Smile Politely

Best restaurants opened in 2018

Despite the recent closures of a handful of beloved restaurants in Champaign, the food and drink scene in C-U is actually quite robust. There were a whole bunch of places that opened last year, and in the spirit of fun and celebration, we decided to rank them. We focused on new restaurants, not additional locations for already existing restaurants (like Pekara’s Springfield and Prospect location). When we began to compile the list, the number of restaurants surprised us. With everything from fast casual sandwiches to table service and bottles of wine, there really is something for all price points, across all sorts of cuisines. Each of these new restaurants offers something to the community that wasn’t entirely available before, whether in cuisine or location or some combination of both. And even though the restaurants making this final list are all very different from one another, they have one thing in common: We want to revisit them. — Jessica Hammie, Managing Editor/Food & Drink Editor

11. BA’GET

1713 W. Kirby Avenue, Champaign

This Vietnamese-American sandwich shop offers a hybrid sub/banh mi. For those sick of the boring turkey sub, Ba’get offers something different; for those skeptical of the banh-mi, it’s approachable. There’s even a meatball sub on the menu. The bread is nice and crusty, but not hard or razor-sharp. The prices are right for lunch, and the serving is generous, but not so large you’re worthless for the afternoon. The sandwich shop also has boba tea on the menu, just in case you need a little pick me up after your sammie. It’s certainly an affordable and satisfying option for sandwiches that is heads and shoulders better than Subway. (JH)

Photo by Jessica Hammie


2400 W. Bradley Avenue, Champaign

The trajectory Betsy’s Bistro — a component of Hendrick House — has taken from food service to food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant is not the most cookie-cutter of plans to actually work out. The food truck has proven itself, and with the addition of the Besty’s Bistro location at Parkland College, where so many “caferteria-style” experiences can be so, so terrible, this is truly a restaurant-quality offering in a quick and easy format that suits students and real life dining adults alike. We saw the burgers at Betsy’s start things out, but when you move onto stir fry, pizza, sandwiches, and noodle/soup bowls, now we’re really talking. (PS)

Photo by Patrick Singer


212 E. Green Street, Suite 102, Champaign

Shiquan is one of the latest Chinese restaurants to stake their claim in Campustown, and they offer a large menu of items from a variety of regions, though the Chef is from the Hunan region, as you can read about in our full review. If you, like me, are someone who has spent a good portion of her life eating very Americanized Chinese food, ordering can be an adventure. But, their website has photos of everything and the descriptions make it pretty clear if you’re about to order something spicy. We have such a robust international student population here, and I’m all for added options that offer students food they would eat at home, and offer the rest of us the opportunity to expand our horizons and experience new flavors. If you’re looking for a good take out lunch, I recommend one of their bento boxes. They’re $9 and you get a lot of food. (JM)

Photo by Jessica Hammie


2017 S. Neil Street, Champaign

Though C-U isn’t necessarily wanting for sushi, Moki Sushi is a nice addition to the mix. The menu is larger than those at other restaurants, and there is a very good vegetarian sushi menu, too. There is a limited non-sushi menu, but it’s a little pricey and probably not the best example of those particular dishes in C-U. The all-you-can-eat sushi option is a great deal, and if you’re dining in a group, it’s fun to order an actual boatload of sushi and have at it. The restaurant space is bright and trendy. There is plenty of seating, so you don’t really need to worry about long wait times. (JH)

Photo by Jessica Hammie


301 N. Neil Street, Suite 106, Champaign

And just like that, I take it back. I made the claim that JJs Fish was the best place to get catfish in town, and that was before I’d tasted the catfish platter at Neil St. Blues, and let me tell you, this is the clear winner. Add to it collard greens, braised to perfection with hunks of dark meat turkey, and a yummy mac n’ cheese — well, you’ve got a winner.

And don’t sleep on these wangs. They are big and meaty and flavorful and on Wednesdays, they are $1 a pop, as long as you order a side dish. You can get a Ten High and soda for $3, too.

The place could use a bit more as far as ambience goes. And if they really want to be a true live music showcase venue — which would be the only one in Downtown Champaign soon enough — they need to build a stage that is meaningful and directs attention.

