Smile Politely

I still get cravings for Aunt Sonya’s

A large sign for Aunt Sonya's restaurant. The words Aunt Sonya's are written in dark blue curvy letters and orange outlines and on the left is a portrait of a white woman wearing a collar and her orange curly hair piled up on her head.
Illinois Alumni Facebook

There are few things that trigger nostalgia more than food. Whether it’s a spot you grew up going to on Saturday mornings, or a favorite late night hangout, a place that has good memories is often about so much more than the food. For me, one of those places was Aunt Sonya’s, a diner that was originally on the corner of State and Kirby. It opened in 1961 as Uncle John’s and apparently, in the 1970s you could get all the buttermilk pancakes and coffee you wanted for just 99 cents. In 1980 the Uncle John’s name was changed to Aunt Sonya’s, where it continued to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner until it was closed in 2005. The restaurant was later demolished to make way for a new hotel and parking lot. 

the inside of aunt Sonya's restaurant. Ohio State and University of Illinois flags hang from the ceiling. People are seated at tables in the middle of the space and in booths against the left wall. On the right is a counter where you can see chefs making food and handing it to servers.
Matthew Gladney via Left to my own devices blog

I went there a lot as a kid and on Saturday mornings there was always a long line out the door. As you waited, you moved your way through the plastic covered tunnel and into the restaurant that was absolutely filled with Illini and other Big Ten memorabilia. The smells of breakfast, and very strong coffee came next, so by the time you sat down, you were almost always ready to order. My memories of the menu are limited to the omelets, chocolate chip pancakes, and the hash browns, but I remember it being huge and laminated so I know there were plenty of other delicious things to order. The servers were always friendly and rarely forgot a face, and it felt like the place was always buzzing with good energy. There are a few other restaurants that I miss, but I think Aunt Sonya’s was a true gem in Champaign.  

Culture Editor

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