Smile Politely

Five restaurants worth the drive from Champaign-Urbana

A cropped image of the BLT sandwich for a list about good restaurants outside of Champaign-Urbana. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Champaign-Urbana is a great town for food. We can eat Zambian hand-pies, burgers on doughnuts, bánh mì, Italian beef sandwiches, deep-dish pizza, Algerian lamb couscous, hot pot, sushi, tacos, pad Thai, Southern-fried chicken, and more. I’m just saying right at the top that I love eating in Champaign-Urbana so much that if I’m leaving our delicious twin cities (without a bite for the road), wherever I’m going better be worth the drive. These five restaurants are it; they’re worth the drive.

Of course, I haven’t tried all the restaurants in nearby towns, so if you know somewhere delicious that’s not in Champaign-Urbana that you think I should visit, leave a comment on socials or send me an email.

On a yellow triangular plate, there is pork schnitzel, spätzle, and four potato pancakes served with a cup of syrup. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Horsch Radish

Open since August 2022, the farm-to-table German restaurant Horsch Radish serves absolutely delicious schnitzel ($22). There’s a Jäger-style (topped with mushroom and onion demi-glace) option, but I ordered my schnitzel Vienna-style (lemon slice, capers, and demi-glace). The breading was crispy, and I loved the pork with a squeeze of lemon and the briny capers. Served with a choice of any two sides, I chose potato pancakes (so good) and spätzle. The spätzle’s springy egg noodles had a German brandy cream sauce that was so tasty that I didn’t want to share.

In addition to schnitzel and spätzle, Horsch Radish also serves pierogi, a sampler platter of handmade sausages, fries covered in Riggs bier cheese, bison burgers, frog legs, and schweinebraten. The kids menu prices and choices are on point: a $7 burger, $5 grilled cheese, and $7 hand-breaded chicken tenders. Save room for dessert; Horsch Radish makes a killer carrot cake in addition to root beer floats, apple strudel, and more. Here’s a link to the whole menu and Carl’s review of the German restaurant.

Horsch Radish
209 N Sangamon Ave
Gibson City
W-Sa 4 to 9 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On a red picnic table, there is a cheeseburger from Just Hamburgers in Paxton, Illinois with a side of fries. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Just Hamburgers

I’d never been to Paxton until I drove out to try Just Hamburgers a few weeks ago. I ordered the famous double cheeseburger ($5) and a side of fries ($1.75). I couldn’t believe the prices; nothing on the menu was more than $6. This lunch scratched an itch that only fast food burgers and fries can, and it was so freaking tasty. Served fast, I enjoyed everything about the burger: the soft (not-at-all artisan) bun with quasi-melted American cheese and usual toppings. The charred, beefy flavor of the patties tasted as just good as burgers that cost double or triple the price. And the fries! Served in a little paper bag, the skinny fries were deliciously salty, and I loved them.

Operating since 1971, Just Hamburgers is the cutest mom-and-pop burger joint I’ve ever been to. When the owners retired last year, the new owners kept the menu and building the same but added the convenience of card payment. It’s worth the drive even though there’s no dine-in; it’s all takeout, but there are picnic tables in the shade by the side of the road — or you can scarf it down in your car.

Just Hamburgers
214 Ottawa Rd
M-F 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. + 4 to 7 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. + 4 to 6:30 p.m.

A BLT sandwich worth the drive from Chopped on Main Street in Mahomet for restaurants outside of Champaign-Urbana. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Chophouse on Main

Chophouse on Main in Mahomet is a two-storied restaurant with a fancy main level and a more casual upstairs. On a night out with friends, I ordered the Chophouse BLT ($12) with a side of onion rings ($2), and it was fantastic. The bread for the sandwich was Texas toast, so it had a delicious buttery, garlic flavor. I loved how much B was on the BLT; the thick slices of smoky bacon tasted yummy with the zingy herb dijonaise. The onion rings were awesome dipped in Chophouse’s housemade ranch.

Chophouse on Main’s menu has appetizers, steaks, pork chops, burgers, sandwiches, and vegetarian dishes. The kids meals range from ribeye to hand-breaded shrimp. Last time, I didn’t have room for the dessert, but next time, I want to try the Reese’s peanut butter pie. Oh, and I want to mention that the Mahomet restaurant claims to be wheelchair accessible and a transgender safe space, hell yeah. For more about Chophouse on Main, read Xiaohui’s full review of dinner on the main floor.

Chophouse On Main
401 E Main St
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Inside a brown box, there is a cup of chicken noodle soup worth the drive to Mahomet for Lucky Moon Pies and More with a dinner roll dusted with sesame seeds. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Lucky Moon Pies and More

Obviously, Lucky Moon Pies is a good pie shop, but I want to go off about And More: the lunches. Each day, there’s (usually) only one savory option; they share on Instagram what’s cooking each day. Previous lunches have included apple-cheddar-Brie panini, chicken salad wraps, sausage gravy biscuit bombs, baked spaghetti, taco pot pies, and cobb salad — all made from scratch.

The only downside of loving something on the lunch menu is that it’s hard to catch, so if you ever see chicken noodle soup with a roll ($7.99), rearrange your day to try it. This chicken noodle soup quenched my soul. The noodles were handmade, hand-cut, thick, soft noodles, and there were so many! I loved the soft carrots, the rustic shreds of chicken, and the salty broth. The dinner roll was fluffy, yeasty, and totally delicious. For more about the adorable pie shop, read about the buttermilk pie with berries, chocolate pecan pie, the Old English fruitcake, and our reviews (Remington’s, Matt’s, and Rachael’s).

Lucky Moon Pies and More
401 E Oak St
W-F 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to noon

The fried chicken on the buffet line at Yoder's Kitchen in Arthur, Illinois for good restaurants worth the drive outside of Champaign-Urbana. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Yoder’s Kitchen

Another place worth the drive is Yoder’s Kitchen, which has a Buffet with a capital B. There are two long buffet aisles (one with salads and one with hot dishes) in addition to a dessert table, a soup station, and an ice cream machine with a toppings bar. Pretty much everything is good here, but my favorite was the fried chicken. Hot and crispy, the juicy chicken had a yummy, salty batter, and I saw the tray refilled twice in forty minutes. We went on fish Friday because I heard the fish was great, but I thought the fried fish was just okay. The other food more than made up for it though. A highlight was the salad bar’s trio of Midwestern “salads”: Snickers pudding (vanilla pudding with nuts), pistachio fluff (lime green marshmallow-y cream with pineapple), and triple orange (like an orange creamsicle pudding). If anyone asks how I’ve been lately, I mention that I had some wild salads at an Amish restaurant.

Other musts: that amazing housemade sweet onion dressing, deep-fried corn nuggets, and the little fried shrimpies. If you’re into salads, the salad bar has a variety of greens, dressings, and pretty much any topping imaginable for a salad from crumbled bacon to croutons to eggs to grean peas. An all-you-can-eat Buffet isn’t enough, so there’s also unlimited sliced white bread to pair with the table’s squeeze bottles of apple butter and Amish peanut butter. If the Buffet desserts and soft serve machine can’t satisfy a sweet tooth, add a slice of pie to-go for $2. On Friday and Saturday mornings, Yoder’s Kitchen has a breakfast buffet with homemade doughnuts, sticky buns, mush, and more.

Yoder’s Kitchen
1195 E Columbia St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F+Sa 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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