‘Tis the season to be jolly, don our gay apparel, and deck the halls with boughs of holly. Falalalala, lalalala. But — what if, instead — we skipped decking the halls, and we deck the balls and celebrate balls of food. Over the past year, I enjoyed many spherically shaped foods in C-U, and I hereby dub 2022: The Year of the Sphere.
From arancini to hushpuppies to Chinese doughnuts, here are six delicious fried balls in Champaign-Urbana.
Boom Balls | Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
In August, I wrote about these boom balls ($5.75) which are positively flawless. The golden balls are stuffed with creamy mashed potatoes and bits of real bacon. Boomerang’s Bar & Grill makes these boom balls from scratch with a big batch of mashed ‘taters, that is scooped, frozen, battered, and then fried to order. Served with sour cream and ranch, boom balls make for a yummy appetizer that is downright addictive.
Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
1209 E Washington Ave
M-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.
Fried Dough | China Garden
These doughnuts from China Garden are great. In July, I wrote about this order of fried dough ($4.55). Ten freshly fried balls tossed in sugar have a fluffy, doughy midde. These Chinese doughnuts have a crispy exterior that tastes like fair food, and I love that with the sugar sprinkle. The next time you’re at China Garden in Urbana, add this spherical dessert to the order.
114 N Vine St
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Arancini di Riso | Nando Milano
I am in love with the arancini from Nando Milano. The arancini di riso ($18) is seriously a must have appetizer when at the Downtown Champaign trattoria. Two crispy saffron rice balls each have a different filling; one has smoked mozzarella and Bolognese sauce, and the other has mascarpone, Pepato, and spinach. The crispy exterior contrasts the creamy rice and melty cheeses in the most amazing way. They are the most expensive balls on the list, but Nando’s Italian rice balls are incredible — and big enough to share.
Nando Milano Trattoria
204 N Neil St
M-Th 5 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 5 to 11 p.m.
Su 4 to 9 p.m.
Arancini | Papa Del’s
There’s a lot to love at Papa Del’s, and the arancini ($9) is definitely near the top of that list. I love Papa Del’s arancini, and Julie does, too. The appetizer has pretty plating for dine in with five creamy risotto bites covered in a panko crumb atop romesco sauce with a balsamic drizzle. The peas inside the cheesy rice add a soft pop, and the softened tomatoes and roasted peppers under the arancini go really well with the crispy panko. This is a delicious app that tastes great even as takeout.
1201 S Neil Street
Su-Th 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Falafel | Shawarma Joint
Shawarma Joint’s falafel are the cheapest balls on the list at only $0.75 each. Falafel counts as a protein for the entrees here, but the falafel balls are also available by the piece as a side order. Shawarma Joint’s falafel has a tasty, crunchy outside and a soft, grainy inside. I like the savory earthy flavor and crumbly texture of the middle. Shawarma Joint recently opened their second location in Urbana which serves the same great customizable gyro bowls, wraps, and pitas as the Campustown location plus more parking availability than Green Street.
102 E University Ave
M-Sa 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Crab Hushpuppies | Watson’s Shack & Rail
Watson’s crab hushpuppies ($13) are served with lemon and a side of comeback sauce, and they are so delicious. A squeeze of lemon over the fried bready bites makes these hushpuppies taste even better. I love absolutely everything about this app: the tangy sauce on the crispy exterior, the little crab pieces in the gritty cornbread, and bright lemon with crabby sweetness.
Watson’s Shack & Rail
211 N Neil St
M 4 to 9 p.m.
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. + 4 to 9 p.m.