Smile Politely

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

September is easily one of my favorite months. I love the last warm days of summer and the cool mornings of autumn. The start of fall semester calls for new schedules — and new foods, but the changing seasons has me longing for familiar routines and my favorite sweater.

This month, I want all the comfort foods: spicy curry, a big plate of nachos, a good latte, dipped Italian beef, and diner French toast. This September, try a new food truck in Urbana, eat lunch in Campustown, and return to favorites like Sam’s Cafe, Farren’s, and Flying Machine Avionics.

On a brown table, there is a brass bowl of chicken curry beside a basket of garlic naan. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

#69 Chicken Curry | AMBAR Indian

This Campustown gem serves Indian cuisine for lunch and dinner on Wright Street. When I visited for lunch, the buffet — which was offered in the past — was empty. My friend Josh told me to order the chicken curry, and I am so glad I did. The #69 chicken curry ($13.99) had chicken cooked in a sauce with onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and other spices served in a beautiful bowl. The dish came with steamed rice, and I added garlic naan ($3.99). At AMBAR, the spice level ranges from 1 to 6, and I tried the 3 which was deliciously spicy.

The big bites of chicken were so tender that my spoon could cut them. The chopped herbs were good atop the curry, especially the little crunch from the stems. The more I ate, the spicier it tasted. The spice level was perfect with a great heat all over the mouth. I tore pieces of the garlicky naan and dipped; the pillowy bread tempered the spicy dish for an absolutely delicious bite. The restaurant is open for indoor dining, and you can order online as well.

AMBAR Indian
605 S Wright St
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 10 p.m., daily

On a black outdoor table, there is a tray of nachos with tricolor chips topped with lots of romaine. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pork Nachos | Farren’s Pub & Eatery

We love Farren’s burgers, drinks, and salads, and the nachos I had at Farren’s last week were super good. The appetizer came with seasoned tricolor tortilla chips topped with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions with sides of house-pickled jalapeños, salsa, and sour cream. There’s an option to add chicken, pork, ground beef, mock chicken, black bean burger, or steak to the nachos, and I ordered my nachos with pork ($12). 

The chips’ seasoning had a hot peppery spice that added an awesome kick to each bite. The nachos were topped with a ton of chopped romaine lettuce, and white queso dripped throughout the nachos with a few chips completely covered. The caramelized onions were cooked perfectly. But the pork: the pork was amazing. The little bites of meat had a charred, crisp edge with a great porky barbecue flavor. Farren’s nachos were big and definitely something to split with someone. I couldn’t finish the app, but I did eat every last bit of pork because it tasted that freaking good. Dine inside or at one of the tables on the patio. You can also order food for curbside pickup.

Farren’s Pub & Eatery
117 N Walnut Ave
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

On a wooden table at Flying Machine Avionics, there is a harvest moon latte with a pretty foam design. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Harvest Moon | Flying Machine Avionics

Serving Page Roasting Company coffee, Flying Machine Avionics is a cozy coffee shop on First Street. My favorite drink here is the harvest moon latte ($5.75) which is made with saffron, sea salt, and maple syrup. Something about the warm saffron flavors and the subtle maple sweetness feels like end of summer and early fall to me. I love the bold taste of the coffee and that the drink is not too sweet. 

The harvest moon can also be made as an iced latte, and the iced version is great as well. Avionics sells other coffee drinks, tea, and a small selection of breakfast food. Check out Rafay’s recent review of the coffee shop here

Flying Machine Avionics
202 S First Street
M-F 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Unwrapped from foil but resting on top is an Italian beef sandwich from Garro's Taste of the City. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Bulls Beef | Garro’s Taste of the City

I have been on an Italian beef kick lately, and the Bulls beef ($7.99) from new food truck Garro’s Taste of the City was so good. I ordered the sandwich dipped. The sandwich had a lot of thinly sliced flavorful beef encased by the most amazing soaked, soggy bread. The flavors of the seasoned beef were amplified by Garro’s serious dip in the gravy. The mild giardiniera tasted like it was made fresh; it had pickled carrots, onion, and bell peppers. This sandwich was an affordable lunch  even with the $2 addition of fries and a can of pop. If you’re chasing the taste of a dipped Portillo’s Italian beef, Garro’s has you covered.

The Bulls beef sandwich was customizable: cheese or no cheese, mild or hot peppers, and dipped or no dip. The Black-owned business has a truck permanently parked at the Shell station at the corner of Washington and Lierman in Urbana.

Garro’s Taste of the City
1511 E Washington St
W-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On a white plate at Sam's Cafe in Champaign, Illinois, there is one piece of French toast on a plate. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

French Toast | Sam’s Café

Is there a better French toast in town? Let me know in the comments or via email, but I really love the French toast at Sam’s Café in Downtown Champaign. On the menu as Gus’ famous French toast, this toast ($4.50 for one) is incredible. The lacy edges of the battered toast were crisped, and the interior had a wonderful cinnamon flavor and soft center. Dusted with a bit of powdered sugar, the caramelized exterior was everything I want in a French toast, and I drowned it in table syrup. It is such a Champaign comfort to visit the diner, order this breakfast, and have it hit time and time again.

The Walnut Avenue diner offers both dine and take out. Remember that Sam’s Café is cash only, so come prepared.

Sam’s Café
115 N Walnut
M-F 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sa 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Su 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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