Smile Politely

Xinh Xinh Cafe is pretty excellent

A banh mi sandwich on a white plate.
Alyssa Buckley

For fourteen years, an unassuming plaza restaurant called Xinh Xinh Cafe (pronounced Sin Sin) has served Vietnamese food in the same space: a ten-table cafe doors down from Schnucks in Urbana. Sometimes hole-in-the-wall restaurants can be overlooked and empty, but that’s not the case with Xinh Xinh Cafe.

Xinh Xinh Cafe exterior in Urbana
Alyssa Buckley

When I walked in for lunch on a weekday, more than half the tables were already taken. Aromas wafted from the kitchen into the small dining room, and it looked like everyone was eating one of two things: banh mi or pho.

Inside Xinh Xinh Cafe, there is a black pony wall with decorative figures. There are two big pendant lights hanging behind the counter.
Alyssa Buckley

Smile Politely has long loved the Vietnamese food here. When the Urbana restaurant first opened, Seth thought the restaurant was a definite winner, and in 2009, the magazine named Xinh Xinh Cafe the 7th Best New C-U Restaurant of the Decade. Since then, Jess has loved the lunch, and Anthony put the restaurant’s bun thit nuong in his 2020 list of under-appreciated C-U foods. But, the last time we published a full review of the restaurant was in 2016, so I felt it was time to revisit it.

There’s no pho in my review on purpose. Not because I don’t love Xinh Xinh’s pho — I very much do — but we’ve covered it plenty. Jess covered Xinh Xinh Cafe’s pho in 2018, in 2021 Paul paired pho takeout with a French film set in Vietnam, and I wrote about the restaurant’s pho tia nam in last December’s list of things to eat. So for this review, we ordered five other menu items: appetizers and banh mi sandwiches.

Fried eggs with peanut sauce at Xinh Xinh Cafe.
Alyssa Buckley

To start, we ordered the deep-fried eggs ($4.25). My first time seeing eggs like this on a menu, I wanted to try it. The appetizer was two hard-boiled eggs, fried to golden brown on the exterior, sliced in half, sauced with a tamarind glaze, and topped with crushed peanuts and scallions. The egg white was soft with a rubbery bounce to it, and the center was a firm hard-boiled yolk. Without any batter, the curved outside looked beautifully golden, but the exterior texture was barely crisp. The nuts and green onions gave crunch to the saucy, soft snack, and I really liked that sour-sweet-salty sauce. The dish was basically a warm hard-boiled egg with sauce, but I prefer a jammier yolk, so I only enjoyed one egg-half.

Two egg rolls on a small plate with bright red dip sauce in its own compartment and a silver spoon.
Alyssa Buckley

We also ordered the vegetable egg rolls appetizer ($2.25), served with a side of bright red sweet-and-sour sauce. Fried to order, these egg rolls were good. The thin layers of wrapper were super crunchy. Inside the roll, there was well seasoned cabbage, carrots, and sprouts that had a nice texture. The best part was the deliciously crispy wisps of fried wrapper with a drip of sauce.

Five fried dumpkings are on a small plate with a side compartment of soy sauce with chopped green onions.
Alyssa Buckley

Because we were hungry lunch babes, we also ordered the fried vegetable dumplings ($7.25). With a dumpling sauce in a cute compartment on the same plate, the appetizer had six deep-fried veggie-filled potstickers. These were incredible. The wrapper was so super thin, not bready at all, wonderfully delicate and yet it held that vegetable center well — nothing fell out. The soft filling had cooked carrots and tender-crisp cabbage with pops of sliced edamame, and the chopped scallions in the dumpling sauce added fresh crunch. These veggie dumplings were my favorite of the appetizers.

Two banh mi sandwiches at Xinh XInh Cafe in Urbana.
Alyssa Buckley

These are our two banh mi sandwiches. In Vietnamese, banh mi means bread. In English, it refers to the quintessential sandwich of Vietnamese cuisine: fresh cilantro, pickled carrots and daikon, sliced cucumber, jalapeño, mayo, and a protein laid into a baguette. I happen to I love banh mi, but until this review, I’d never tried Xinh Xinh’s banh mi before. This restaurant has ten proteins for the sandwich including roasted pork, grilled chicken, garlic beef, fried fish, tofu, and a special combo of jambon, headcheese, pork roll, and pate.

Alyssa Buckley

For my lunch, I ordered the grilled pork banh mi ($10.95), which had cilantro sprigs, jalapeño slices, pickled carrots and daikon, grilled pork, peeled cucumber, and mayo in a toasted bun — served with a steak knife. It’s fun when sandwiches come with a knife, isn’t it? With lots of tender cubes of pork, this banh mi was so delicious. The charred pork tasted awesome with the cool crunch of cucumber slices. Toasted only enough to crinkle, the soft baguette scattered breadcrumbs on my lap with each bite. The pickled daikon and carrot strings were only slightly sour, serving more cold veggie-fresh flavor than sourness. There was a bottom layer of mayo, but the mayonnaise sauce was just enough to add creaminess without being messy. This was a very, very good sandwich — and I’m kind of mad that I’m not eating it right now.

Fish banh mi on a white oval plate.
Alyssa Buckley

My date ordered the fried fish banh mi ($11.95). This fish sandwich had the same ingredients except instead of pork, it was fish, and instead of a squiggle of regular mayo on the bottom, there was a squirt of spicy mayo atop the daikon, carrots, cilantro, and jalapeño. A solid fish sandwich, the mild fish was delicate and flaky. The batter’s texture was thin, and I wished it was crunchier. The flavors were good, though; the spicy mayo tasted yummy with the white fish. This sandwich’s baguette was just good as mine: pillowy soft bread with a crispy, toasted edge that flaked absolutely everywhere. The base components for Xinh Xinh’s bahh mi sandwiches — the bread and veg — are great, and it’s just what protein to go with it.

I totally get why everyone at Xinh Xinh Cafe is eating banh mi or pho; they are both excellent.

On the table, there is a utensils holder with white stacked soup spoons, wrapped straws, chopsticks in brown paper, a little black carrier of sriracha, soy, sesame oil, salt, and pepper shakers beside a napkin dispenser with a banh mi photo on it.
Alyssa Buckley

Most things a diner could need are already on the table: spoons, straws, chopsticks, sauces, and napkins. Though the Vietnamese restaurant has changed owners over the years, much of the decor has stayed the same including the metal walls from when it was a Wingstop.

The menu is nothing fancy: a front-and-back paper in a clear plastic slide. In addition to pho and bánh mì, Xinh Xinh Cafe offers a variety of appetizers, noodle bowls, and rice platters. The restaurant also has bubble tea, Thai iced tea, housemade lime soda, salted plum soda, an avocado shake, fresh young coconut, hot tea, and café sua nuong (Vietnamese-style dark-roasted drip coffee with sweetened condensed milk, served hot or over ice). Order online here.

A register reads 10.85 and five lucky cats with closed eyes are on top of the total.
Alyssa Buckley

Back in 2009, when Seth asked what the name meant, the original owner said, “It means, like, pretty. It’s what you’d call a girl. I also liked the way it sounded phonetically. It’s repetitive, and hopefully it will stick in people’s heads.”

Xinh Xinh is something that should be in your head. With delicious food and prices on point, it’s a great restaurant. Where else are we eating an appetizer for $2.35 in this town? (Seriously, tell me.) Not even McDonald’s sells a small fry for that cheap.

Xinh Xinh Cafe
114 N Vine St
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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