Smile Politely

Five things to eat or drink in C-U this month: January 2022

Happy New Year! As we trepidatiously step into 2022, let’s start the new year with full bellies and tasty drinks. If you’re looking to make a new year’s resolution, what about a resolution to try some new foods this new year?

This month, I wanted comfort. It’s cold, and I just want to feel happy — and good food can help. In January, let’s have a hot coffee from a local coffeeshop, cheesy tacos, crispy chicken, a pretty cocktail, and a solid takeout order.

On a brown table, there is a red mug filled with coffee and a pretty latte art. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Café con Leche | Aroma Cafe

Aroma is a cozy spot to catch up on work with a cup of something warm. They serve seasonal lattes, but I was in the mood for a classic: café con leche ($3.85 for a medium) which was made with espresso, sugar, and steamed milk. The coffee drink uses equal parts espresso and milk unlike lattes which have much more milk, so it packed a great caffiene punch and had a lovely roasted coffee flavor in a warm, big mug. The sugar was just enough to mellow the coffee’s bitter, and the creamy drink was wonderful on a cold morning in the very chill dining area at Aroma. If you’re looking for a new coffee order or wanting to cut back on your milk intake, Aroma’s café con leche is it. 

More than just café con leche, the beverage menu at Aroma includes coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and more. At the Downtown Champaign coffeshop, there are many booths with dividers in addition to being able to call in an order for pick up if you need to take your coffee with you.

Aroma Cafe
6 E Taylor St
M-F 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sa+Su 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On a white plate on a brown table, there are three cheesy birria tacos with a side cup of diced white onion and cilantro beside a large side cup of consume. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Birria Tacos | Maize at The Station

Maize’s birria tacos ($13) had very, very tender beef in corn tortillas and crisped hot. These tacos were outstanding. The birria taco meal came with three tacos, a cup of consomé, and a cup of diced white onion and cilantro. The tacos were packed full of flavorful beef. Inside the taco was the most tender beef I’ve ever had. It was so incredible: tender chunks, little meaty strings, and just melt-in-your-mouth fatty bites. The beef was so tasty and juicy, and dipping the taco in the consomé was heavenly. The tacos also had some melted white cheese which gave a satisfying cheese pull with each bite. The consomé dip was more than enough for the three tacos, and the side bowl of it was deep enough to drown half a taco — which I absolutely did. 

There’s a lot of love on the Maize menu, but these tacos are next level delicious. Put your in your order for pick up here or enjoy at the restaurant.

Maize at The Station
100 N Chestnut
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

On a gray speckled plate, there are two big pieces of panko-breaded chicken with a small dipping sauce in the middle. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Chicken Katsu | Sakura Japanese Cuisine

The newest restaurant in Urbana called Sakura is serving Japanese cuisine, and this chicken katsu ($12) was fantastic. It was a huge serving of two chicken breasts pounded thin, battered with panko crumbs, and fried to golden brown. The chicken was super hot when it arrived to my table, and the thick dipping sauce had a sweet, tangy flavor which went well with the crispy, savory chicken. You don’t need to dip the chicken, but I couldn’t stop myself from dip-dipping each chicken strip before eating it. It was so good that I had to go back to eat it twice in one week, and the second time, it was just as fantastic as when I first had it.

If you like fried chicken of any kind, you would like this dish. The menu at Sakura is small, but it includes appetizers, sushi, and cooked dishes. Sakura is located in Downtown Urbana next to Dancing Dog, and there are metered parking spots available in front of the restaurant in addition to the parking deck.

Sakura Japanese Cuisine
136 W Main St
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 10 p.m., daily

On a dark bar, there is a peachy cocktail with a sprig of sage. Behind the cocktail, there are liquor bottles on the bar and bright lights reflecting diagonally down from the top. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Flight of Icarus | Seven Saints

The Flight of Icarus was a beautiful cocktail garnished with a sprig of sage. Who has sage at home? Not me. Made with vodka, Aperol, sweet vermouth, and lemon juice, I loved this fragrant boozy drink. It looked elegant on the table, and I assume I looked fancy sipping it. I loved the taste of Aperol in this, and the sweet vermouth paired well to make the drink both strong and not too sweet. The lemon juice balanced the alcohol well. The cocktail is a little boozy, but I thought it tasted smooth.

The last time I had a Flight of Icarus was back in February of 2020 when I wrote about it before the pandemic hit. It’s one of my favorite cocktails in town, and I was finally able to order it again at Seven Saints’ bar — and what a delightful thing to be able to do again. Here’s to getting back to our local favorites this new year.

Seven Saints
32 E Chester St
Su+M 11 a.m. to midnight
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. 

On a black table, there is a takeout order of sushi and pad Thai with two unopened chopsticks in black and white paper with the restaurant's name printed on it. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Red Dragon roll + Pad Thai | Sushi Siam

Just because we can go out in 2022 doesn’t mean we have to. Takeout is still such a great option, especially on cold days when you don’t want to get out of loungewear but you stll don’t want to cook. This is my go to order from Sushi Siam: red dragon sushi roll, chicken pad Thai, and a rotating third order of either another roll or a Thai appetizer — whatever sounds good at the time.

The red dragon roll ($14.95) came with spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, asparagus, and cucumber, topped with red tuna maguro. It was so yummy. Each piece was a big sushi bite with the red tuna on top of an already very full roll, and I love that: a stuff your mouth, stop talking, close your eyes, and enjoy-the-heck-out-of-your-sushi kind of roll. The chicken pad Thai ($11.99) was a huge portion with lots of crushed peanuts on top and bean sprouts on the side. I ordered mine medium spice, and it had enough heat to satisfy but not too much that I was dying. The chicken had a great nutty flavor which was enhanced by the sauce on the noodles and the crushed peanuts. The portion was too big to eat in one setting and made great leftovers the next day. There are lots of sushi rolls and Thai dishes on the menu at Sushi Siam, and be forewarned: the wait time is longer than other places in town (add 5-10 minutes to whatever time they say your order will be ready), but it is worth the wait. There are a few tables available for indoor dining, too.

Sushi Siam
1729 W Kirby Ave
M-Sa 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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