Smile Politely

Restaurant Week 2022: What to eat and where to go

Listen, you’ve got all year to cook at home, but it is Restaurant Week this week. This nine day celebration of restaurants only happens once a year. Starting tomorrow and going until next Saturday night, this year’s event has more than 30 participating restaurants which is more than last year’s Restaurant Week. Many of the restaurants are offering off-the-menu dishes, and most are offering lower prices than usual — even in this economy. Restaurants have weathered the waves of the (ongoing) pandemic, shortages in staff, and issues with supply chains — and they still open to serve us food. It is our time, as the hungry C-U folx that we are, to show restaurants we appreciate them. Consider trying a new-to-you restaurant. Make plans to catch lunch from an old favorite restaurant.

This week, don’t let that little voice tell you that you have food at home. You probably do, but it’s Restaurant Week. You know you want someone else to do the cooking, and I’m inviting you to celebrate with me. Let’s order something to eat. You can read all the RW menus here. There are a lot of awesome options this year, but here’s what I think sounds the most exciting to eat this Restaurant Week. 

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage has two special sandwiches that are not on the regular menu at the Lincoln Square Mall sandwich shop: veal Parmesan ($13) and a brisket sandwich ($13). Herb-roasted brisket with salsa verde on foccacia bread? Sign me up. For a fun night, order Baldarotta’s Sicilian dreamsicle, a vodka cocktail with a scoop of gelato, to go with your special Restaurant Week sandwich.

On a black plate, there is a fried chicken sandwich with a toasted bun, dripping orange sauce, and a side of dusted fries. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Crane Alley has a two course dinner available for one person ($19) and for two ($29) for Restaurant Week. The single dinner includes a choice of a shared app plus an entree. The dinner for two is the same but with two entrees. Also, there’s a three course meal for two ($39) with a shared dessert, shared app, and two entrees. The RW entree choices include the blackbird sandwich which is a favorite of mine at Crane Alley; that fried chicken sandwich is so good.

Hamilton Walker’s has two Restaurant Week specials: family to go packs and a special dinner only available for dine in. The three course dine-in meal is $29 which is a steal for the upscale steakhouse. The appetizer options are crab cake, jumbo shrimp cocktail, or lamb with a red wine BBQ sauce. Diners can choose between soup or three kinds of salad, and the Restaurant Week entree options are sirloin cap strip, fried wild cod, or grilled salmon. I am obsessed with HW’s soup because no matter the kind of soup, the soup of the day is always good. I’m dying to try the BBQ lamb chop. Order online for the family to go packs or make a reservation to dine in.

Juanito’s Tacos has something called a quesapizza which immediately caught my eye. With cheese, rice, tomato, onions, and choice of meat inside a tortilla, that definitely sounds worth trying. The Restaurant Week specials at Juanito’s Tacos are: meals for one, meals for two, and meals for three. I’m eyeing the individual nachos for $10.50, and I love that there are three tacos in the tacos for one ($9.50). You can get your meals for carryout only from the teal and yellow taco truck parked at 607 N Cunningham in Urbana.

La Bahía Grill opened a little over a month ago, and now, they are participating in Restaurant Week — and we love to see it. The RW special is a three course (app, entree, and dessert) dinner for $29. You have to try the cheese dip appetizer here; it has a wonderful heat to it, and you should eat the churros for dessert because they’re delish. The entree choices are a choice between the namesake dish La Bahía or the Korita. I’ve had the La Bahía, a dish with rice, shrimp, chicken, and steak covered in white cheese sauce, and it was awesome. The Korita is a dish with scallops, octopus, shrimp, fish, mussels, and crab legs cooked in a housemade sauce and served with fries and garlic bread, and that sounds amazing. If you haven’t tried the new Mexican seafood restaurant yet, this Restaurant Week special is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. 

Maize Meixcan Grill on Green has really good breakfast specials for RW. From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., order one of the three RW breakfasts online. Go for the breakfast taco combo which comes with two tacos and a choice of drink (coffee, orange juice, or can of soda) for $7. The breakfast tacos options are solid: bacon and egg, potato and egg, chorizo and egg, chorizo and potato, or nopales and egg. There is also an all day RW menu at the Green Street Maize, and Maize at The Station has RW lunch and dinner specials, too.

Neil St. Blues is serving étouffée, a dish that is not on the regular menu, for nine days during Restaurant Week. The dish involves smothering seafood and rice in a Cajun country brown roux. Yes, please! Get it for $19 with a roll or upgrade to the $29 version to your étouffée, a roll, plus a side salad and dessert: a slice of sweet potato pie a la mode. The restaurant offers this RW special for carryout, dine in, or on various delivery apps.

Pekara is coming in swinging with its $9 Restaurant Week specials available for both breakfast or lunch. There are only three options, but none of these are available on the regular menu. For nine days, try the croissant French toast with a fruit cup and coffee, sriracha pork torta plus chips and an iced tea, or the Pekara salad served with iced tea — each option for an affordable $9.

In a pizza box lined with parchment paper, there is a full cheese pizza with basil and red sauce. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pizzeria Antica has a $19 Restaurant Week special that includes pizza, salad, and gelato. This is an impressive deal because usually pizzas at Pizzeria Antica run $14-$18 each. Salads are $6, and gelato is $4. Money saved isn’t the only reason to have dinner at Pizzeria Antica. The food is amazing; the pizza is Neapolitan pizza, baked to perfection at 800 degrees in huge Italian wood-burning ovens. Go to the pizzeria for a date night or order your pizza to go for a night in. Order the Margherita pizza (a favorite of mine) and try the salted caramel gelato — it’s heavenly.

Stango Cuisine has four different RW specials, and one option is vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. All of Stango’s Restaurant Week specials include three courses: appetizer, entree, and beignet dessert. Go for the $31 special which includes a choice of appetizer, Emma’s platter, and a dessert. The platter includes a variety of Zambian dishes on one plate: chicken curry, beef stew, nshima, rice, sweet potatoes, greens, beans, and Hungarian sausage. Add the plantains as your side because they are amazing. Stango’s meals are delicious and filling — but make sure you save room for the beignets. Order online for carryout or visit the restaurant in the Lincoln Square Mall.

The Stuft Bird, a food truck that stuffs chicken wings with mac-n-cheese and then fries them, has something that I must draw your attention to: the Big Chuck. What is the Big Chuck? Well, it’s my dream come true: a battered and fried chicken breast topped with mac-n-cheese for $10. This is not a drill: go get it. If you don’t like to mix macaroni with your wings, The Stuft Bird’s battered and fried wings are also available unstuffed, and the fried breast is available without the mac. Still want mac-n-cheese? It’s sold on the side for $3. Order online and pick up at the food truck at 104 N 4th Street in Champaign.

Wood N’ Hog has Restaurant Week specials but only at the Downtown Champaign location. The big RW special is a choice between ribs or turkey tips. The pitmaster’s baby back ribs are spiced with Wood N’ Hog’s original rub and infused over double cherry and hickory logs. The turkey tips are slow-smoked and evenly grilled. Both meat options are served with a choice of side. The other RW special is a half slab of ribs, cooked in the same smoky, flavorful way, at a discounted price, and that is what I’m eyeing from the barbeque restaurant’s RW specials.

Top image from Visit Champaign County’s website.

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