Smile Politely

Five things to eat or drink this month: June 2024

Alyssa Buckley

Happy June! There are many things to celebrate in this month: Pride, Juneteenth, Father’s Day, the start of summer, and also, the birthday of your foodie friend (me). All good celebrations have good food, and so for this celebratory month, I’m sharing five profoundly delicious things to eat or drink in Champaign-Urbana.

June’s list of five summer bangers include a fish dish, pork tacos, brunch, a gorgeous cocktail, and the most amazing cake.

A black styrofoam tray with white rice, fried fish, lentils, salad, hummus, and beans in a tomato sauce.
Fish platter at Jerusalem Restaurant; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Fish Platter ︱Jerusalem Restaurant

At Campustown’s Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine Restaurant, I love the #1 fish special ($12.49). A beautiful personal feast, this platter has two filets of crispy fish atop steamed rice and lentils with a side of hummus, salad, a circle of soft pita, and slices of watermelon. The boneless fish was tender, flaky, and salty with slightly crispy skin. I loved the fish’s peppery seasoning and subtle oily flavor. The lentils had a yummy al dente texture in a soupy sauce, and the beans had a vibrant tomato flavor. The hummus here — chef’s kiss. It was delicious and sexy-smooth with a rich sesame nuttiness. The salad had colorful raw carrots, bell peppers, lettuce, and peeled cucumber, all flecked with chopped parsley and pleasantly cold in contrast to the warm, salty elements.

Lastly, the watermelon tasted like love. The owner even sliced off the rind so it was easy to eat, and that bright, juicy fruit was a perfect light finish to the big meal. While many U of I students are on break, Campustown eateries like this restaurant are less populated, so now is a good time to visit. Check out the restaurant’s website here.

Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine
601 S Wright St
Champaign
M-F 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Three taocs in a tin-foiled lined styrofoam container.
Pastor tacos from Los Hidalguenses taco truck; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Pastor Tacos︱ Los Hidalguenses

When I feel overwhelmed, I give myself a taco timeout, and I’m suggesting the same for anybody else stressed this month. My favorite quick lunch is an order of tacos from Los Hidalguenses taco truck. These three pastor tacos ($9) hit every time. The double corn tortillas had a filling of chopped, charred pork with lots of pineapple, topped with fresh cilantro and white onion. Pineapple comprised much of the filling, almost 50/50, so that delicious sweet and saltiness satisfied in every bite; that big fruity sweetness tasted so good with the savory, peppery pork. These tortilla shells held up — nothing fell out, and the sides were a nice touch, especially the side of charred onions and jalapeño.

Los Hidalguenses tacos has other proteins if pork and pineapple ain’t it (carnitas, steak, chicken, chorizo, ground beef, campechano, and lengua), all available Mexican-style with cilantro and onions or American-style with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. A bonus is that this food truck accepts pre-orders via text (217-714-0738), and there really is no comparing just walking up to a taco truck, saying “I texted about tacos,” and said tacos being ready to go. Find the truck parked on Bloomington Road just beyond Thara Thai and (the tenuously open) Popeyes. For real-time updates, follow the truck on Facebook.

Los Hidalguenses taco truck
1040 W Bloomington Rd
Champaign
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The author's plate of brunch foods from Neil St. Blues Sunday brunch buffet.
Alyssa Buckley

Sunday Buffet Brunch ︱ Neil St. Blues

Celebrate Juneteenth this month by supporting Black-owned businesses and Black excellence. The Sunday buffet brunch at Neil St. Blues is an excellent spread of Southern cuisine. Yesterday, I went to the Southern restaurant’s epic buffet brunch ($29). The brunch line-up had both breakfast items and savory dinner dishes: bacon, sausage, waffles, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, macaroni and cheese, fried fish, fried chicken, roasted chicken, pork ribs, jambalaya, greens, green beans, mashed potatoes, lasagna, rolls, slices of sweet bread, and even more! My first plate, of course, had Neil St. Blues’ fried catfish and fried chicken, two of my favorite things on the regular menu. Both were wonderfully salty with a super crunchy batter and so delicious. The collard greens were fantastic, same for the hunks of sweet potatoes and from-scratch mashed potatoes. Lasagna was a surprise for brunch, but it was absolutely delicious, and I went back for seconds.

Neil St. Blues has a D.J. playing music in the dining room on Sunday during brunch, giving the place a really fun vibe. This buffet had a super clean set-up: required gloves and hand-sanitizer for diners, plus dedicated staff keeping eyes on the buffet and wiping any drips quickly. On Juneteenth, the restaurant will host a Juneteenth Day party with a Wednesday dinner buffet, a D.J., and drink specials. Visit the Southern restaurant, check out their website, and follow Neil St on Facebook.

Neil St. Blues
301 N Neil St
Champaign
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 .m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

An etched cocktail glass halfway full of a pale orange liquid with a grapefruit peel on a silver table.
Army & Navy at Punch! Bar & Lounge; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Army & Navy Cocktail︱ Punch! Bar & Lounge

When I want a fancy cocktail, I go to Punch! Bar in Downtown Champaign. The cocktail lounge has a rotating menu of seasonal craft cocktails and a solid happy hour menu. On a lovely afternoon last week, I ordered the Army & Navy cocktail ($8), and it was a quintessential summer sip. Served in a gorgeous etched glass with a grapefruit peel, this classic cocktail had Plymouth gin, fresh lemon juice, Orgeat syrup, and Angostura bitters. It tasted tart, refreshing, and a little bit sweet. The Plymouth gin’s slightly sweeter botanicals went really well with the almond syrup and bright citrus, and I loved the balance of flavors.

Punch! has a crew of extremely talented bartenders who design playfully innovative drinks — including amazing mocktails. Check out the bar’s full drink menu here, and follow the bar on Facebook and Instagram for new drink releases. Army & Navy is available anytime, but the cheaper price is only during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Punch! Bar & Lounge
217 N Neil St
Champaign
Su-Th 4 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 4 p.m. to midnight

Tres leches cake slice in a clear container on a red table.
Tres leches cake at Rick’s Bakery; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Tres Leches Cake︱ Rick’s Bakery

If I crave cake, the only cake I want is Rick’s Bakery tres leches. As is my birthday tradition, I bought a slice of tres leches ($4.50) though a whole cake was available in the case. Soaking in a delicious pool of three milks, two white cake layers had a soft, saturated crumb almost like pudding but still very cake-like. In between layers of spongy cake, there was a middle layer of whipped cream and sliced strawberries that added a berry bang to the milky bite. That sweet, whipped frosting was light and lovely especially with strawberries; the fruity sweetness brightened the creamy vanilla flavors. This cake is just so unbelievably good, and I’m straight-up obsessed with it.

This month, swing by Rick’s Bakery in Downtown Urbana. Have your cake and eat it, too, at the little bakery, at one of the cute curbanas along Main Street, or get it to-go.

Rick’s Bakery
124 W Main St
Urbana
T-Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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