Smile Politely

Five filling lunches in Champaign-Urbana for less than $10

Lunch is usually a boring meal if it’s eaten at home: peanut butter sandwich, salad, or leftovers, but lunch can be awesome if I get it from a restaurant. When I am out running errands, it is nice to grab something for lunch.

Eating out can be expensive, but I have found some incredible deals for lunch. Sure, a $20 lunch will be filling, but I found five meaty lunch options around C-U for under $10 that will make you feel full. 

Bunny Porker burger sits without a top bun, revealing a thick slice of pork belly drizzled with a reddish brown barbecue sauce over a patty with yellow melted cheddar. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Porker Burger | Bunny’s Tavern

Bunny’s porker burger ($8.25) has a quarter pound burger patty topped with cheddar, seared pork belly, and barbeque sauce, and it comes with a side of chips. I upgraded to fries for $1.50 bringing this meal to $9.75 — still under $10 — and the most expensive lunch on the list, but hear me out: pork belly. 

There were two big slices of pork belly. The pork was thick, smoky, fatty, and oh my god, so decadent. The burger was so meaty with the beef patty and the double slices of pork belly. The cheddar melted really well into the patty and bits of the bun, and that cheesy patty was basically just a vehicle to get that pork belly into my mouth. The barbeque sauce was a light drizzle, so it wasn’t overpowering. The bun was fresh and soft. The fries were pretty great as bar fries usually are. They were thick and crispy with a pillowy potato center, and for $1.50, Bunny’s loaded it up: this was a lot of fries for a side portion. If you’re hungry and you think burgers need a little something extra, you need this porker burger in your life.

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

In a white takeout container, there is Caribbean Grill's Flavor Box lunch with two pieces of chicken with a dark skin over light brown rice with a plastic cup of macaroni beside a tiny cup of jerk sauce. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Jerk Chicken Flavor Box | Caribbean Grill

The jerk chicken flavor box ($5.99) from CG came with a two pieces of chicken, rice ‘n peas (99 cents to upgrade the white bread to the rice ‘n peas), one side, and jerk sauce on the side. The jerk chicken was smoky and so easy to bite or pull off the bone; it was that tender. The chicken had so much jerk flavor, and the rice ‘n peas were good. The tiny cup of jerk sauce packed a huge punch; that sauce is very spicy. I would recommend not dumping it all over your meal until you try it first because of how profoundly spicy it is. I liked to eat a bite of chicken dipped in the jerk sauce, then chicken with no sauce, then a dipped bite, and when I was done with my chicken, my tongue was feeling the delicious heat, and my brow was perspiring.

I chose mac ‘n cheese for my side, and it was terrific. The noodles were soft, and the cheese was stringy, melty cheddar. There was a jalapeño flavor that gave a little heat — but nowhere near the intensity of the jerk sauce. For $7 (with the rice ‘n pea upgrade), CG’s flavor box is a lot of food and a serious dose of flavor. Order your food on the app or at the restaraunt.

Caribbean Grill
2135 S Neil St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In a metal pie pan, there is a lot of thinly sliced chicken over Mexican rice on a black table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Chicken on the Beach | Casa del Mar

You cannot tell from this photo just how huge this portion was, but it was the size of a pie. This chicken on the beach lunch special ($9.24) was a bed of rice topped with grilled chicken and cheese sauce served with three flour tortillas. It was an insane portion of grilled chicken; there was easily more chicken than rice. The chicken was cut small and thin, and it was tasty. The cheese sauce covered the rice and some of the chicken, and it made the whole meal. I love cheese sauce, and there was plenty of it. The tortillas were warm and really good. Even though they were thin tortillas, they were great at holding chicken and rice for a little taco. Now, your girl can eat, and still, I couldn’t even finish half of this. It comes with no sides because do we really need rice and beans to go with this?

My favorite part about ordering from Casa del Mar is that they open at 10:30, so you can be home and eating by 11 a.m. which is a major win if you are hungry for an early lunch. Order online here or enjoy indoor dining at the Urbana restaurant.

Casa del Mar
2870 S Philo Road
Su-Th 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F+Sa 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

An overhead photo shows a princess chicken lunch dish from Rainbow Garden. In a black takeout container, there is a portion of brown fried rice with a small egg roll on top beside a portion of peanut topped chicken entree. There is a plastic takeout bowl of yellow egg drop soup on the white table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Princess Chicken | Rainbow Garden

This princess chicken lunch special ($7.95) came with a side of rice (steamed or fried), egg roll, and choice of soup (hot and sour or egg drop) The princess chicken entree had thinly sliced chicken with green bell peppers, zucchini, onion, and carrot ribbons in a brown sauce with lots of halved peanuts on top.

The dark sauce had a good heat to it, but it wasn’t too spicy. The long pieces of chicken were drenched and marinated in the sauce. The veggies were tender crisp and also smothered in the hot pepper princess sauce. There was an equal ratio of chicken to veggies which I liked because the vegetables were just as yummy as the chicken. The fried rice had bits of egg and no veggies, and it was a fine side. The egg roll was really soft on the underside where it was laid on top of the rice, but the top was still flaky and crispy. The egg drop soup was, of course, very eggy with wisps of egg and had a deep yellow color. I found the whole meal to be really tasty and filling. 

Rainbow Garden
202 E University
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.

A pulled pork sandwich from Wood N' Hog sits in a white paper tray beside a side of fries doused in barbecue sauce. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pulled Pork Sandwich | Wood N’ Hog

The smoky aroma from the little restaurant on University caught me as I was driving by on a Friday, and I remembered Wood N’ Hog’s Friday special: pulled pork sandwich and fries for $5.99. This sandwich is one of my favorites — and I wrote about it in my February list of foods to eat — because it is so reliably delicious and so damn affordable. On Fridays, you can get this for $5.99, but on the other days of the week, it’s $7.99 which still makes it one of the most affordable lunches on this list.

The pulled pork was perfectly tender and smoky. The bun was soft, fresh, and looked like it had a modeling career. You can choose which sauce (mild, hot, or mixed) you’d like on your sandwich and fries, and I chose mixed. The mixed sauce has a sweet barbeque heat that builds the more you eat of it, and I loved the spiciness. The fries were hot and crispy except for the parts doused in that delicious sauce, and those saucy ones were so tasty with a texture like cheese fries but the taste of barbeque. You can ask for sauce on the side if you prefer. Call 217-367-1018 to place your order for takeout, order in the store, or enjoy indoor dining at the restaurant.

Wood N’ Hog
101 W University Ave
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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