Smile Politely

Five things to eat or drink in C-U this month: April 2024

A coffee flight at The Literary in Champaign.
Coffee flight at The Literary; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

On April 1st, most words on the internet should not be trusted, but I promise no foolish pranks here. My list of things to eat or drink in Champaign-Urbana this month only includes seriously delicious foods and drinks. This April, eat a banh mi sandwich in Urbana, a spicy Thai salad in Champaign, a drive-through Italian beef, glorious thin-crust pizza, and the cutest coffee flight I have ever seen.

The banh mi at A Taste of Both Worlds in a red basket outside on a very sunny day.
Banh mi at A Taste of Both Worlds; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Banh Mi Sandwich ︱A Taste of Both Worlds

At the CUDO Plays Board Game Exhibition on Saturday, I ate lunch from one of only two remaining vendors in the spacious Broadway Food Hall of Urbana. At the counter of A Taste of Both Worlds, I ordered the banh mi sandwich ($10.66), and it was fire just like their Restaurant Week banh mi burger. The sandwich’s baguette cradled sliced gio bi pork, pâté, butter, and mayo topped with pickled carrots and daikon radish, pretty peeled cucumber, fresh jalapeño, and cilantro. Of a choice between roasted pork or beef, I chose pork, but the restaurant offers a special vegan version as well. The banh mi’s French bread was toasted to a sublime crispiness so the bun sprinkled bread crumbs everywhere but still held all the sandwich’s components secure in the soft center.

The roasted pork hunks had a wonderful char, a luscious chew, and juicy pork flavor only heightened by the thinly sliced gio bi pork. Cold, crunchy carrots and daikon tasted harmonious with cool cucumber and crisp jalapeño slices, giving a yummy contrast to the smoky pork, creamy mayo, and warm baguette. Open six days a week, A Taste of Both Worlds is Champaign County’s first Filipino-Cambodian restaurant, and in 2021, we crowned it C-U’s BEST new restaurant. For more about the food, see the regular menu, and read about Smile Politely‘s love for A Taste of Both World’s sisig, the tilapia, the crispy turon dessert, and the restaurant’s boodle fight.

A Taste of Both Worlds
401 N Broadway Ave
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

A coffee flight, something to drink this month in Champaign-Urbana.
Coffee flight at The Literary; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Coffee Flight The Literary Cafe

I met up with my friend Sean specifically to order The Literary Café‘s adorable coffee flight ($14) and see how it was. Spoiler: it was great. A flight had four flavors (mocha, salted caramel, rosemary vanilla, and citrus spice) made with drinker’s choice of milk (dairy, oat, or almond). Starting on the left, the mocha latte’s coffee and cocoa tasted super smooth, a cosy cup of chocolate-y coffee. The salted caramel was a straight-forward delicious latte with caramel-vanilla accents and a light saltiness. Most of the salt flakes sank, so the finish was expectedly more salty.

The one we were most excited to try was rosemary vanilla, and it did not disappoint. I loved how the rosemary sprig garnish added a floral aroma that matched the herbaceous rosemary flavor of the the sweet, milky coffee for an elegant and unique coffee sip. Last was the citrus spice latte, which was heavy on warm cinnamon spice. Though it lacked strong citrus notes (that we were hoping to taste), it was still a good little cup of coffee. Open since 2021, the bookstore-bar-café offers an alluring ambiance to enjoy this side-by-side tasting of tiny cuppas.

The Literary Café
122 N Neil St
W-Sa 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Thin-crust pizza at Old Orchard in Savoy.
Thin-crust pizza at Old Orchard; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Thin-Crust Pepperoni Pizza ︱ Old Orchard Lanes & Lines Lounge

People love pizzathe people of this town especially, apparently. In Smile Politely’s Food & Drink Tournament, there’s only one pizza that’s undefeated, and it is this one. Last week, my friend and I ordered Old Orchard’s 14-inch thin-crust pizza with pepperoni and onions ($19.17). On a fresh, homemade crust, the pizza had a little layer of sauce, then some pepperoni and chopped white onion, lots of melted mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of Italian herbs. The crust had a super, super thin texture like a cracker, and I loved how the pizza’s grease deliciously pooled in ripples of cheese. Sliced tavern-style, each piece of the pie was bite-sized and totally sharable. Some bites were saucy and extra crispy, other pieces of ‘za were squares of gooey cheese clinging to tomato-sauced onions.

Enjoy the bowling alley’s pizza for dine in inside the lounge or at the lanes, for carryout, or via drive-through. For more about the food, check out Ashley’s full review of the family-owned restaurant. And if this thin-crust pizza pie sounds good (or even if it doesn’t), vote that feeling in the Food & Drink Tournament’s Championship round: a battle of this very thin-crust pizza versus Black Dog’s legendary burnt ends — which I included in a December Five things to eat list.

Old Orchard Lounge
901 N Dunlap
M-F 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m to 9 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The yum nuau salad at Sticky Rice in Champaign.
Yum nuau at Sticky Rice; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Yum Nuau Sticky Rice

April feels more like spring to me than March ever does, and so once the calendar flips to April, I crave fresh flavors and foods that look pretty and vibrant like this verdant Thai salad from Sticky Rice in Downtown Champaign. On a date, I ordered this yum nuau ($16.50) to go with our noodles and curry. I’m not crazy about salads, but this salad slaps. Comprised of marinated beef, crisp lettuce, julienned carrots, sliced red onions, fresh jalapeño, hunks of tomato, chopped cilantro, and lots of crushed peanuts, the yum nuau tasted so yum. Cold dressing drowned all the vegetables, softening the cucumber and muting the onion. The spicy sauce tasted even more delicious with the slices of beef, too, bringing out the savory flavors in the steak’s sweet marinade.

With so many profound flavors — sour, salty, sweet, spicy, savory, and nutty, this salad was impressively complex and yummy every single bite. I have to get the yum nuau every time I order Sticky Rice, and if you haven’t had it yet, this month is a good time to try.

Sticky Rice
415 N Neil St
M 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
W-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su noon to 8 p.m.

Windy City Express' Italian beef sandwich with fries on a white paper lined tray.
Italian beef at Windy City Express; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Italian Beef Meal ︱ Windy City Express

Low key, my guiltiest pleasure is the drive-through at Windy City Express in Urbana. That siren song gets me almost every time. Though I’m partial to Windy City’s lemon-pepper chicken wings (I really love those wings), I ordered the Italian beef meal ($12.98), which came with fries and a soda. Of a choice between dipped or no dip, I chose dipped, and it was insanely good. Serving this in a styrofoam boat was genius. Resting in the jus, the soft white bread sponged the dip’s beefy flavors and became soggier by the minute. Tons of tender, shaved beef overflowed the gravy bread, and the Chicago-style giardiniera’s thick chops of carrot and celery added crisp crunch to the juicy Italian beef and wet bread.

Absolutely horrible to eat, it was a big, wet mess and fell apart since the integrity of the bread was completely shot by the jus. But the sandwich was so, so delicious that I didn’t care. Just prepare oneself and get a thousand napkins — hell, bring a bib — and go to town on this Italian beef with a side of Windy City’s top-tier fries, served super hot, salted up, pillowy-soft in the middle, and delicately crisp on the outside. Windy City Express’ Chicago eats are too damn tasty that I literally drive other routes because if I see their sign, I have to get some fast food.

Windy City Express
410 N Race St
M-Sa 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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