Smile Politely

The Ribeye, a Champaign classic with steak and unlimited salad bar

The author's dinner at The Ribeye restaurant in Champaign, Illinois.
Alyssa Buckley

Since 1979, The Ribeye has served steak on Neil Street. Though I have lived in Champaign-Urbana for a decade, I’d never visited The Ribeye before this review. My family loves a steakhouse, and my youngest loves red meat, especially a simple, expertly-cooked steak. (Me, too.) When I saw that our last review of The Ribeye was from 2018, I took the fam out for a steak dinner to try the venerable Champaign steakhouse.

The Ribeye exterior is a brick building without windows.
Alyssa Buckley

With plenty of free parking, The Ribeye is open for dinner seven nights a week in addition to lunch on the weekends. The food menu here is small: steak, chicken, shrimp, crab cakes, six sides, and dessert — and all entrees come with unlimited trips to the salad bar.

A server walks to the author to a table inside The Ribeye restaurant.
Alyssa Buckley

When we walked into the restaurant, it was a little dark with black ceilings and no windows (that I could see). A server greeted us and immediately sat us at a table with cloth napkins. The ambiance served Illini vibes with orange and blue Illinois light fixtures and walls decorated with framed photos of U of I athletes.

Inside the restaurant hang Illinois light fixtures and framed photos of Illini athletes.
Alyssa Buckley

There were two dining rooms, separated by a half-wall, so the space felt open even though it was divided. We sat on the side with the salad bar, and other diners passed us on their way to fetch salad.

Two loaves of bread speared with a knife.
Alyssa Buckley

After we ordered, our server brought free bread and a bowl of butter to the table. Speared with a knife, two warm loaves of fresh bread were way more than we could eat, but it was generous and yummy. The white bread was fluffy and soft, same with the brown. A slice of brown bread smeared with that whipped butter was awesome.

The salad bar at The Ribeye.
Alyssa Buckley

All of our dinners came with unlimited trips to the salad bar. The appeal of a salad bar is everlasting. Deciding how much (and what) to put on a plate is undeniably great.

The dressings at The Ribeye.
Alyssa Buckley

What dressing? There’s six at The Ribeye’s salad bar, pick one — or do six trips and try them all. It’s unlimited! My shy kids didn’t go up to the salad bar because they didn’t want to have to accidentally interact with a stranger, but my husband and I ditched the children for a quick salad bar date.

A salad with carrots, crouton, cucumber, lettuce, and. drizzle of ranch.
Alyssa Buckley

I made a salad of lettuce, spinach, cucumber, red onion, carrot, and croutons with ranch dressing. The cucumber was peeled in stripes, so it looked pretty, and the freshly shredded carrot added a naturally sweet flavor to the greens. The croutons were good, and the ranch dressing was fine.

A salad bar haul of red beans and rice, pasta salad, and a green salad with croutons.
Alyssa Buckley

My husband went for adventure at the salad bar, trying two pasta salads, cold red beans and rice, and a miniature salad topped with bacon, bell peppers, and croutons. He liked his salad and the pasta salads. The red beans and rice tasted good, but we’d never had a cold beans and rice before, so it was surprising. But then again, it was on a cold salad bar, so maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised.

Since I was here for a review, it felt stupid to order anything but the ribeye at The Ribeye, so for my dinner, I ordered the titular cut of steak, medium rare. It came with one side, and I asked our server if I should pick macaroni or fries as my side. She quickly suggested the macaroni, so I went with that.

The author's dinner of ribeye and macaroni with a glass of red wine.
Alyssa Buckley

My ribeye ($29 plus $2 macaroni upcharge) had an interesting plating. Leaning on its side, the steak rested on the macaroni bowl. This was likely done to avoid overcooking on the hot skillet plate, but sadly, it was still a little over-cooked. When cut, the steak was all the way pink, no red in the center, but my steak still tasted good. I liked the smokiness from the grill’s char, and the ribeye’s light seasoning let the meaty flavors of the cut dominate. The steak was juicy and needed nothing else, though I spotted salt and pepper on the table.

