In 2017, Visit Champaign County re-launched Restaurant Week to encompass the entirety of Champaign County. The last two years have been fairly successful, with a few more restaurants jumping on board each year. This year’s line up includes just about 30 venues, most of which are restaurants, though there is at least one caterer. Only one restaurant is offering breakfast; there are plenty of lunch and dinner options, of course. Dinner prices range between $19 and $39 for three course meals.
Among friends I refer to Restaurant Week as free dessert week, because the pricing is usually such that you’re getting a free dessert and not necessarily saving Geico-levels of money. But saving money or getting a deal isn’t really the point of the exercise. It’s a way to introduce diners to restaurants they haven’t tried and for restaurants to see more foot traffic in an otherwise frozen, miserable, desolate time of year. It's a way for the community to celebrate and support local businesses.
I’ve written again and again about what Restaurant Week could be; I will not rehash that here. Instead, I’m going to follow the same format I used last year to share with you my picks in certain categories, should you need some advice or suggestions on where to dine.
Find all of the Restaurant Week menus here.
Courier Café is the only restaurant offering a breakfast menu ($12; entrée, fruit or biscuits and gravy, coffee/tea/juice). Lucky for us, their breakfast is delicious.
Restaurant Week isn’t really for young children. If they’re young or picky enough to order off the kids’ menu, best call a sitter and go out with the adults (or bring them and just have them order off the kids menu anyway). If you have some semi-adventurous eaters, I suggest Kohinoor (samosa, mango lassi, green salad, entrée; $20 veggie, $25 meat). Who doesn’t love a mango lassi? More likely, though, you should take the kids to Pizzeria Antica because the pizza is delicious and the RW deal comes with a scoop of gelato ($19; salad or antipasti, pizza, gelato).
New this year is the addition of booze to two of the menus. Big Grove’s $29 menu includes three 10oz pours of a select few beers. Both of Crane Alley’s dinner options include beer ($19 sans dessert, $29 with dessert). In each case, the up-charge is $10 for either booze (Big Grove), or dessert (Crane Alley), which seems excessive. Do the math on your own to figure out the best way to save yourself some money.
On a Budget
Photo by Matthew Macomber
If you’re looking to spend the least amount of money, lunch is your best bet. Courier Café has lunch for two people for $20, which is actually, literally, a good deal. Unlike most of these RW lunch menus, Courier gives you five entrée options. Caribbean Grill’s lunch special is $9 and it’s a hefty dish — you definitely won’t leave hungry.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Undoubtedly you’ll save the most money at the more expensive places during Restaurant Week, as long as you don’t fall for the upsell on bottles of wine. Nando Milano has a three-course dinner for $39, and that’s a steal. To order those dishes individually, you’re looking at closer to $50. Hamilton Walker’s $19 dinner menu is also a great deal, though the food might not be spectacular. My meal there last year was not that great, but I’d be willing to go back because despite my surly exterior, I am in fact a hopeful person, and 6oz of filet is quite the siren. Also, that chocolate cake is killer, and might be singularly worth the $19 ticket. Everyday Kitchen has a half chicken on the RW menu, and that chicken is a thing of beauty (pictured above; check back next week for our review of the restaurant). The chicken is normally $17, so the $29 RW deal with the chicken, an appetizer, and dessert is a good way to get the most for your money.
Best for Sharing
One of the best things about Restaurant Week is that you can share a few bites with your dining partners — that is, if they are open to it. Obviously Kohinoor lends itself to this sort of sharing: Everyone gets their own lassi and samosa, and you get some bites of a bunch of different dishes you would have ordered anyway.
Photo by Anna Longworth
Pizzeria Antica is another good one for sharing, especially with a larger group. Get a couple of salads, a couple of antipasti, a couple of pizzas, and everyone gets their own gelato. I might have to do that myself.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Bread Co. here. The menu is literally made for sharing: the entrée is a double portion of raclette or classic fondue (plus two appetizers and two desserts; $35).
Best for Vegetarians + Vegans
The best options on both of these fronts are with Dancing Dog (dinner, $19) and The Red Herring (lunch, $9; dinner, $19), because they are both vegan restaurants that know what they’re doing. They can deliver on the delicious plant-based foods. It seems like most participating restaurants have a vegetarian option, but sometimes you just don’t want a pasta or a pizza dish.
There are a good number of restaurants located outside of C-U participating this year, but the best of them is The WheelHouse in St. Joe. I had a really wonderful meal there last year, and this year’s menu looks great, too (appetizer, entrée, dessert, $29).
Best Dessert Option
Chocolate cake at Hamilton Walker's
This is a tough one, because there seems to be no wrong answer. I really enjoyed the chocolate cake at Hamilton Walker’s; desserts at Nando Milano are quite delicious; Courier Café’s sundaes are perfect; and the offerings at The WheelHouse are incredible.
Cheesecake at Nando Milano
Menus courtesy of Visit Champaign County; photos by Jessica Hammie, except where noted