Smile Politely

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

“Let’s get lunch!” is something I love to hear from a friend. Lunch is my jam: I’m hungriest in the middle of the day, and I like the vibe of a lunch crowd. Sometimes restaurants even have special lunch prices, but even if lunch specials aren’t a thing at some places anymore — after everything our beloved restaurants went through in the pandemic — I am still a fan of going out for lunch. Lunches out can sometimes run up a bill, but where in C-U can we find cheap lunches? 

Exactly one year ago to the day, I wrote about five filling lunches in Champaign-Urbana for less than $10, and this year, I’m sharing five more lunches that will fill you up for cheap. Read about where you can find these afforadable restaurant lunches: an Italian beef with fries, a steak sandwich, a Chinese lunch special, three tacos, and a cheeseburger that costs only $6.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Italian Beef + Fries | Baldarotta’s

Baldarotta’s mini Italian beef costs $6 (plus $3 for the fries) and was absolutely perfect for lunch. The mini version is four inches and was made the same as the regular and large versions of Baldarotta’s Italian beef: thinly sliced round-bottom beef layered on a hoagie with pepperoncini, banana peppers, and cherry peppers. There is an option to add cheese or giardiniera for 50 cents, but I never do because this sandwich is impeccable as is. 

The grilled bread had a crusty edge with a soft middle that soaked up au jus with each dip. The herby thin dip is reason enough to order this sandwhich, honestly; Baldarotta’s au jus is to die for! The au jus was intensely flavorful with visible chopped herbs and gave a soaked texture to the Italian beef. The thick hoagie could withstand many dips in au jus — which was great because I dipped every bite. The shaved Italian beef overflowed from the bread, and shreds of flavorful beef fell onto my fries which made for tasty loaded fries. The concentrated flavors of Italian herbs packed this sandwich with flavor without being spicy. The fries at Baldarotta’s were great and could also be dipped in au jus if you want to experience nirvana. While you’re at the Lincoln Square Mall restaurant, try my other faves: the broccoli salad, the dark chocolate gelato, and the honey cannoli.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
300 S Broadway
T-F 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 4 p.m
Su noon to 3 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

#20 Cheese Steak Sandwich | The Bread Company

All the sandwiches on the menu at The Bread Company are under $10, but the newest menu item at The Bread Company is sandwich #20. The #20 cheese steak sandwich ($8.81) came with peppers, pepperonicini, Mozzarella, Gruyere, cheddar, and caramelized onions. The restaurant does not call this a cheesesteak sandwich because it is not that; this sando is a cheesy sandwich with some steak, too. 

The toasted bread was good, but the fillings were fantastic. The trio of cheeses melted into the bread and beef for tasty cheesy bites. The gooey cheddar blended with the mild Mozz and the salty Gruyere, so the sandwich was basically a fancy grilled cheese. The softened grillled peppers had a nice grilled taste. The pepperonicini had a lovely little kick, and the little bit of spiciness cut the decadence of the cheeses. The meat inside this sammie was second to the amazing melted trio of cheese, but the shredded beef tasted marinated and super flavorful. The tiny sheds of beef went so well with the drippy orange sauce on the sandwich, and the sauce’s zip just took the whole sando up a level. There are drinks available as well as chips, salad, or soup for sides. Half sandwiches are also available with a side of soup or salad for $7.85. The cosy restaurant has seating available outside and in both dining rooms.

The Bread Company
706 S Goodwin
M 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
T-F 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa 4 to 8 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

General Chicken with Rice + Beans | Evo Cafe

The unassuming Chinese restaurant on Sixth in Campustown serves fantastic (and fast!) Chinese food. At lunch, two entrees cost $6.99, and there is an option to upgreade to three entrees for $8.49. Diners choose white rice, fried rice, or chow mein to go with the entree choices. I ordered fried rice with General chicken and minced beans. Everything was served from behind glass into a to go container, and the food was immediately ready to eat.

The rice was fluffy and had a great taste without any oiliness. The rice had some peas, diced carrots, and the occasional soft egg. I have had a lot of General Tso’s chicken before, but Evo Cafe’s version was insanely delicious. The deep-fried exterior of the chicken was crazy crispy and held up its crunch even under a heavy coating of the sauce. I couldn’t believe the crunch the sauced-up chicken had, and my mouth was so happy. The brown sticky sauce had a sweet plum taste and a great savory finish. Some chicken pieces were so piping hot that I couldn’t eat them right away; I think Evo Cafe would make a fantastic to go lunch option, especially since lunches are packaged to go already. The green beans were cut into truly bite-sized pieces which made them easy to eat. I loved the taste of these beans, softened and intensely flavorful from Evo Cafe’s cooking. The campus lunch box special was a huge amount of food, and I couldn’t finish it. The portions, speed at which the food is served, and low price make Evo Cafe an outstanding place for lunch. Read Tayler’s recent review of the restaurant’s takeout here.

Evo Cafe
711 S Sixth St
Su-F 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Barbacoa Tacos | Huaraches Moroleon

Last week, I shared my review of Urbana gem Huaraches Moroleon. Everything we ordered at Huaraches was great, but these tacos were truly delicious. At $2.75 each, three tacos cost $8.25. Served on a choice of corn or flour tortillas, the tacos came Mexican style with diced raw white onion and cilantro. The barbacoa on these tacos had a slow-roasted flavor and was pulled into tender, meaty strings. The juicy barbacoa had an awesome savory flavor without being spicy — until dumping some of the complimentary orange or red salsa on top. A little squeeze of lime was just *chef’s kiss*.

Free chips and salsa are served with any order at Huaraches Moroleon, so if you’re hungry, Huaraches Moroleon is a solid spot to meet for lunch. Enjoy the delicious Mexican food inside the small orange restaurant or on the patio out back. Order online for pick up here.

Huaraches Moroleon
805 Philo Rd
T-F 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sa 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Su 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cheeseburger + Fried Green Beans | VFW #630

Bring cash and eat a cheap lunch at Urbana’s VFW #630. Run by Chef Zach Bronson and cook Katrina Downes, a pair who worked in the kitchen at Radio Maria, the no-nonsense restaurant is tucked in the back of the building. Everything on the menu is under $8.50, and the only server there is friendly. This cheeseburger costs $6 with fries — which is such a steal — but I wanted to show more than just the restaurant’s basic fries for this list. I am obsessed with the fried green beans at VFW #630, so I upgraded the cheeseburger’s side to these beans ($2) for a grand total of $8.

The burger had super melted cheese on a thick beef patty with lettuce, onion, and pickles. The bun wasn’t incredible, but it was a soft bun that held the cheeseburger together. I loved the taste of this burger’s patty, and I liked how fresh and crisp the toppings were. The green beans are what’s up, though. The tender crisp beans were encased in a smooth golden batter that was perfectly fried and served with a cup of ranch — as is Midwest tradition. The green veg added a great pop and were just as satisfying as fries. There were lots of the battered beans, but I ate them all because they were so freaking delicious. This lunch was an absolutely filling meal, and it’s available for in person at one of the many tables inside the VFW #630. You can also call 217-367-4197 to put in an order for pick up. The restaurant is cash only.

VFW #630
1303 E Main St
T 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. + 5 to 8 p.m.
W-Th 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. + 5 to 8 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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