Smile Politely

Restaurant Week 2023 must-have bites

Two rib eye tacos from Maize at The Station are on a white plate with lots of cilantro. The image is cropped for header size. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Restaurant Week 2023 begins this weekend on Friday, January 27th and runs through Saturday, February 4th. This delicious nine day celebration of local restaurants is hosted by Visit Champaign County, and there are more than 40 participating restaurants across Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, Rantoul, St. Joe, and Mahomet. This year, the food options are vegan, American barbecue, Zambian, Italian, Vietnamese, Indian, Congolese, and more.

If you’re overwhelmed looking at 40+ different menus, we’ve got you covered. I’ve combed through the RW menus of every participating restaurant to find must-have bites for Restaurant Week 2023. In this RW preview, I’m highlighting four appetizing dishes exclusive to Restaurant Week and seven restaurants offering special multi-course prix fixe.

Check out what Julie recommended earlier this month and some of our reviews of Restaurant Week from years past (2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017). We’ll be eating and drinking our way through Restaurant Week right along with you. Next week, watch for our reviews of RW specials, and let us know in the comments or via email what you’re eating this Restaurant Week.

Four Exclusive Restaurant Week 2023 Bites

Visit Champaign County website

Cafe Sababa︱Aaron’s Famous Sweet Potato Cakes: Check out Cafe Sababa, located inside The Cohen Center at the University of Illinois. Cafe Sababa is a newcomer to Restaurant Week, but the restaurant is coming in hot with a yummy $6 special. The dish is called Aaron’s Famous Sweet Potato Cakes, a bed of spring greens tossed in a lemon vinaigrette topped with three sweet potato croquettes, mango salsa, and lime aioli. This dish is only available for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Be sure to try it during Restaurant Week because these sweet potato cakes aren’t available on the regular kosher menu.

Cracked: The Egg Came FirstDirty Bird Burrito: The Green Street breakfast joint is offering not one, not two, but three special breakfast dishes just for Restaurant Week 2023 — and they’re all under $10. The one that sounds the most delicious to me is the dirty bird burrito ($9). The RW burrito has scrambled eggs, fried chicken, bacon, white cheddar, and pesto aioli. In addition to a RW vegetarian breakfast sandwich, Cracked! is also serving chicken and waffles with honey butter and maple syrup. Order these specials for pickup or delivery.

Martinelli’s Market︱Fig and Prosciutto Sandwich: Martinelli’s Market has tasty sandwiches, and the new Downtown Champaign bakery and deli has two RW sandwiches that aren’t usually on the menu. I’d go for the fig jam, mozzarella, and prosciutto on a baguette, but Julie said she’d go for the fried mortadella on focaccia. For only $12, you can try a special sandwich plus some extras: chips, pickle, and iced tea during Restaurant Week. It’s a pretty great deal since most artisan sandos here run $16-$19. Dine in at Martinelli’s Market, or order online.

Visit Champaign County website

Watson’s Shack & Rail Sauce Boss Chicken Parm: This Restaurant Week, Watson’s is offering a very special dinner called Sauce Boss Chicken Parm. On top of garlic spaghetti noodles, a breaded chicken breast with melted mozzarella will be covered with three rows of different sauces: marinara, alfredo, and vodka sauce. The dinner special is a departure from the fried chicken sammies the restaurant is famous for, but we know the chicken will be good, and all three sauces look delicious. The Sauce Boss Chicken Parm is only available for dine in after 4 p.m. Make a reservation to secure a table because last.

Seven Places with Restaurant Week prix fixe worth a taste

Cowboy Monkey: One of the most affordable three-course Restaurant Week dinners is at Cowboy Monkey. For $22, taste a little of the restaurant’s Tex-Mex cuisine. The prix fixe includes an appetizer of chips and guacamole (or queso), three chorizo tacos with onions and cilantro, and Cowboy Monkey’s newest dessert, the sopapilla. The dinner is available for $5 less if you skip the dessert.

Alyssa Buckley

Hamilton Walker’s: For Restaurant Week, Hamilton Walker’s is serving a three-course dinner for only $32, a price cheaper than many entrees on the regular menu. The RW prix fixe includes an appetizer, an entree, and the restaurant’s delicious bread pudding with custard sauce. The crab cakes are fantastic, but I always go for the soup, whatever flavor it is that day. The entree choice is grilled steak tips or grilled shrimp, both with sides of smashed potatoes and garlic green beans. If you want to go out for dinner at the swanky steakhouse in Downtown Champaign, Restaurant Week is a cost-effective time to go. Reservations are recommended.

Homegrown: The special three-course dinner at Homegrown for Restaurant Week sounds absolutely amazing. The $32 dinner has three appetizer options, four entree choices, and will end with an unspecified dessert. Go for the Prairie Fruits Farm cheese tasting appetizer with cranberry mostarda and toasted nuts, and order the Cabernet-braised beef brisket with roasted vegetables for dinner. If you’re vegetarian, they have a dish for you, too: a mushroom and pea risotto with Chardonnay, Parmesan, and fresh herbs.

La Bahía on Instagram

La Bahía: For $35, the Mexican seafood restaurant La Bahía has a three-course dinner with favorites from the regular menu at a discounted price and one special entree just for Restaurant Week. I like the papas locas appetizer, a bed of fries drizzled with spicy queso and topped with sliced avocado, bacon, white onion, chicken bites, salsa, red onion, and shredded cheese. For the entree, I’d order the dish special for RW: the volcan, a bed of rice topped with grilled chicken, steak, pork chops, chorizo, shrimp, and cactus with a housemade sauce. For dessert at La Bahía, I usually go for churros, but I also want the chimi cheesecake: a cheesecake wrapped in a deep-fried tortilla, covered in cinnamon sugar, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and a cherry.

Alyssa Buckley

Maize at The Station: If you’re looking for a lunch special, Maize has a pretty great one for Restaurant Week. For just $12, eat an appetizer and a main. The app choices are tortilla soup or guacamole with chips. The three options for the main are two tacos, pasta poblana, or grilled quesadilla. On the regular menu, two tacos with a side are $12 and a small guac is $7, so this RW special is a deal. For dinner, there’s a two-course special for $22 with an appetizer selection and dinner entree options of birria tacos, chile relleno, or an enchilada plate.

Neil St. Blues: Neil St. Blues, the Southern cuisine restaurant with a fantastic brunch buffet, has special entrees for Restaurant Week, too. The three course meals here include a choice of soup or salad, an entree, and dessert. The dinners range from $22 to $42 and offer a choice of smoked chicken, seafood pasta, or braised short ribs in a red wine demi-glace. I really want to try the special Cajun seafood alfredo ($42), a dish with seared scallops and sautéed shrimp over fettuccini noodles in a white wine Parmesan cream sauce. If you want the RW prix fixe, be sure to reserve a table by calling 217-531-1150.

Sunsinger: Lastly, if you want to taste luxury, Sunsinger’s RW menu has lobster nachos and grilled lamb chops as options for their prix fixe. At $42, Sunsinger’s dinner is one of the most expensive dinners of Restaurant Week 2023, but it does sound tempting. The neighborhood restaurant has four options for the first course and five choices (including a vegetarian dish) for the second course. Of the four RW desserts, I really want the bourbon caramel crème brûlée with a strawberry compote and chocolate mousse. Call 217-351-1115 to make a reservation.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

More Articles