Smile Politely

Cheap eats in C-U

As a jobless college student who loves to eat, I’m always on the search for a great deal. There’s no greater feeling than sitting down after spending less than ten dollars on food and having a wonderful meal. I took it upon myself to get creative and think about the best meals in Champaign-Urbana that you can get for a great price. I honestly believe that you don’t have to break the bank to eat well, especially in Champaign-Urbana.

Here’s what I found to be five great cheap eats in C-U.

An open styrofoam container holds a quesadilla and a chicken taco wrapped in tin foil. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Thursday Special | Cactus Grill

Cactus Grill holds a very special place in my heart. It’s everything anyone could ever want and more: great food, incredible prices, and huge portions. Once or twice a week my friends and I would pile into an SUV and make the sacred journey to the small restaurant on Neil Street. I cannot tell you how many times I ate the Thursday special in the trunk of a Ford Explorer. But enough about me; let’s get to the important stuff, the food.

The daily special at Cactus Grill is $6.80 and changes everyday. Monday is a chicken burrito; Tuesday is 3 chicken tacos; Wednesday is a steak burrito (a favorite among many); Thursday is a chicken quesadilla and a chicken taco (by far my favorite and I’ll explain why); and Friday is fish burrito day. In my opinion, you can’t beat the Thursday special. I go with a honey grilled chicken quesadilla with chipotle sauce inside (pro tip) and a chipotle chicken taco with everything on it. This is an ungodly amount of food for only $6.80. I promise that these deals won’t disappoint. Go to Cactus, go on a Thursday, and eat to your heart’s content.

Cactus Grill
1405 S Neil St
M-F 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A quarter chicken with jerk seasoning on a slice of white bread with a side of rice and peas sits in a styrofoam container. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Flavor Box | Caribbean Grill

The Caribbean Grill Flavor Box is a $5.99 box of delicious spicy jerk meats and your choice of a side. This box of goodness puts whatever is in the greasy, new Taco Bell ‘box’ fad for five dollars to shame. You can choose from jerk chicken (my personal favorite), jerk meatballs, or barbecue chicken. Your choice of sides are rice and peas (hands down, my favorite), mac ’n cheese (also quite tasty), fried plantains, steamed cabbage, and green beans. The jerk sauce is deliciously spicy with complex flavors and a slight sweetness that is pretty addicting. 

Caribbean Grill
2135 S Neil St
Tu-Sa 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A close up of a burger from Bobo's Barbecue showing the cheese melted into the burger. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Cheeseburger | Bobo’s Barbecue

This cheeseburger from Bobo’s is seriously a good burger. For just $2.59, you can get a single cheeseburger. A double cheeseburger is only one dollar extra at $3.59, and a side of fries will only cost you an extra $1.80.

The burgers are made with two smashed beef patties which get crispy, lacy edges that give it some texture alongside the American cheese. Your choice of toppings are pickles, ketchup, mustard, onion, and American cheese. If you’re a burger person and you’ve never been to Bobo’s, now is definitely the time. For a measly six bucks, you can grab a satisfying and filling meal on the go that is outright delicious.

Bobo’s Barbecue
1511 W Springfield Ave
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Dollar rolls from KoFusion are in a black rectangular takeout container. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Dollar Roll | KoFusion

My girlfriend introduced me to KoFusion on campus and the dollar roll three years ago — and I haven’t stopped going since. If you’re looking for a cheap meal and you’re craving sushi, this is the place for you. With six types of rolls for a dollar each, you can mix and match to your heart’s content. The most popular roll in my circle is the Big Roll.

The Big Roll is an excellent roll to introduce yourself to sushi. Basically, it’s a deep fried roll that has cream cheese, avocado, crab meat, mushrooms, and some other stuff. Is it the most authentic? Absolutely not, but who cares: it’s delicious. I’ve seen people eat twelve of those monsters in one sitting. Other choices are the California roll, the creamy roll (cream cheese, fried shrimp, and avocado), the coconut roll (with shrimp and mango), the popper roll (a jalapeño popper in a sushi roll), and, last but certainly not least, the spicy crab roll (spicy crab, avocado, and cucumber) which is pretty fantastic. 

701 South Gregory Suite F
M-F 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa-Su noon to 8 p.m.

A slice of deep dish pizza from Papa Del's sits on a tin foil piece. Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Photo by Anthony Erlinger.

Slice of Pizza | Papa Del’s

Everyone who has spent a week in Champaign-Urbana has heard of the legend that is Papa Del’s. Almost every townie I know will tell you that Papa Del’s is the holy grail of pizza in the area. I think they have some damn good pizza.

What makes their pizza even better is that during the lunch hour, you can buy it by the slice. A slice of their deep dish pizza costs between $3.25 and $4.00 depending on the flavor you choose. I got two slices when I went: a slice of pepperoni ($3.25) and a slice of sausage ($3.75). If you’ve had Papa Del’s deep dish, you can probably agree that two slices of their pizza will nearly put you into a coma. Seven dollars for two slices of deep dish pizza is an absolute steal, and a deal that certainly should not be overlooked.

Papa Del’s
1201 S Neil St
Su-Th 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
F-Sa 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

You can follow Anthony on Instagram at @food_by_ant

Top image by Anthony Erlinger.

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