But this is about the food, and the food is dynamite, from what I have tasted thus far. (SF)

Photo by Patrick Singer


300 S. Broadway Avenue, Urbana

This year brought a few restaurants that offer cuisine not previously available in C-U, and Stango Cuisine is one of them. Stationed at Lincoln Square Mall, they offer a delightful selection of African cuisine and it is comfort food at it’s finest. A bonus: They donate 10% of every meal to a charity in Zambia. If you really want to get a good sampling of what they have to offer, I recommend Emma’s Platter, as it has a little bit of everything and it will for sure leave you with another meal for the next day. Also, don’t skip out on some of the extras: Jamaican hand pies, plantains (pretty much the best I’ve ever had), and beignets. Basically you should grab a buddy and then just order all the food because it’s all tasty. Then go home and take a nap. Lincoln Square can be a dicey place to maintain your business, so fingers crossed that they stick around for awhile. (JM)

Photo by Jessica Hammie


715 S. Neil Street, Champaign

When I wrote about Dumpling Noodle BBQ for our BEST issue this past December, I wasn’t trying to be hyperbolic. This joint really serves up a mean bowl of noodle soup, true to its name, which is simple and basic in its description of what you can eat there.

But they also have more, and between the eggplant dish and the chicken heart skewers (which are delish), this restaurant is very worthy of your time, and money. But you won’t spend much of it. The prices are too low, if you are asking me honestly. (SF)

Photo by Jessica Hammie


1807 S. Neil Street, Champaign

With Lodgic Everyday Community’s opening last year, there’s a lot to take in with all of the components that their business has to offer — it is easy to expect that the restaurant component might get overlooked, or lack focus because of just the sheer volume of offerings. While there’s still some work to be done, Everyday Kitchen’s wide variety of Midwestern fare has not disappointed. Whether you’re going there for brunch, lunch, or dinner, Everyday Kitchen showcases that you can offer a lot while not offering too much, and remain in your lane as far as cuisine goes. The atmosphere and service are great, even though these are attributes of a restaurant that might lack when everyone is still learning what the place even serves, or how things work. The restaurant has proven itself as a vital part of what Lodgic brings to not just the food community, but to the community that isn’t just looking for the same ol’, same ol’. (PS)

Photo by Patrick Singer


415 N. Neil Street, Champaign

Admittedly, I was a bit late to the game when it came to trying out Sticky Rice for the first time. I thought that Restaurant Week was a great way to finally get myself inside a place I’ve known as so many other spaces before this one. The Thai-Loatian restaurant has been very well received across the board from observations about commentary on social media and friends in the real world alike. After giving it a go myself, I found that with my own taste buds, Sticky Rice is the real deal. The restaurant offers traditional offerings from a cuisine that isn’t already available in C-U, which is always a relief. We didn’t just get a new Thai restaurant, or a new Loatian restaurant, but a new Thai-Loatian joint with real goodness packed in to a unique restaurant in our fair cities. (PS)

Photo by Anna Longworth


510 N. Cunningham Avenue, Suite 4, Urbana

La Mixteca had been open for a little while before I actually visited the restaurant, and man was I kicking myself for not visiting sooner. The Mexican restaurant serves breakfast and lunch/dinner, and the food is fantastic. In just a short amount of time, I’ve visited more than I’m comfortable admitting — it’s become my go-to spot for meals with friends and out of town visitors. Mixteca fills a gap in the Mexican offerings in town: The menu is more extensive than Maize’s, but the food isn’t as Americanized as El Toro or Dos Reales. You’ll find things you can’t get elsewhere, like menudo, next to American classics like burgers. It’s a quirky mix of items, but somehow it works. And the tortilla chips? They’re among the best I’ve ever had. (JH)

Photo by Jessica Hammie


401 N. Broadway Avenue, Urbana

This one juuusst slid in to being a “new restaurant to open in 2018” as it opened at the beginning of January of last year, and in our collective opinions has been a welcome addition to the Urbana food landscape. With the food hall concept on the rise — Chicago’s Revival, Latinicity, and Eataly come to mind — it’s great to have our own C-U scale version here. I’ve tried multiple items at Broadway Food Hall, and have yet to be disappointed. Their La Royale burger made our top 8 burger list, and with good reason, as it is wonderful option for a griddle burger. I also enjoy the pastrami sandwich offerings, and create your own poke and rice bowls options. They’ve set themselves up as a community gathering place, hosting numerous special events throughout the year, and it’s an easy spot to meet up for lunch because there’s something for everyone. (JM)

Photo by Patrick Singer

This article was curated and written by Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Seth Fein.

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