Smile Politely

Where to eat and drink this PYGMALION weekend

A red food truck in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl Tavern's outdoor space. A man looks at the menu of drinks.
Alyssa Buckley

This weekend is PYGMALION weekend, and I could not be more excited. There’s incredible music, there’s The Made Fest (awesome art market), and there’s all the non-music fun, too. Whether you are going to one PYGMALION show or all of them, undoubtedly you’ll want to eat and drink near to shows this weekend.

In this guide, find the best spots to eat and drink before, in between, and after shows. I hope that you find something that satisfies your hunger, and I wish you a very merry 19th PYGMALION!

Two slices of pizza from Manolo's Pizza and Empanadas are in white paper pizza boxes for a cheap lunches in Champaign-Urbana list. Cheap lunch in Champaign-Urbana has a slice of cheese and a slice of barbecue chicken ranch for under $10. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley


If you’re seeing shows at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts or shows at Canopy Club, then pizza from Manolo’s Pizza and Empanadas beforehand is a great idea. Grab New York-style slices from the little campus pizzeria. I’m all about Manolo’s pepperoni, but if you want something fun, try Julie’s favorite: the apple-butter-bacon pizza. Also nearby, there’s Timpone’s for upscale Italian or Bread Company for a cosy Swiss dinner (get all the cheese). If you’re thirsty, order a drink from Espresso Royale. The landmark coffee shop serves espresso, drip coffee, lattes, cold brew, hot tea, iced berry herbal tea, matcha, and lemonade.

Just for PYGMALION, Bacci Pizzeria out of Chicago will park their food truck in Urbana at the Rose Bowl Tavern all weekend. Famous for jumbo pizza slices, Bacci is bringing those famous slices in pepperoni, cheese, or tomato basil to PYGMALION. Bacci has been a part of the greater Chicago food scene for 25 years. The owner himself will be in the truck slinging slices of ‘za and other classic Chicago eats like Italian beef sandwiches, pizza puffs, and Chicago dogs all weekend long — this truck is a must.

If you’re seeing shows at Rose Bowl Tavern, enjoy the bar’s beverages. Throw back one of the Rose Bowl’s $2 watermelon shots, which is sweet and fun — or go wild with a shot of Malört, which is neither those things. While there’s no food menu at Rose Bowl, there are restaurants only steps away. Go for dinner at Bunny’s Tavern, a neighborhood bar with great apps. Eat at the Korean restaurant Masijta Grill for stonebowl bibimbap and Korean barbecue. If you have a group, check out Broadway Food Hall with multiple food vendors under one roof. Inside, find delicious African garlic wings at Les Gourmets Cuisine, Filipino and Cambodian cuisine at A Taste of Both Worlds (the turon dessert is so good), Hawaiian bowls from Poke Shack, and more.

The fluffy screamer burger a special for PYGMALION 2023 from The Space restaurant in Downtown Champaign.
Alyssa Buckley

Though there are no PYGMALION shows in Champaign this weekend, The Space restaurant will serve a special PYGMALION fluff screamer. With onions, sweet chili sauce, and marshmallow creme, it’s an insanely delicious cheeseburger that doesn’t make sense but totally works. That sticky sweet marshmallow paired with charred smashburger patties tastes crazy good. If you like sweet and salty flavors together, it’s only available Thursday for dinner.

Three chicken flautas on beans with white rice and a small salad at El Paraiso restaurant in Urbana, Illinois.
Alyssa Buckley


Everything PYGMALION starts at 5 p.m. on Friday. If you want dinner before shows, my pick would be El Paraiso, the Latin American restaurant in Downtown Urbana. Jess loves the mofungo here, and I cannot get enough of the restaurant’s chicken flautas and llapingachos. Prepare to wait because El Paraiso’s food is from-scratch and cooked to order by the two sisters who own it. But the flavors are totally worth the wait. Other great spots for Friday dinner include Siam Terrace, an Urbana favorite with tasty Thai food, or Encanto, the newest restaurant in Downtown Urbana nextdoor to Gallery Art Bar, the newest bar in Downtown Urbana.

