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. www.timpones-urbana.com
Sunsinger, Champaign (http://www.sunsingerwines.com
) 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! http://www.hickoryriver.com
(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 (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. 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 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) - just went non-smoking in 2006 (yeah!) 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, 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: http://www.illinimedia.com/di/features/1646
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. (www.barcaro.thadmorrow.com
Although he is not keep 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!).
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. 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 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. (www.cowboy-monkey.com
) It’s 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 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. (Update: my office had a company meeting dinner here - everything was very good.)
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 don’t understand why they are popular but you can see that they are. 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. (http://www.shout.net/~radiom/dinner1.html
) 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 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 Artist’s 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.
Reuben’s 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/index.php?id=96
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 it’s fine. Fried fish sandwiches, fried shrimp (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.
Places I have not been but have heard are favorites 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:
http://www.french.uiuc.edu/jsturm/gsf/l ... rants.html
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
Someone else’s e-mail on Chowhound.com:
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 Mexican...you 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.
2. over 1 months ago T replied to 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.