Smile Politely

Five cheap lunches in Champaign-Urbana for under $10

Two slices of pizza from Manolo's Pizza and Empanadas are in white paper pizza boxes for a cheap lunches in Champaign-Urbana list. Cheap lunch in Champaign-Urbana has a slice of cheese and a slice of barbecue chicken ranch for under $10. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Finding a satisfying restaurant lunch that costs less than $10 is hard — especially in this economy. But, dear hungry readers, here are five delicious cheap lunches in Champaign-Urbana.

For more inexpensive mid-day eating possibilities around town, read last year’s list of cheap lunches in C-U and my 2021 list of C-U lunches under $10.

Alyssa Buckley

Fish Fry Special︱Boomerang’s Bar & Grill

This Urbana bar and restaurant has cheap daily specials (including 45 cent wing Wednesday), but this big fish plate needs to be on your radar. Served not just for lunch, this all-day fish fry Friday special ($9.75) is the biggest meal in this list. The sandwich had two Atlantic cod filets hand-dipped in a housemade beer-batter, served scaldingly hot on a simple bun with toppings (lettuce, onions, pickles, and tomato) on the side, and it was damn delicious. The crispy, airy batter floated above the flaky fish, and the creamy tartar sauce’s mellow lemon flavor was excellent. The fries were skinny and salty, and the portion was insanely large, taking up half the big plate. If that wasn’t enough, Boomerang’s Friday special also included a side of coleslaw. Slightly sweet and not heavy on the mayo, the cold slaw went great with the hot fish. It was everything I wanted from a fried fish sandwich and more.

Follow the bar on Instagram for daily updates on the kitchen specials.

Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
1209 E Washington Ave
M-F 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa noon to 11 p.m.
Su noon to 7 p.m.

Alyssa Buckley

Kung Pao Chicken︱Golden Harbor

Maybe you’ve seen the sign, but Golden Harbor has lunch specials. The weekday lunches range from Mongolian beef to fried tofu with broccoli, each with white rice or fried rice. This kung pao chicken lunch special ($8.95) was great. Hot from the wok, small chops of chicken were coated in a tasty brown gravy. The dish started mild — or at least had a very subtle spiciness, but the heat blazed the more I ate. Though a few pieces had small bones or gristly bits, the flavors tasted yummy, so it didn’t bother me. The chicken took on the spiciness well, and that developing spicy flavor was balanced by the tender-crisp green vegetables, onions, and whole peanuts. The more bites of spicy chicken I had, the more I needed the white rice.

This satisfying lunch and all of Golden Harbor’s lunch specials are only 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. For more favorites from the Chinese restaurant’s extensive 1,000+ item menu, check this and this out.

Golden Harbor
505 S Neil St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. + 4:30 to 7:45 p.m.
Su 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. + 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Alyssa Buckley

Taco Lunch︱La Mixteca

When I want to eat something quick, I swing by the Urbana plaza of Mexican eateries (La Mixteca, El Oasis, and San Miguel Panaderia) owned by Mauricio Contreras. Since I’ve been craving tacos lately, I ordered the taco lunch ($7.99), which came with two tacos, rice, and beans plus (of course) free chips and salsa. La Mixteca’s chips are so freaking good that I will often smash a basket all by myself.

I ordered one al pastor taco and one carnitas taco, both on corn tortillas with cilantro and onion. The pastor taco had diced pork, and the savory, peppery taste was punched up with sweetness from chopped pineapple. The carnitas had a great pulled meat texture and just the most ridiculously delicious amount of salt; this carnitas filling was so salty in the best way. The rice and beans were nice way to round out the meal, and with unlimited chips and the spicy green salsa, this lunch was filling. Order online or take thirty minutes to eat some tacos and bottomless chips.

La Mixteca
510 North Cunningham Ave
M-F 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sa-Su 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Alyssa Buckley

Slices of Pizza︱Manolo’s Pizza & Empanadas

The small pizzeria on Oregon Street sells full pizza pies to order (plus frozen pizzas and dough balls), but a popular draw is the pizza by the slice. Last week, I ordered a slice of cheese and a slice of barbecue chicken ranch, and I loved both. It’s the crust for me.

Packaged to go, the two thin-crust, New York style pizza slices tasted so good. With light sauce, the gooey cheese slice ($3.47) was total cheese pizza perfection. I loved the made-from-scratch sourdough crust, just how thin it was and the little bubble puffs. The slice was large enough to fold over and eat — and that I did. I know there’s a lot of love for the Spotted Goat, but I ordered the barbecue chicken ranch ($4.91) specialty slice. Drawn in by the green onion garnish, I liked this slice, too. The soft, dark onions had a great caramelized flavor, and the chicken was awesome: well seasoned and not dry at all. Instead of a ranch drizzle, the slice had a creamy garlic-ranch alfredo sauce under the cheese and toppings; the ranch sauce was a little bit tangy and absolutely delicious. Stop by the counter-service pizzeria for a slice or call in an order for a large cheese pizza.

Manolo’s Pizza & Empanadas
1115 W Oregon St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Alyssa Buckley

Ham and Cheese Pan + Mini Brownie Bites︱Suzu’s Bakery

Suzu’s Bakery is a delight, and when I heard that the Japanese bakery had savory sandwiches, I was intrigued. Served in limited quantities, there are three savory pans: vegetarian curry, egg salad, and the ham and cheese ($6), which I ordered online. Served warm and topped with a slice of ever-so-slightly toasted cheese, the bread was filled with smoked ham, Swiss, dijon mustard, and a little bit of kewpie mayo.

Just barely golden, the sandwich was so yummy. The milk bread pan was super soft and squishy, and the baked cheese crisp on top had an audible crunch. Ham was the dominating flavor, and I loved the little bit of dijon to cut the decadence of the melty Swiss. With a $6 price tag, this hot ham sammie allowed for dessert. Covered in a fudgy dark chocolate glaze with sprinkles, the two mini brownie bites ($2.50) were delicious, but if chocolate’s not your thing, there’s also matcha and strawberry brownie bites. Read Matt’s interview with the owner to learn more about the bakery.

Suzu’s Bakery
114 N Walnut St
W+Th 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
F+Sa 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

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