Smile Politely

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

Twinkly lights and cold weather are here — and so are December food cravings. This cold month, I want to eat hot foods. Also, I need to eat something with cranberries. And I definitely want something to drink.

Let’s warm up with a hearty soup at a little Vietnamese restaurant. Sip a malty lager at a brewery. Indulge in very cheesy tacos in Urbana. Pop in for barbecue at a favorite local joint. Nibble on a cranberry dessert from a Downtown Champaign bakery. These five foods and drink are sure to give a merry, delicious December in C-U.

On a metal tray at Black Dog Smoke & Ale, there is a half pound of burnt ends, two side cups of sauce, a side of sweet potato fries, and a side of twice baked potato casserole. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Burnt Ends Platter | Black Dog Smoke and Ale House

If you live in C-U, you’ve probably been to Black Dog — and if you haven’t, go and try the burnt ends platter ($21.50) which comes with a choice of sauce and two sides. Smoked for more than ten hours, these burnt ends tasted incredible. Delicious, tender brisket meat had melty ribbons of fat and a great smoky char. The burnt ends are the one of the most sought after menu items at Black Dog, and they’re regularly sold out. Go for lunch, and there’s a better chance to order them. I liked these sweet potato fries, and I stan for the twice baked potato casserole, a creamy mashed potato side that is so good. Black Dog is a great local spot to take the family or out of town guests, and their takeout is impressive. This summer, I tried all of Black Dog’s sauces, and I love the Lexington, Alabama, and hot Georgia peach sauces the most.

Dine in at the Champaign restaurant, or order barbecue to go.

Black Dog Smoke and Ale House
320 N Chesnut Ave
Champaign
11 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily

On a white plate, there are three birria tacos with cheese and grilled. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Birrikeka | La Mixteca

When it’s cold out, this dish hits the spot. La Mixteca‘s birrikeka ($11.99) had birria beef with cheese on three crispy corn tortillas topped with cilantro and onions, served with sauce, rice, and beans. The taco was served extremely hot with dark grill marks. The shredded beef was flavorful on its own — but when dipped in the birria sauce, the taste was absolutely incredible. The crispy taco’s cheese stretched several inches and spilled out of the tacos. The taco shells had an insane crunch, just as crispy as the complementary chips. I dipped this taco, and still it was crispy crunchy. The Mexican restaurant opens early for lunch everyday, so if you’re hungry at 10 a.m. on a freezing cold day, that’s a good time to have La Mixteca’s birrikeka.

La Mixteca
510 N Cunningham
Urbana
M-F 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sa+Su 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cranberry Tart | Suzu’s Bakery

Suzu’s Bakery‘s seasonal cranberry tart ($5) is the ultimate cranberry dessert. The yummy tart was filled with cranberry curd and adorned with candied cranberries. The burst from the sugary cranberries was pretty tart, but it was gently balanced by the berry curd and buttery shell. The cranberry curd had a great sour-sweet berry flavor and was not too sweet. Like a shortbread cookie, the shell was dense and a sturdy carrier for the jelly-like filling. I loved all three textures: sugared poppin’ berries, gooey tart filling, and cookie-like crust. Enjoy this tart or browse the Japanese bakery‘s case of baked goods for another sweet. The Downtown Champaign shop also offers online ordering for pickup and delivery.

Suzu’s Bakery
114 N Walnut St
Champaign
W-Th 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
F+Sa 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

A Celebration of Self Indulgence | Triptych Brewing

This month, treat yourself to a 12 ounce pour of A Celebration of Self Indulgence ($4.25). This malty lager had a great oak flavor and good carbonation. I liked the bright, crisp taste that lingered on the tongue. This excellent local brew tasted as crisp as the wind outside. If you like another kind of beer, the brewery has great bartenders who can recommend beers to suit your taste. There are many beers on tap: pale ale, peach apple cider, oatmeal stout, IPAs, and more, all with fun names. If you don’t have time to stay for a beer at Triptych, you can order beer for curbside pick up at the brewery.

Triptych Brewing
1703 Woodfield Ave
Savoy
M-W 3 to 9 p.m.
Th 3 to 10 p.m.
F+Sa noon to 11 p.m.
Su noon to 8 p.m.


Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pho Tia Nam | Xinh Xinh Cafe

Xinh Xinh’s pho was freaking delicious. The bowl of pho tia nam ($9.95) was deep and wide, and it was a huge portion. In the broth, there were chopped green onions, thin ribbons of white onion, sliced round steak, flank steak, and noodles. Everything else was served on the side: bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, basil leaves, lime, Sriracha, so it could be added to preference.


Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The sliced round steak and flank steak were both very good. The portion of noodles was perfect, and green onion discs added a tasty crunch to the soup. The pho was so satisfying, so filling, and so dang tasty. The simple broth let each flavor have a moment: the jalapeño kick, then sour from the lime, then aromatic basil, then flavorful beef. As the jalapeño and Sriracha steeped in the broth, the soup became deliciously spicier. I went with a friend whose family makes pho for Thanksgiving, and she asked the server for sugar. We sprinkled it in our pho, and the sweet-sour-spicy flavor was next level good. There’s more than just pho on the menu at Xinh Xinh; there’s bánh mì, rice platters, vermicelli bowls, egg rolls, dumplings, and more. 

Dine in at the little Vietnamese restaurant in Urbana, or order pho to go.

Xinh Xinh Cafe
114 N Vine St
Urbana
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

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