April showers have brought May flowers, which in turn means that we are all choking on Monsanto’s poisons allergens. Our lives may be cut short from these inhalations, and I’m embracing the “life is short, live it up” mantra right now. This pessimism is rooted in optimism — the weather has been so nice these last few days — and I’m looking forward to getting outside to have meals and drinks with friends. Basically, I’m just looking forward to spending more time with friends; I’ve come to realize that having friends as an adult means finding excuses to eat and drink. Farmers’ market(s) season is officially upon us — Urbana’s Market at the Square kicks off this Saturday, May 5th, and The Land Connection’s Tuesday Market kicks off on May 15th. Though options are limited right now, there should be plenty of greens, plus items grown in the greenhouses over the course of the late winter. This month’s list includes some basics as well as some remixed items you should try at least once, because, as we’ve already established, life is short.

Latin it up! | Strawberry Fields

Latin it Up is a new food situation in C-U that will be available weekends only at Strawberry Fields. Amalia Huanca Thompson will serve South American items each Friday and Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. Menu items include papas rellenas, yucas rellenas, platanos maduros rellenos, salteñas, empanadas, tostones, fried yuca, cabbage salad, salsa criolla, and peanut soup. That’s a pretty fried and starchy menu, and it sounds absolutely delicious. You can find more information about these dishes here.

Latin it up! at Strawberry Fields
308 W Springfield
F + Sa 4 to 8 p.m.

Photo from Facebook

Greens | Farmers’ markets

Market season is here! We will soon enough enjoy the literal and proverbial fruits of the summer, but until then, we will enjoy the literal and proverbial greens that abound this time of year. This is salad season, people. Your CSA will have plenty of greens, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to get some at the markets. This is the time to hone your simple and fancy salads and dressings; when more interesting produce is available later in the season you’ll have a firm base on which to build and experiment. Local greens make a world of difference in flavor and freshness. Plus, you don’t want to contract that nasty strain of E. Coli that’s swirling around romaine lettuce. Just buy your greens locally.

Urbana’s Market at the Square 
Corner of Illinois + Vine
Sa 7 a.m. to noon

Any meal | Mother’s Day + Commencements

This is really just a friendly reminder that UIUC Commencement is May 12th, if you celebrate, Mother’s Day is May 13th, if you celebrate, and Parkland College’s commencement is May 17th , if you celebrate. That’s a lot of potential celebration; if you’re looking for a fancy-ish meal out, make your reservations now.

There’s also room to consider something less traditional, like a picnic at your favorite park, or take out to your home. Dining out on particularly busy days like Mother’s Day or commencement can lead to less than stellar experiences — servers are rushed, the kitchen gets backed up. Also consider dining at an off-time. Many restaurants will take orders ahead of time (like Black Dog and Caribbean Grill), catering-style, and depending on the size of your celebration, this could be quite convenient.

Peruse our reviews for restaurant ideas.  

Kimchi Tofu Pizza | Star Karaoke

We’ve written before about Star Karaoke before — the restaurant is really quite good. It’s also, as the name suggests, an excellent option for karaoke. The private rooms allow for you to sing your heart out, mostly without judgment, and snack on wings, dumplings, and other Korean delights. The building says “BBQ & Pizza,” and I think many people forget about the pizza part.

On my last visit, I went outside of my normal comfort zone and ordered the kimchi tofu pizza. I’ll be honest — I was worried. It’s one thing to put a bunch of bland things on dough and call it pizza. It’s quite another to put something as funky and flavor-forward as kimchi on dough with tomato sauce and mozzarella. That’s right, sauce and cheese. It was delicious. I know — I was surprised, too. I almost didn’t believe it myself! But the spocy and flavorful kimchi paired well with the sauce. The tofu was like extra cheese — it’s a textural thing that takes on the flavor of whatever is around it. The crust was the thin, cracker-y kind found around these parts. All in all, I was very pleased with my decision. I know it seems like an adventurous take on pizza, but remember: There are places that put salmon on pizza.

Star Karaoke 
1503 Lyndhurst Ave
11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily

Frappe | Café Kopi

Nothing says nice weather like a blended, frozen, caffeinated beverage. Sure, there’s something, ahem, basic to it, but the drink is good! Café Kopi makes a mean frappe — and you can have it delivered. In terms of flavor profile, I suggest you just do you — are you a vanilla person? Caramel? Chocolate peanut butter, perhaps? There are even teas like frozen chai and green tea. There is no wrong choice to made here, unless you opt out of whipped cream. The whip is essential to this sort of beverage.

Café Kopi 
109 N Walnut
7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Photos by Jessica Hammie, except where noted