I love spicy food. Some may say variety is the spice of life, but for me, spice is the spice of life. I do, however, like to think that I have some discerning tastes when it comes to spicy food; I am not a fan of heat for the sake of heat, but I really love dishes where the spice level marries well with the accompanying flavors of the meal. With that in mind, I set out to try five delicious spicy dishes around Champaign-Urbana. Due to my penchant for spicy dishes with complex flavor combinations, this list might resonate with you whatever your preferred spice level, as there are a few mildly spicy dishes included as well.
Chicken Wings︱Boomerang Bar and Grill
While Boomerang’s has long inspired a loyal following, I only recently discovered the array of options offered at this local gem. Admittedly, after numerous trips there, I have still only tried the chicken wings — and I have now tried every flavor. I especially appreciated that these were tender and succulent without being greasy. The wings are available breaded or naked, and these were universally juicy and always served sizzling hot. For this list, I opted for three spicy flavors of naked wings (Cajun, Jamaican jerk, and hot), with a side of ranch, but there is an option of blue cheese.
The Jamaican jerk wings had the mildest spice level of all of the flavors I tried and perhaps the richest flavor. The sauce was deliciously balanced between tangy and sweet, presumably a result of the allspice typically included in the seasoning with a note of spicy heat. The Cajun wings were the only dry rub flavor I tried. These wings had a delicious medium spice level, and I could taste the effect of the paprika and cayenne from the rub along with hints of garlic and onions. The hot wings (smothered in buffalo sauce) were the spiciest flavor I tried. This was a fantastic example of buffalo sauce — you know what that tastes like: that classic vinegary spicy sauce — and each bite of the tender meat seemed to amplify the growing spice level, which I balanced with a generous dunk into the ranch. You really can never go wrong with hot wings. A half dozen wings costs $5.75, and a dozen cost $9.25, and there is a special discount on wings on Wing Wednesdays. Suffice it to say, I left Boomerang’s that day as I do after most visits, with a smile and some leftover sauce on my face.
Boomerang’s Bar & Grill
1309 E Washington St
M-F 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa noon to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 7 p.m.
M+Tu 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
W 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Th+F 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa noon to 8 p.m.
Fire Burger︱Farren’s Pub & Eatery
There are not many ways to improve on a burger with a perfectly cooked patty on a fresh bun with a slice of cheese on to, but I love a spicy burger and thoroughly enjoy seeing how different people get creative with adding flavor components to their burgers. The fire burger ($13) at Farren’s Pub & Eatery in Downtown Champaign is one of my go-to burgers around town. All burgers at Farren’s are locally ground and freshly prepared, and the fire burger includes sautéed jalapeños, red peppers, red onions, and a ghost pepper cheese. It’s aptly named, and this burger was probably spiciest meal on this list.
The burger had a succulent patty cooked perfectly medium on a fresh burger bun. The burger was also served with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, all of which I opted for. All these components combined resulted in a delicious burger with a strong spice level throughout. The jalapeños and ghost pepper cheese were exceptionally flavorful without being overwhelmingly hot, and the other components provided some cooling relief with the acid from the tomato doing a particularly great job. Burgers are typically served with tricolor tortilla chips, although I chose to substitute fries for an extra charge ($2.50) because what is a burger without some fries?
Farren’s Pub & Eatery
117 N Walnut St
M-Th 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Spicy Chimichanga︱Huaraches Moroleon
The spicy chimichanga ($11.99) at Huaraches Moroleon in Urbana is one of the various customizations available with the chimichanga; Huaraches’ chimichangas can be regular or spicy, deep fried or in a soft burrito, with a choice of meat or nopales as a filling. I elected to get a soft, barbacoa spicy chimichanga. This chimichanga was served smothered in a creamy, cheesy, mildly spicy sauce and stuffed to the brim with rice, cheese, beans, jalapeños, and pico de gallo. The dish was served with a side of lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream, leaving me welcome to further adjust to your heart’s content. The spicy sauce itself had a very mild heat level and complemented the chimichanga perfectly.
This dish featured a complex array of flavors, and each played off of another to contribute to the perfect bite. In terms of overall spice level, the major kick came from the jalapeño, which was generously portioned to allow some heat in every bite. The spice lingered with every bite, pleasantly accumulating over the course of the meal in the way that all the most flavorful spicy dishes do. Admittedly, the soft tortilla made it feel like more of a burrito than a chimichanga, but since the serving size was quite large, I was glad I made that choice instead of the fried option.
805 Philo Rd
Tu-Sa 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Lamb Vindaloo︱Kohinoor Indian Restaurant and Lounge
Vindaloo, a spicy Indian dish with a base often made from ingredients such as caramelized onions, curry paste, garlic, ginger, and a whole host of spicy ingredients, is believed to have descended from a similar Portuguese dish and presents a delicious flavor profile fit for a wide range of carnivorous or vegetarian preparations. In fact, at Kohinoor, the menu has vegetable, chicken, shrimp, lamb, or fish vindaloo, and from my experience, each rendition is delightful. Given that lamb is not a protein commonly available at too many C-U restaurants, I elected to try the lamb vindaloo ($14.99) at Kohinoor. In addition to the protein, the potato and broccoli were served in a rich, creamy vindaloo sauce, which left me continually smacking my lips and going back for more. I should note that Kohinoor has a disclaimer on their website claiming that many of their dishes are mildly spicy, but that the dish can be made spicier upon request. Since I wanted to try the dish in its truest and most basic form, I did not make any specific requests regarding the spice level, although I certainly will the next time I order it.
There was a sneaky spice level to the sauce, as initially it did not possess an overly spicy quality but more of a mild heat level. By the end of each bite however, it rose to a medium spice level, perfectly complementing the other flavors in the base. The overall composition was bursting with flavor, with the tomato-based vindaloo providing a strong acidic component while a strong note of cardamom came through in every bite. If you are someone with a reasonable tolerance for spicy foods, I would recommend asking for the dish to be prepared spicier. I had a plain naan (you can choose rice instead if you prefer) to accompany my vindaloo, and the soft, buttery flatbread was a perfect vehicle for the vindaloo. For those of you wondering how well this dish holds up being transported home, I can confirm that it absolutely does.
Kohinoor Indian Restaurant and Lounge
6 E Columbia Ave
M 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
W+Th 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m. + 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Green Curry︱Siam Terrace
The Thai green curry is so named for the green chilies that give it its color and is usually the hottest of the curry options in a typical Thai restaurant. At Siam Terrance in Urbana, it has three pepper symbols next to it, indicating it is one of their spiciest dishes, so I was instantly sold. The curry had the option of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, vegetables, shrimp, mock duck, or seafood, and after much deliberation, I opted for tofu as the protein in my green curry ($14.99).
The tofu was pan-seared on the outside and had a delicious chewy texture on the inside. The curry was also filled with vegetables, namely bell peppers, bamboo shoots, carrots, eggplant, and basil. The curry itself had a very inviting aroma and a wonderfully smooth and creamy texture. The spice level started off with a medium heat, building with each bite until there was a consistent and delicious sting of heat around my mouth. The sliced ginger on top of the dish and the strong nutty flavor of the curry itself helped tie all of the ingredients together. The sticky white rice served as side also provided a perfect vehicle to absorb the rich curry, and so after finishing the vegetables and tofu, I found myself dunking rice into the sauce to soak up as much of the delicious flavor as possible.
212 W Main St.
M-F 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.