This time of year brings plenty of opportunities for celebrating and socializing. It also brings the challenge of having to entertain visiting family and friends, some of who are not easily impressed, or have seen most of C-U’s sights. But feeding and eating are other ways of entertaining and impressing — Champaign has some new places to check out — and with the students gone for several weeks, Campustown is prime real estate for those of us who are too daunted by visiting while classes are in session.
I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite places around town — but not all of them! — as a means help assist your memory when your mother-in-law turns to you and asks, “What’s for dinner?”
Readers, feel free to add your favorite spots in the comments. For more ideas, browse the Smile Politely Food & Drink section.
Happy New Year!
Like Cheese & Crackers, Art Mart also has a fresh fish list; you need to get on the store’s mailing list. There are also opportunities to order game meat, if that suits your tastes. The store carries all sorts of fun gifts, as well as some nice chocolates, wine, wine, wine, some beer, some import dry goods (San Marzano tomatoes, pasta), cheese, and baked goods. Art Mart will move to its new location on South Prospect Avenue, Champaign sometime in January, but its current Lincoln Square Mall location will remain open through New Year’s Eve.
Bacaro is taking orders for cookies (linzer sandwiches, sugar snowflakes, and peanut butter kisses) through Saturday, December 19th. To order, email Pastry Chef Lindsey Spoden: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cake Artist’s Studio
There are several holiday cake flavors (the Jinglebell is fantastic) available as cupcakes and special order cakes. The last day to order is this Saturday, December 19th, so make your decisions quickly, and get those orders in. You can also just swing by the shop and pick up a few treats—but the later in the day you go, the fewer options you’ll have.
Cheese & Crackers
We’ve talked almost ad nauseam about the Fresh Fish list. But for those of you who don’t already know, Cheese & Crackers gets fresh seafood from Fortune Fish Company. The store will send you an email with what’s available, you respond with what you want (10 lobsters, 4 pounds of mussels, whatever, whatever), and then you pick up your fish in the store the next day. It’s not cheap, and it does require some planning, but the quality is high. And who wouldn’t be impressed by some tasty-ass seafood meal prepared by you?
The store carries a wide variety of import and local cheeses, as well as artisan cured meats, chocolates, and super fancy, first press Italian olive oil. And while you’re there, picking up goodies for sharing, do yourself a favor and get a sandwich. I recommend Mindy’s Italian.
Apple cider doughnuts.
Really, do you need any other reason to go there? Also available: apple cider, some pies, jarred jams, jellies, and other similar items. Curtis Orchard is open through Sunday, December 20th.
The last chance to check out Urbana’s Holiday Market is this Saturday, December 19th at Lincoln Square Mall. Pick up last minute gifts, local honey, some winter produce, bread, baked goods, flowers, and other treats.
Prairie Fruits Farm
PFF is one of the most magical places in all of C-U. It’s no secret that I love the place, and the food product the farm produces. In addition to a few non-perishable gift items, you can sign up for the cheese or gelato CSA (makes a great gift!), or pick up the yummy cheese or gelato at one of the following local spots: The Holiday Market, Common Ground Food Co-op, Strawberry Fields, and Pizzeria Antica.
DINING WITH A CROWD (and the kids)
This Campustown newbie is like the Chipotle of pizza, without E. Coli. The kiddos are sure to enjoy choosing toppings for their very own pizza.
There isn’t any one gloriously delicious item on Destihl’s menu (save for the one-pound slab of carrot cake, of which I am a very devoted fan), but for the most part, everything is good enough. There are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options, as well as a kids’ menu, so there is literally something for everyone. The restaurant takes reservations (bonus!), and the adults can drink booze while the kids drink milk. Or soda. Or whatever kids drink. Worried about bringing an unruly child to a restaurant? No worries! Each time I visit Destihl there is at least one screaming kid in the dining room.
It’s the best burger in town.
Golden Harbor, in my humble opinion, is one of the best restaurants in town. The food is unbelievably delicious, so much so that someone who doesn’t like Chinese food can be convinced otherwise. I promise. Don’t be overwhelmed by the menu size; take a few moments to consider what you like. Ask the gracious Sophie, who sits behind the cash register. Refer to my guide from earlier this year. Don’t forget to order the taro buns (B4).
Located at 119 W Main Street, Urbana, just around the corner from that other barbeque joint, Lacy’s offers a variety of Kansas City-style barbeque meats (and sides, of course). There’s parking in the lot just next to the restaurant, so no need to worry about finding street parking. Check out the restaurant’s Facebook page for info on specials.
Undoubtedly the best Mexican food in town, you’ll have to order this to go. Call in an order for your tacos, quesadillas, tortas, and sopes (don’t forget the guacamole!). Pick it up 10 to 15 minutes later, return home, eat, enjoy. Try something you haven’t tried before, maybe the huitlacoche quesadilla? Out-of-towners will surely be impressed by the deliciousness of the food, as well as the easy to digest price tag.
