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Po boy sandwiches of Champaign-Urbana

What is a po boy? A po boy is one of my favorite sandwiches. Traditionally, it’s a Louisiana sandwich made with meat, usually fried seafood, served on New Orleans French bread with remoulade and toppings.

Turns out, po boy sandwiches aren’t on that many menus in town which surprised me. I went on a po boy quest around Champaign-Urbana. From a cod po boy to a po boy from Po’ Boys, I tried five C-U po boy sandwiches.

On a white plate, there is a sandwich with a large piece of fried breaded fish with a scoop of creamy coleslaw on top. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cod Po Boy | Billy Barooz

At Billy Barooz, I ordered the cod po boy, and I was impressed by the size of the cod. The fried fish was so humongous that the sandwich was served with a knife! Billy Barooz’s cod po boy was topped with coleslaw and buffalo sauce on a toasted roll for $11. I wasn’t in the mood for buffalo sauce, so I asked for none — but if you want it, get that buffalo sauce drizzle. It was served with a choice of side; I chose sweet potato fries which were good (and plentiful).

The hand-breaded crust on the fried cod had bits of parsley and pepper in the panko breading and was amazingly crunchy. The coleslaw was sweet and not too creamy — and I liked the pairing with the breaded cod. The fish was excellent: a perfect mild flavor with a flaky middle and wonderful fried edges. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sandwich with a protein portion this big (except the fried chicken sandwich I had from Billy Barooz). To eat the sandwich, I had to fold the filet in half, so it was a double stack of fried fish. If you are a very hungry person, this is your po boy. 

If you want fish but not a po boy, there are quite a few seafood dishes on the menu at Billy Barooz. Check out the full menu here. You can visit the restaurant at The Crossing or order online for takeout.

Billy Barooz
2521 Village Green Pl
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

On a dark blue plate, there is a po boy with lots of shrimp and toppings. Some fried shrimp and shredded lettuce are on the plate, off of the sandwich. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Fried Shrimp Po Boy | Bunny’s Tavern

This fried shrimp po boy is only available on Tuesdays as a dinner special, but if you’re at Bunny’s on a Tuesday, it’s something to get. The fried shrimp po boy ($9.95) had fried shrimp with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and Bunny’s shrimp sauce on a roll. This po boy didn’t come with a side, but I added fries for $1.95 (and they were so yummy). The Tuesday special sandwich had 15 pieces of fried shrimp on it — which I thought was an impressive portion of shrimp for a bar’s po boy. The po boy tasted good: pops of salty, hot shrimp with crisp shredded lettuce, thick tomato slices, and sour pickle crunch. It wasn’t too saucy, and it was deliciously shrimpy. This po boy was a good, mild option for those who don’t like spicy sauces.

I really like going to Bunny’s Tavern for a casual bite. The Urbana tavern is a great spot for an affordable hot meal and cheap drinks. Order takeout after 11 a.m. or eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner inside the bar or outside under the covered patio.

Bunny’s Tavern
119 W Water St
Su-Th 7 a.m. to midnight
F+Sa 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

An overhead photo of a po boy from Neil St. Blues shows a several fried shrimp atop coleslaw on a white bun on a white plate. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Shrimp Po Boy | Neil St. Blues

I wrote about this po boy in my February list, and this was the sandwich that started my po boy adventure. The po boy at Neil St. Blues can be made with shrimp, catfish, or alligator with a choice of fried, blackened, or grilled. I ordered the fried shrimp po boy ($12) served Carolina style with coleslaw, tomato slices, and a pickle. The shrimp were plump with a lightly battered exterior. The super soft roll was great, and it held the sandwich together. I liked the thick pickle slices, and I loved the crispy breading on the shrimp. The salty, crunchy shrimp paired really well with the creamy mayo slaw. This was a fantastic po boy.

The sandwich came with a side, and I chose sweet potato fries. The sweet potato fries at Neil St. Blues were waffle fries; they came out piping hot and tasted delish. The Downtown Champaign restaurant serves Southern-style food like this fried shrimp po boy but also has gumbo, jambalaya, burgers, pasta, ribs, and more on the menu. Enjoy a meal at Neil St. Blues or order online.

Neil St Blues
301 N Neil St
T-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

On a white plate, there is a sandwich with an orange sauce and toppings falling out of it. There are two toothpicks, one in each side of the sandwich. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Shrimp Po Boy | Po’ Boys Restaurant

You know I had to get a po boy from Po’ Boys. This shrimp po boy ($12.25) came with thick tomato slices, red onion, and crisp romaine atop a roll. The breaded and fried shrimp reminded me of bang bang shrimp: a spicy, saucy fried shrimp. The remoulade had a bright red pepper spiciness to it, and there was a lot of it on the sandwich. The veggies had a fresh crunch, and the raw onion bite went well with the creamy sauce. The soft bread was slightly toasted, and there was a great crunchy batter on the shrimp even with all that sauce.

You can find this tasty, messy po boy on the menu at the legendary BBQ restaurant in Urbana. The website’s menu is online, and you can see what they have to offer. Read our recent review of the restaurant here. Po’ Boys Restaurant is a good casual spot for lunch, dinner, or pick up.

Po’ Boys Restaurant
202 E University Ave
W-Su 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

An overhead photo of Watson's firecracker shrimp po boy in a basket lined with a red and white checkered paper. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Firecracker Shrimp Po Boy | Watson’s

Lastly, the firecracker shrimp po boy ($16) at Watson’s had panko-breaded tiger shrimp tossed in a sweet and spicy firecracker sauce with lettuce, tomato, and red onion on a hoagie roll — with some black pepper ranch on top. Two sauces on one sando? You know it; Watson’s has smothering down to a science. Just feast your eyes on this po boy with drippy ranch and sauced up shrimp.

A close up of the firecracker shrimp po boy shows fried shrimp covered in an orange sauce drizzled with a white sauce. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

These fat shrimp were so meaty and plump. The fried outside of the shrimp was doused in sauce and was hot in both temperature and spiciness. This po boy was amazing (and about $4-5 more than all the others). The firecracker sauce was a little spicy and definitely tasted like a special sauce. It had a Buffalo flavor at the start and a sweeter finish. The toasted bun absorbed the hot sauce — and so did the mixed greens, onion slices, and tomato. The creamy ranch drizzle had a nice tang that balanced the firecracker sauce. It was a big, filling po boy and super freaking good. It came with a side of Watson’s classic potato wedges.

There are a lot of great sandwiches on Watson’s menu. Check out Carl’s recent review of the Downtown Champaign chicken shack. You can make a reservation or order food on Watson’s new online ordering site.

Watson’s Shack & Rail
211 N Neil St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. + 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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