Here we are at our third iteration of this column. I suppose that doesn’t make it new anymore. Have you tried any of the previous suggestions? Tell us! I encourage you to share your favorite local dish in the comments. Something specific you’d like us to check out? Post it below.
May is one of the busiest and exiting months here in C-U. The academic year is wrapping up, and by the middle of the month college students have moved on permanently or temporarily. In their wake the rest of us year-rounders exhale and look forward to taking full advantage of all of the corners and crevices of Champaign-Urbana. Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer looms large at the end of the month, a beacon for those needing a long weekend and those looking to bust out their white pants. The start of summer is exciting for food and drink, as there are plenty of opportunities to check out Campustown eats without waiting in line behind thousands of undergraduates. Likewise, plants start growing, which means locally grown produce at the markets, but I’ll hold off talking about that deliciousness until next month.
Sopes | Maize
When students are on campus, getting food from Maize is a matter of timing: Call ahead, place your order, and then have your spouse drive really slowly by the restaurant as you quickly jump out of the moving vehicle without getting hit by oncoming traffic. If you’re really lucky, someone’s just vacated a parking spot. Otherwise, your driver is circling the block while you pick up your food. To be fair, the food is always ready quickly, and the Maize folks are super efficient in taking and fulfilling orders. It’s really just a matter of very limited parking (and interior seating).
So now that the students are on their way back to the ‘burbs for the summer, you can likely park your vehicle in the lot and enjoy the delicious food inside the restaurant. I’m a super fan of the sopes ($3.99 each), and can’t seem to order anything else right now. The thick, soft tortilla base is the foundation for the delicious toppings. All iterations — veggie, chorizo, al pastor, etc. — are great. Get what you like, but get two of them, because they are that good.
Maize is located at 60 E Green Street, Champaign, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Salad and Soup | Sakanaya
Sakanaya might be my favorite restaurant on campus. It’s a gem of a place with big-city, contemporary aesthetics and a highly curated but delicious menu. If you’re into sushi, this is your spot. But the ramen is pretty tasty, too, and I’m a fan of the salad-soup combo: seaweed salad ($4) and spicy shoyu ramen ($13). The spicy ramen is quite spicy, so proceed with caution if you’re not totally into heat. This a really lovely date night spot, so treat someone you love. (Tonkotsu ramen pictured.)
Sakanaya is located at 403 E Green Street, Champaign and is open for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Mamey Ice Cream | El Oasis
There are several things we’re missing in C-U, and a proper ice cream shop — with ice cream made in-house — is one of them. El Oasis is the closest thing to an ice cream shop we have, serving up Mexican frozen desserts including ice cream, sorbets, popsicles, and chamoyada. The ice cream isn’t made in-house, but that’s of no consequence. It’s delicious. There are a bunch of flavors, but the one I keep coming back to is the mamey. Mamey is a tropical fruit, with pinkish-orange flesh, not unlike papaya. The taste is fruity and tropical, which is a crap description, but please believe me when I tell you it’s excellent. Go have a scoop (about $3). (Pictured with avocado ice cream, which is also delicious.)
El Oasis is located at 510 N Cunningham Ave, Champaign, and is open Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
Burger and fries | Just Hamburgers, Paxton
Last summer, I took a ride to Paxton to have a burger and fries. This Paxton institution is well worth the hour-long round trip, and might even be a nice way to kill an afternoon with the kids. Get the cheeseburger ($1.40) and fries ($0.85), for sure. You should also get a milkshake ($1.80), because you might as well commit. You should know that Just Hamburgers doesn’t serve gourmet pub burgers; these are griddle patties that are smashed down until the edges get crispy. The fries? They were awesome. Do yourself a favor and order and extra meal for the ride home. You’ll definitely want it.
Just Hamburgers is located at 214 E Ottawa in Paxton. The restaurant is open Monday though Friday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4-7 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Little Secret | Triptych
Triptych brews a bunch of stuff this community (myself included) enjoys drinking. Our Little Secret is no longer — the World Beer Cup just awarded Triptych’s Little Secret the gold medal. That’s a big deal. The next batch will be available at the end of the month, so check the brewery’s website for info about brews on tap, and when it’ll be released in cans. It’s the perfect not-so-secret secret ingredient at your Memorial Day cookout. Photo from Triptych's Facebook page.
Triptych Brewing is located at 1703 Woodfield Dr, Savoy, and is open Monday through Wednesday, 3 to 10 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 3 to 11 p.m.; Saturday noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
Photos by Jessica Hammie, except where noted.