Multiple options for consumers are a good thing. Competition encourages businesses to strive for excellence, provide value for your hard-earned money, and set themselves apart from the clutter to earn repeat business. When I hear people bemoan, “We have too many Mexican restaurants in the C-U area,” I couldn’t disagree more. If you have ever dealt with a monopoly (I’m looking at you, public utilities), it’s extremely frustrating not to be able to take your business elsewhere. Imagine having just one pizza place in Champaign-Urbana — no, thank you.
That’s why I was excited to see Encanto Restaurant and Bar open in Crane Alley’s former location. Yes, Encanto offers Mexican fare, but they also offer Peruvian dishes, which checks the set-yourself-apart box. So on a lazy, wet, and overcast Sunday, my wife and I pulled ourselves off the couch to see what Encanto had to offer.
The interior has been completely redone and is very bright and inviting now. The tables and booths were very roomy and comfortable. There was a lot of nice art painted by local artists.
As soon as we sat down, they brought us chips and two bowls of salsa (no charge), which was nice for my wife as I usually take more than my fair share when “sharing” a bowl. The chips were fresh, crispy, and warm. The salsa had a great mild flavor. Our server, Brandon, greeted us warmly and was extremely knowledgeable answering our questions. They have a wonderful drink selection and full-service bar, but we were sticking with water today — I really know how to woo my wife.
We ordered chorizo queso fundido ($8.75) for our appetizer. Brandon told us that for no charge (right up my alley), we can have tortillas, hot sauce with cilantro, and grilled nopales (cactus) with jalapeño peppers for our fundido. We opted for all three on the side.
The fundido was cheesy and had a generous amount of chorizo, onions, tomatoes, and peppers. We enjoyed putting the fundido on our chips and the tortillas. The grilled nopales added some freshness and crunch, and the hot sauce with cilantro was wonderful. It was a tremendous value considering all that came with it for $9 and was a wonderful start to our meal.
My wife ordered traditional street tacos with shrimp, corn tortillas, onion, and cilantro ($3.99 each). Other options include carne asada, grilled chicken, chorizo, carnitas, and al pastor ($3.25 each). The shrimp were grilled perfectly. They were plump, moist, and smoky. The corn tortillas were soft and warm, and the onions and cilantro complimented the shrimp nicely. We both had them with no sauce because no sauce was needed.
I ventured outside my comfort zone and ordered the first ever Peruvian dish. I ordered aji de gallina ($12.50) by pointing at it on the menu rather than butchering the pronunciation. It was shredded chicken in aji amarillo (yellow chili pepper) cream sauce with boiled sliced potatoes on the bottom, a sliced hard-boiled egg, served with rice garnished by an olive and roasted red peppers. This was warm comfort food. My wife nailed it when she said it reminded her of chicken and noodles. The sliced potatoes on the bottom were a nice treat. I could only finish half, so I’m looking forward to enjoying them again for a workday lunch.
We ordered Santiago’s favorite ($11.99) to go and took it home to our son. They included chips and salsa with his to go order, which was a nice touch. This was a bed of rice topped with gilled chicken, shredded melted cheese, and cheese dip (you can never have enough cheese). It also came with tortillas. The chicken was cooked on the flat top with a nice crisp but still moist — and the cheese to chicken ratio was wonderful. Every single piece of chicken was blanketed in cheese.
Whether you are in the mood for Mexican food, or try some Peruvian favorites, Encanto is a nice, comfortable spot in Downtown Urbana with excellent food and service. I believe when you visit, you’ll find a lot of unique offerings that set it apart and make Encanto worth multiple visits. I look forward to trying different Peruvian meals there in the near future.
Encanto Restaurant and Bar
115 W Main St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.