If you’re catching any of the Gallery PYGMALION shows, definitely order a drink there. The radical acceptance is a must try. Made with burlesque bitters, a syrup of hibiscus-ginger-pink peppercorn, fresh lime, and sliced hot peppers, the drink is so pretty, and the hot peppers make it deliciously spicy. A cool thing about Gallery is that all of the drinks are non-alcoholic, but the bartenders will add liquor for $5 to whip any bevvie into a cocktail.

Curry pork tonkatsu has crispy pork cutlets beside a mound of rice flooded with yellow curry with potatoes and carrots. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Before Canopy shows, walk down to Bab Plus Korean for good eats on Gregory Street. The curry ton katsu is wonderful here, and the beef bulgogi is downright delicious, too. For something else in the same area, check out Dubai Grill for counter-service Middle Eastern rice bowls, sandwiches, and salads. If you need a dose of caffeine, the restaurant’s Turkish coffee experience is awesome.


At 1 p.m. on Saturday, PYGMALION kicks off with MADE and Human Library. If you’re seeing anything on Saturday, don’t go hungry. For lunch, smash some sandwiches from Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage inside the Lincoln Square Mall. I love their Italian beef sandwich with fries so much — and the gelato, but the Guido (a sando packed with cold cuts and veggies with Italian vinaigrette and dijonnaise) is amazing as well. If you are vegan or want to taste Algerian flavors, visit Strawberry Fields Cafe. There you can enjoy a quick-serve hot lunch of North African food like couscous with lamb, soups, and tasty bourek (fried rolls filled with beef, potato, onion, parsley, and a little bit of cheese).

On Saturday from 1 to 11 p.m., Maize’s taco truck will be at PYGMALION. All day long, head over to the truck for tacos whenever a craving strikes. My favorites from the truck are the carne asada nachos and al pastor tacos.

Carl Busch

If you’re wanting a fancy dinner out in Urbana, it’s got to be one of two places: Silvercreek for beautiful fine dining or Sakura, the chic restaurant with a menu of sushi, teriyaki salmon, and ramen. I love both restaurants for their elegant ambiance. At Silvercreek, order the soup du jour and the Caprese stuffed chicken (pictured above). In Downtown Urbana behind Rose Bowl, Sakura is open until 10 p.m. serving beautiful sushi and my favorite chicken katsu in all of C-U.

For dessert — as long as it’s before 8 p.m., treat yourself to a handmade milkshake or a slice of pie at Courier Cafe, a historic restaurant just steps away from the Rose Bowl.

analog wine bar
Rashmi Tenneti

And finally, plan to spend Saturday evening with wine at Analog bar and catch the 6 p.m. reading by Chicago authors Monica Eng and David Hammond. These two incredible Chicago foodies have written for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Together, they wrote a book titled Made in Chicago: stories behind 30 great hometown bites (which I read and loved). The authors will be reading chapter introductions to iconic Chicago food and drink like the Italian beef sandwich, Malört, and Maxwell St. Polish Sausage.

Two slices of French toast with a patch of powdered sugar are on a white plate at Sam's Cafe in Downtown Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley


PYGMALION 2023 will be finished on Sunday, but just in case you wake up hungry for restaurant food, here are options for the morning after. Of course, returning to Bunny’s Tavern (which opens at 7 a.m.) is a solid pick. Go for the hangover stack: a split biscuit with fries, eggs, bacon, and cheese smothered in sausage gravy — woof.

If you want breakfast in a diner, go to Sam’s Cafe for the French toast. It’s amazing, but the menu has all the usual brekkie fare: eggs, hashbrowns, omelets, grits, toast, and more — cash-only. If there’s any fun left for Sunday-Funday, hit up Maize at The Station for brunch with some hair-of-the-dog margaritas, mimosas, or Mexican shandy. Maize’s brunch menu is pretty big: tacos, tortas, and burritos plus special brunch dishes of enfrijoladas, molletes, huevos divorciados, steak and eggs, machacado, and more.

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

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