Smile Politely

A casual date night at Guido’s Bar & Grill

A cropped image for a header of the Guido's Bar review for Smile Politely. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

If you’ve stepped foot in Downtown Champaign — or even just driven through, you’ve probably seen Guido’s Bar and Grill. You kind of can’t miss it. It’s the entire southwest corner, taking up space on both Main and Neil Streets.

Guido’s has been in that spot since 2003, and we’ve written about the restaurant quite a bit over the years: the burger (here, here, and here), drinks, nachos, eggplant fries, and their boozy milkshakes. Since there hasn’t been a full review of the restaurant since the one Jess wrote in 2015, it’s a good time to revisit the tavern at 2 Main, Champaign.

Guido's Bar & Grill in Downtown Champaign has a maroon awning and outdoor seating behind black planters. The exterior of Guido's is pictured on a summer's day with blue skies and fluffy clouds, and the trees have green leaves. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Guido’s menu has all the classic bar food (fried appetizers, sandwiches, burgers) and an expansive drink menu of beer, cocktails, shots, and wine. There’s only two desserts listed (chocolate cake or cheesecake), but that’s not all if you count the five kinds of milkshakes (plus 15 boozy versions). Some other interesting things I read on the menu: Guido’s serves Keurig coffee, has three kinds of ranch (lite, cool, and chipotle), and offers a weekday lunch special (half salad/half sandwich).

The interior of Guido's Bar & Grill in Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Inside, it’s spacious with lot of tables plus seating around the bar in the center of the restaurant. There are televisions playing, but I don’t want to peep a sportsball game. When I’m at Guido’s, I want to watch the bustle of Main Street Champaign. My favorite place to sit at is one of these banquettes. Yeah, the leather (pleather?) seats are comfy, but the view is so charming that it’s worthwhile to sit by the window.

We scooted into a booth with a view on Sunday for an early dinner. For this review, we ordered two appetizers, two entrees, two martinis, and a cocktail.

The pineapple upside-down martini from Guido's Bar. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

As an apertif, I ordered the pineapple upside-down cake martini ($11.50), which had vanilla vodka, amaretto, and pineapple juice with a sunken cherry. The drink’s ombré layers looked pretty, and the frosted glass kept the drink cold. The cocktail had a smooth pineapple fruitiness, and I would definitely get this again.

My husband skipped the beer list to try something off the bar’s cocktail menu (bless), and he ordered the crample ($12).

A crample cocktail in a pint glass. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

To be honest, it didn’t really look appetizing. The inside of the pint glass was coated with thick splashes of caramel syrup that didn’t really blend. Made with apple whiskey, sour apple schnapps, and pineapple juice, it tasted like a green jolly rancher mixed with apple cider. I didn’t like it and would not recommend it. It just wasn’t balanced; it was sweet apple overload. To be fair, when my husband ordered it, our server asked, “Are you sure? Do you like really sweet drinks?” and my husband said yes — so, it’s not like we weren’t warned.

An order of cheese curds from Guido's bar and restaurant. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

For our first appetizer, we ordered hot cheese — like good Midwesterners. Guido’s garlic cheese curds ($10.75) had fried, breaded curds served with a side of marinara. The bites were softer than other curds around town, but the herby garlic breading wasn’t the main attraction for this app. It was all about the cheese. Each popable bite of cheese had a great squeak when bit and a satisfying cheese pull when torn. This was a solid plate of cheese curds, and it was a pretty big portion.

An order of the buffalo fried cauliflower. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

We also ordered the spicy fried cauliflower ($10.75), which had fried buffalo-dipped cauliflower, served with a cup of ranch. These needed some salt, but thankfully, there were shakers on the table. I loved this appetizer’s delicious buffalo flavor and the super crunchy batter. Each fried cauliflower floret tasted a little bit spicy like buffalo chicken wings — but vegetarian. They were totally addicting especially with the creamy, cool ranch, and I will definitely be back for another round of these.

A Western burger with American cheese, bacon, tomato, red onion, pickles, and two beef patties on a bun with a blue-tipped toothpick. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Since I’ve had Guido’s regular burger and Julie’s raved about the buffalo burger, I wanted to try something different. I ordered the Western burger ($13.75), which had two all-beef smash-patties with cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce, smoked bacon, grilled onions, plus the freebie toppings. My burger came with a choice of a side, and I chose curly fries, which were great.

Immediately, the burger had plate appeal; I loved the look of its melty cheese and all those toppings. Each bite had a lot going on: fresh veggie crunch, smoky bacon, meaty patties, soft bread, and the bite ratio was on point. Guido’s toppings were obnoxiously generous: four pieces of bacon, two thick tomato slices, long pickles, tons of raw red onion, and so much lettuce that it made a little salad on my plate, and that burger was yummy. The smokiness of the bacon paired well with the smear of sweet barbecue sauce and grilled onions. The beef patties were pretty thick for a smashburger and tasted really good with melted cheddar and mayo, but I couldn’t even finish half because it was so big (and my tummy was full of buffalo cauliflower).

A reuben sandwich with a side of tots from Guido's in Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Since there’s not that many places in town to get a reuben (R.I.P. La Royale), my husband ordered the pastrami reuben ($13.25) — and my god, it was so delicious. Guido’s reuben had grilled hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and a housemade thousand island dressing on grilled marbled rye bread. There was a lot of sauerkraut on the sando, but there was also a lot of pastrami; it was well balanced. The toasted rye buns soaked up the sandwich’s flavors only on the inside, so each bite was sandwiched between a satisfying crunch. The pastrami was very hot in temperature with charred crispy ends, and the creamy thousand island was tangy and delicious. This is the reuben for me — and maybe for you? If you like reubens, you gotta try this one and let me know what you think.

The sandwich also came with a choice of side. My husband chose the tots, and they were fine.

The tangerine martini from Guido's Bar. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

For dessert, I ordered a drink: tangerine dream martini ($11.50). The cocktail had vodka, rum, peach schnapps, triple sec, orange juice, and grenadine. It was a simple, to-the-point drink that tasted of sweet boozy tangerine. If you like fruity drinks and don’t mind sweetness, this and the pineapple upside-down cake martini are worth a sip.

There’s a reason Guido’s Bar & Grill has prospered in Downtown Champaign for twenty years; Guido’s just hits. The food is unpretentious with generous portions, and the restaurant has plenty of comfy seating and wonderful service. Our server was so on top of everything; our waters were refilled many times, and they didn’t rush us through our meal, letting us linger over apps before taking our entree order. All in all, Guido’s is a good go-to spot for a casual date night, but it’s also pretty fun to go with friends to split pitchers and fried appetizers.

Check out the bar and grill’s full menu online.

Guido’s Bar & Grill
2 E Main St
Su-Th 11 a.m. to midnight
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

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