Smile Politely

Here’s what’s cooking at Kaori’s Oven 

A fruit sandwich with whipped cream and strawberries between homemade bread by Kaori's Oven
Matthew Macomber

Kaori’s Oven is a hidden gem of Champaign-Urbana. Located in a nondescript building across from Jarling’s Custard Cup (the old Yellowfin location for longtime residents), it’s easy to go on by and not suspect something special is right around the corner. After driving through the CSL Plasma parking lot, park in front of the restaurant without signage next to Kirby Food & Liquor.

Outside the nondescript exterior of Kaori’s Oven and Ishi where only a folding screen can be seen through the windows.
Matthew Macomber

If you see a building that looks like this photo, you’re in the right place! There are a few places to sit inside if you’re a small group. However, most people in line the day I went did what I did and took their order to go, as Kaori’s Oven is only open during lunch hours on workdays.

Menu of Kaori’s Oven showing Animal, Sweet, Cake, Savory, Sandwich, and Gluten free sections with prices ranging from $4 to $8.
Matthew Macomber

To make sure I captured a variety of tastes, I ordered from several categories of the menu. 

A bacon shiso cream cheese bread twist with nine segments on a square plate.
Matthew Macomber

To start, I broke off a piece of the bacon shiso cream cheese bread twist ($4). Carefully crafted so each portion of the snack is bite-sized and just barely held onto the next part, I was impressed by this treat. Though I’ve had bacon and cream cheese in snacks before, something about the blend of meat with rich cream cheese and the shiso leaves was exactly what I needed to kickoff my lunch that day. Bacon-lovers rejoice, as this is the snack for you! It’s also quite shareable as the nine segments are easy to twist off.

A pork katsu sandwich cut clean into two rectangles on a square plate.
Matthew Macomber

For my main course, the pork katsu sandwich ($8) was the obvious choice. Made with perfectly crisped pork cutlets, small pieces of cabbage, and a brown sauce with a wonderful umami flavor, this sandwich is a must. They even sliced it in half for that extra personal touch (which happens to make it easier to eat and photograph better). Don’t skip this sandwich if it’s available when you visit Kaori’s Oven! 

A small roll with spikes on top that give the impression of a porcupine on a square plate.
Matthew Macomber

For the first of my two desserts, I bit into a porcupine bun ($3). There were a variety of cute animal-shaped buns the day I went, though I chose this one per recommendation of the staff. Good thing I did, as I appreciated the sweet white chocolate paired with the tart cranberries. It’s hard to go wrong picking a bun based on either its cuteness or filling, so follow your heart! 

A strawberry fruit sandwich that is half the size of the pork katsu sandwich on a square plate.
Matthew Macomber

Finally, I wrapped things up with a strawberry fruit sandwich ($4). After refrigerating it for twenty minutes (as directed to help the fresh cream solidify), my half sandwich was ready to eat. Filled with fluffy, homemade cream and juicy strawberries, this was a delightfully light dessert. Despite fruit sandwiches not being as common in the U.S. as they are in Japan, I encourage you to try something new. Kaori’s fruit sandwiches do not disappoint!  

And with that, my quick lunch hour tasting was over. Kaori’s Oven posts on Instagram their daily menus as they open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so check before you go to see what sparks your interest! If you enjoy Kaori’s Oven, I recommend ordering from ISHI (run by Kaori’s partner) located in the same building. Hours for ISHI are also 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., though ISHI is open everyday except Sundays and Mondays. 

Kaori’s Oven 
305 Cedar St
T+Th 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

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