One thing to mention is that my server did ask when I ordered my ribeye if I wanted it on a plate or on the skillet. I asked for how it usually comes, which was on the hot, cast-iron plate. Knowing this, if it’s a choice between a unique skillet-plate with an overcooked steak or a basic plate with a rested steak, I’d choose the latter because resting on a hot plate does no steak any favors unless it’s cooked well-done.

A seafood plate with four shrimp and two crab cakes.
Alyssa Buckley

My husband had the seafood platter ($35), which had four shrimp, two crab cakes, a choice of side, and unlimited salad bar. Well seasoned, the crab cakes were fantastic. Under a crisp, golden-brown exterior, the cakes had chunks of flaky bite-sized crab, which tasted so good with a squeeze of lemon and a dip in the tangy remoulade. While the hand-breaded shrimp’s batter was salty and yummy, unfortunately, the shrimp itself was kind of chewy. My husband chose fries for his side. The steakhouse fries were thick, hot, and tasty.

A small piece of chicken beside a bowl of macaroni.
Alyssa Buckley

The Ribeye has a kids menu for those 12 years and under. My oldest kid ordered the four-ounce chicken with a side of macaroni ($10 plus $2 macaroni upcharge). The chicken had dark grill marks, and since it was marinated, it had a lot of flavor and was delicious. My kid liked the chicken, but he loved the macaroni. He said next time, he’d get macaroni as his meal. Really yummy, that velvety cheese sauce clung to the elbow noodles and was so creamy that it was almost soupy.

A ribeye leans against a baked potato beside a beige bowl of sour cream.
Alyssa Buckley

My youngest is both a steak lover and a people pleaser, so he wanted to order The Ribeye’s ribeye ($29) because “they named the restaurant that for a reason!” He ordered his eight-ounce ribeye cooked medium rare. His steak was cooked to more of a medium or medium well, but he didn’t mind because he was just happy to eat red meat. He thought The Ribeye’s ribeye was very tasty, and the simple seasoning was great. He had a baked potato for his side, served with a bowler hat of sour cream, and it was good.

A coffee cocktail in a glass with whipped cream and a cherry.
Alyssa Buckley

The Ribeye also has a drink menu that includes coffee beverages and ice cream cocktails. I was tempted to try the pink squirrel (ice cream topped with almond liqueur and crème de cacao), but I instead ordered the restaurant’s customizable coffee cocktail ($8). The drink was simply Columbia Street coffee, booze, whipped cream, and a cherry on top; it was delicious. I liked the roasted flavor of the Champaign coffee and that I could taste the alcohol; it was a good, spiked coffee. I chose Grand Marnier, but other options were Godiva chocolate liqueur, Kahlúa, Baileys, or Frangelico.

A glass cup of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream, a cherry, and a piece of chocolate.
Alyssa Buckley

Lastly, my oldest ordered an ice cream ($2) for dessert. Of the ice cream and syrup choices, he chose vanilla ice cream with strawberry syrup. Served in a little glass cup, the ice cream had whipped cream, a piece of chocolate, and a cherry plus lots of strawberry syrup. I’m talking like a 50:50 ratio of syrup to ice cream. The sweet syrup had a bright berry flavor, and my child said this dessert was perfect.

A framed photo of Illini football with player number 42 carrying the football during a game hnags on the wall.
Alyssa Buckley

More than anything, I have to say that the service was excellent. Our server was wonderful. She refilled waters, brought napkins, and explained the menu. And The Ribeye had physical, holdable menus; no QR codes here.

Overall, The Ribeye delivered pretty much what I expected from a 44-year-old classic steakhouse: a tasty straight-forward meal at a place with major U of I vibes. The photos of athletes were cool to look at during dinner, and I can see why this steakhouse is a popular spot for Illini.

The Ribeye
1701 S Neil St
M-Th 4:30 to 9 p.m.
F 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Sa noon to 9:30 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

More Articles