Mashawi Grill or Jerusalem Restaurant
Falafel is a wonderful flavor foil to holiday ham and turkey. Creamy tahini or tzatziki sauce? So refreshing. These two Campustown spots serve some tasty and affordable Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food.
This new-ish spot serves up wood fired Neopolitan pizzas, and they’re delicious. They also have gelato, which is the perfect way to finish a pizza lunch or dinner. I recommend the cantalupo, which is just a little spicy, or the bianca, which is rich and cheesy.
This is definitely not a cheap date, but it might be some of the best food you’ve had in your life, and almost certainly in Champaign-Urbana. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous or fancy, get the tasting menu ($85 per person, additional $40 per person for wine parings). A more affordable option is Friday lunch; check the restaurant’s Facebook page for more info.
Big Grove Tavern
On Wednesdays, BGT offers some house cocktails for $5. This is a steal, as some of them will normally run you $8-$10 each. Here’s what you do: sit at the bar, order your cocktail(s) of choice (I recommend the Bees Knees or the Moscow Mule), order the fried Brussels sprouts, the cornbread, and the Kennebec fries. Sip, chat, enjoy the ambiance. Park in the Hill Street Parking Deck—BGT validates up to two hours of parking.
It’s not often that I crave salads, but if I’m going to choose a salad to eat, I’m likely going to select Miga’s House Salad ($8). I think it might be one of the best items on the Miga menu. You can pair it with the MIGA crunch fries, which are delicious. Entrées are $16 and up, with proteins $23-$38, so dinner isn’t cheap. But the starters are quite good, and a couple of them more than make a meal. Like it’s little sister Sakanaya, the interior is beautiful.
This brand spanking new Italian restaurant has only been open for a couple of weeks, but so far feedback has been positive. Entrées are $20 and up, so a meal will probably run you $40-$50 per person. You can make a reservation here.
Quality is a pretty relaxed bar, with plenty of interesting beer on tap and in bottles. With fewer grad students around, it’s quite possible to hang out there and actually have a conversation with someone sitting across from you, or even play a board game. (Generally, it’s just too loud.) Bring your favorite take out to enjoy with your alcohol (I reccommend Thara Thai).
This is the perfect place to take your Judge Judy, out-of-town relatives who #canteven deal with being outside of the city. The food is delicious, and the interior space is beautiful.
Drink some wine, share charcuterie. The menu has been updated to reflect seasonal flavors, but note that dinner will cost you a pretty penny (entrées are $20 and up). Brunch might be a better option, especially if you’re dining with others (most dishes hover around $10 to $12. And it’s still socially acceptable to drink. Reservations suggested.
Triptych Festivus, December 23rd, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
There will be a bunch of tasty beers available, including three casks. Dragon Fire Pizza will be on hand dishing up wood-fired pizza, and Santa himself will make an appearance from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Bring your wish/grievance list(s), but don’t make it weird by trying to climb on his lap.
Silvercreek, Christmas Eve Dinner, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., special menu
If you don’t have any special family traditions, or you’re looking to spend a lot of money on or with people you love, here’s your chance. Pasta dishes include shrimp linguine ($18), lobster mac and cheese ($23), while protein entrées include 6-ounce filet mignon ($31), lamb chop steaks ($26), diver scallops ($29), and salmon ($24). You'll need to make a reservation.
Black Dog Urbana, New Year’s Eve, reservations at 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m., Urbana location only (Champaign location has regular hours), $55 per person
Smoked prime rib and lobster tail are on the menu at your last meal of 2015. You’ll also get an appetizer, selection of sides, and dessert. You need to make your reservation in person at the Urbana location, so don’t wait. $55 per person, not including drinks, tax, or tip.
Miga, New Year's Eve, reservations required, $80 per person, $35 per person for optional wine pairing
Miga's NYE dinner will be all beef: house salad (no beef), beef soup, beef tartare, beef tenderloin, beef bi bim bap, and a hopefully beef-less dessert. If cow isn't really your thing, you can order off the regular menu, which will be avaialble all night. Make your reservation here.
Silvercreek, New Year’s Eve, reservations required, $59.99 per person
For $60 per person, not including tax or tip, you’ll get three courses (app, entrée, dessert), a glass of champagne or sparkling juice, and live music. There isn’t a vegetarian option for the entrée, so this isn’t the choice for you if you don’t eat meat or fish.
V. Picasso, New Year’s Eve, reservations required, 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., $120 per person
If you’re really feeling spendy, make your reservations at 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. at V. Picasso. For $120 per person, not including tax, or tip, you’ll get a six-course meal with cocktail and wine parings. Some of the menu highlights include black eyed pea soup and braised rabbit ravioli. A vegetarian menu is available, and all items can be made gluten free upon request. The 9 p.m. seating also includes a champagne toast at midnight.Charcuterie not part of NYE dinner. But is still damn delicious.
All photos by Jessica Hammie; Festivus poster from Triptych's Facebook page.