Smile Politely

Five things to eat or drink in C-U this month: August 2023

A cropped photo of a piña colada margarita drink in Downtown Champaign, Illinois on a patio table at Mexican seafood restaurant La Bahia Grill. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

How can it possibly be August already? Impending fall schedules will come at some point in August, but to that I say, lalala-I-can’t-hear-you. I am hungry for summer eats and summer sips, and I want to sit outside in the sunshine. This month’s list has summer eats and cold drinks that serve an August vibe: a sandwich in honor of National Sandwich month, a frozen beverage, dinner from a food truck, damn good potatoes, and where to go for an estival evening of apps and pints.

For summer eats in Champaign-Urbana, a pint of beer and a basket of onion rings at Bunny's Tavern. Photo by Alyssa Buckley
Alyssa Buckley

Apps and Beer︱Bunny’s Tavern

In a few months, it’ll be freezing, and I’m pledging to patio it up while it’s still warm. Scoring a table on the patio at Bunny’s Tavern is a win, and it’s one of the best spots in town to linger over pints and apps with a friend. Gossip pairs best with onion rings ($5.50). Bunny’s rings are a must, especially with the tavern’s housemade herby ranch. This basket of salted onion rings came out piping hot from the fryer, and the crispy batter had a satisfying crunch. These rings aren’t the only good thing on the appetizer menu; I also like Bunny’s wings and the fried pickle spears.

The bar has all the usual drinks: beers, wine, classic cocktails, an apple pie shot, and more, but I love a pint of Riggs Hefeweizen here. On a sunny afternoon, it’s swell to drink an Urbana-brewed beer at a Downtown Urbana staple.

Bunny’s Tavern
119 W Water St
Su-Th 7 a.m. to midnight
F+Sa 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Blue ox sandwich from Cheese & Crackers. Photo by Alyssa Buckley
Alyssa Buckley

Blue Ox Sandwich︱Cheese & Crackers

August is National Sandwich Month, and one of my favorite C-U sandwiches is the Blue Ox ($12.99) from Cheese & Crackers. Made with roast beef, sautéed onions, and blue cheese, this sandwich is simply amazing. Every single element — the buttery toasted bread, gooey cheese, caramelized onions, and shaved beef — was delicious, and altogether, the sandwich sings. Balanced by the grilled onions and roast beef, I loved the funky flavor of the Danish blue cheese. The sourdough bread had a great golden exterior, and the inside of the slices sopped up melted cheese. Every bite was so yummy, and since it’s packaged to go, the Blue Ox can be eaten on a picnic blanket, at a table, or in the car goblin-style.

For more about the sandwiches by the gourmet foods store, read my review of seven Cheese & Crackers sandwiches. Pro tip: pre-order by calling 217-615-8531, so your sandwich is ready when you get there.

Cheese & Crackers
1715 W Kirby Ave
Tu-Sa 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A piña colada margarita drink with a cherry on top sits on a black patio table outside La Bahia Grill for summer eats in Downtown Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Frozen Ron Piña︱ La Bahía Grill

Ain’t nobody want a patio frozen drink in December — and next month, we’ll probably be pumpkin spicin’ it up for fall. Live up August’s summer aesthetic and beat the heat with La Bahía’s frozen Ron Piña ($7), made with rum and pineapple juice. Sip it on the patio, and if visiting on a Thursday, the drink is on special for $5. Sweet and freezing cold, this adult beverage tasted like a grown-up pineapple slush, and it came in a big ole goblet. With only a hint of booze, the Ron Piña was easy to drink alongside Mexican coastal cuisine.

As far as what to order food-wise, I’m obsessed with the carnitas tacos here because they’re fatty and unctuous, but I love the fish ceviche and mango margarita, too. Serendipitously, a reader recently wrote to us about La Bahía, and Laura recommends “the ceviche, aguachile, molcajete korita, and… the sangria.” For even more, check out Tayler’s review of La Bahía Grill.

La Bahía Grill
132 W Church St
M-Th 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A takeout container from Maria's Kitchen food truck is lined with a black-and-white parchment paper with grilled chicken, pancit noodles, and three small rangoons with a cup of sauce. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Teriyaki Chicken Combo︱Maria’s Kitchen Food Truck

Champaign-Urbana food trucks serve convenient summer eats, and Maria’s Kitchen is a shiny, black trailer that serves tasty Filipino-American cuisine. This past Friday, I ordered the truck’s teriyaki chicken combo ($12.50), which came with chicken, two fried rolls (choice of beef, pork, chicken, or veggie), and a choice of fried rice or noodles. I added on cream cheese rangoons ($2) because they’re amazing. Cream cheese melted into the crispy wonton folds, and though the rangoons were small, they were so yummy.

The teriyaki chicken was super flavorful; I loved the sweet and salty taste of the chicken thighs. The dark meat chicken had beautifully charred spots, and bites with that caramelized char were absolutely delicious. Total comfort food, the pancit noodles and veggie lumpia rolls were great sides. See the truck’s whole menu here or read my review of the truck.

Maria’s Kitchen food truck

A bowl of breakfast potatoes from Pekara Bistro in Champaign, Illinois for a list of summer eats this August. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Side of Potatoes︱Pekara Bistro

Don’t potatoes scream summer to you? Okay, maybe not, but this last dish is a bite that will carry from summer to fall because these potatoes are awesome — whether it is August or not. I have a thing for good potatoes, and I really love Pekara’s side of breakfast potatoes ($2). Besides the Champaign bistro’s unlimited refills of drip coffee (and strong wifi), these potatoes are why I go to Pekara for breakfast. The potatoes are seriously that good. They’re hot little cubes with a crispy edge, a pillowy center, and impressive seasoning. There’s a noticeable amount of salt and more black pepper than other places add — that is precisely why they’re so delicious. I never need to dip them in sauce or add more salt, and a bowl of ’em only costs two dollars!

Yes, get the delicious maple bacon cinnamon roll and the crepes, too, but don’t forget a side of potatoes. If you haven’t had them, try these potatoes this month.

811 W Springfield Ave
T-Sa 7 a.m. to 2 p.m
Su 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

More Articles