drop $35 on dinner, i will do it at Bacaro.

                  1. re: miss_nadine

                    Even Bacaro has gotten quite conservative with their menu offerings (was just there tonight), showing most invention really only in their dessert list - certainly not the creativity of 3-4 years ago. I agree that Escobar's menu could use some tweaking, but don't rank it as negatively as you do. It's not Cuatro in the South Loop, for sure, but I doubt CU is ready for that. Oh well, to each his own. Now, Cafe Luna, I think that's one place we can agree has got it happening, except when crowded/understaffed.

                    1. re: ddfry3

                      Anyone else have an opinion on the new turkish place in SW Champaign? In the meantime, I am trying to figure out a way to get the people at Cafe Luna to adopt me and feed me things all day.

                      1. re: Behemoth

                        Pasha is its name - and it is not quite Turkish from what I understand, more Mediterranean/Middle Eastern. It's a pretty nice space, food is pretty good. The owner is Turkish, and seems like a nice guy. High on my personal "to do" list as far as eating goes is to do a tasting menu at Luna, which they will do for you, I am told. YUM!!!

                        1. re: ddfry3

                          By far Cafe Luna is the best place in CU in my opinion. Their offerings are very creative and awesome in taste. What they lack in atmoshphere they make up with their food. I have been there for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. So far I have not been disappointed at any time. Have not been to Pasha yet, but did go next door to "Shanghai 1938". I was very impressed. Actually, I found it better than Tang Dynasty. We need to go back to Montgomery's in Monticello soon. Has you ever been there?

                          1. re: tigerman15

                            Haven't been to the Shanghai place, will have to try sometime. Montgomery's I've been to within the last 6 months or so. I know they are really trying to bump themselves up a notch in execution and refinement. The food was good, but nothing specifically worth driving from Champaign for. Maybe others can chime in who have visited more recently.

                            1. re: ddfry3

                              Okay this convinces me to go back to Luna for dinner--I love it at lunch, but due to Campustown-phobia have only been once at night. I do remember liking it quite a bit.
                              What else is up in C-town? I have to limit myself on the samosa sandwiches at East-West: so good, so bad for me. Don't have the patience to wait in the insane line at Za's. I have to admit a strange fascination with Geovanti's based on their local commercials: the awesome look of surprise at the amazingly huge calzones! the implication of being surrounded by ovenstuffer undergrads! but those chicken fingers look pretty good. Anyone been there?

                              1. re: miss_nadine

                                Ate there once or twice....frankly suprised it's still open. I found the food dreadful. Luna for dinner far eclipses Luna for lunch, I think. Haven't been to East-West. Haven't been to FlatTop Grill yet....anyone care to chime in with experiences? Still enjoy the sandwiches (especially hush puppies) at Ye Olde Donut/Rib Shack, etc. Heard good things about the restaurant at El Charro, went and didn't care much for it. Bar Louie has been underwhelming as well, nice space though. Actually, the food at Firehaus is quite good (the old Eddie's location).

                                1. re: ddfry3

                                  My partner and I have been to FlatTop once. It was OK. We were there the week of their test run and had free dinners. The stir fry bar where you get all your ingredients is very cramp. The place does not have alot of room. Would have to go back again and give it another chance. We haven't been to Bar Louie yet. Is it worth trying? The Firehaus however is on our fav list. I especially love their club wrap served hot. Our favorite for pizza is Jupiter when we are out on the town or Papa Murphy's when kickn back at home. Has anyone had Carmella's donuts?

                                  1. re: tigerman15

                                    Bar Louie....nice enough space, sort of urban watering hole feel. Food is nothing special. Jupiter's is good....I love Bread Co. pizza (by Krannert), super thin, really hot oven. Also, this enterprise run by the Canopy Club folks (Manolo's Pizza and Empanadas, in the old Delights space) is addictive, thin crust pizza by the slice for about 2 bucks. Plus, they are open really late (after midnight).

                                    1. re: ddfry3

                                      Thanks for the tip, I've been meaning to try the empanada place.

                                      Luna makes a mean eggs bene for Sunday brunch, by the way.

                                      East West samosa chaat is addictive. So, so unhealthy though...

                                      1. re: Behemoth

                                        Yes, gotta get to Luna for brunch sometime. Never been to East West, guess I know what to try!

                          2. re: ddfry3

                            Went to Pasha yesterday, overall very tasty. My one quibble: a mound of sliced undressed raw cabbage is *not* a salad, even if it does comes free.

                            1. re: Behemoth

                              LOL....Agreed...any luck in being adopted by the Luna people? I went to Timpone's for dinner recently, good, but no contest with Luna - Luna wins easily.

                          3. re: Behemoth

                            Went to Pasha once, I thought the food was fair and the service was funny (a lot of obviously new help who didn't know anything about the food).

                            East-West is gone, as we found out when we tried to go there before the students came back. Just a gaping maw with scaffolding in front of it. That leaves us with one mediocre Indian option - not happy.