Check out this fun news: Champaign’s been nominated as one of Midwest Living’s Greatest Midwest Food Towns! Head over to midwestliving.com/vote to show your love for Champaign. You can vote every day until May 31 to help Champaign be featured in Midwest Living’s September/October issue as the winner. Now, let’s eat.
The food scene here in Champaign County is bursting with a vibrant array of restaurant choices, old and new. I’ve been a local food blogger for the past three years, and I have been delighted to watch the local landscape of restaurants grow and evolve. I find that I keep going back to the places that make me feel at home. These places have a feeling of community and take the time to discover and source local ingredients.
I’ve picked my top ten spots (in no particular order) to hang out and grab a bite of classic Midwestern fare.
1. Courier Cafe- This historic cafe has been a culinary landmark in Champaign County since 1980. They serve up breakfast, lunch and dinner in a beautiful antique building that used to house the Courier Newspaper. I highly recommend the corned beef hash for breakfast and the Courier Burger for lunch. If you're in search of a sweet treat try the ice cream sundaes, they are insanely delicious.
2. Big Grove Tavern- opened in 2009, and has made a name for itself creating elevated comfort food in an fresh urban environment. Their ingredients are sourced locally and as a result their menu changes seasonally. One of their signature dishes happens to be one of my favorites. The Free-Range Roasted Chicken with fresh herb dumplings will have you coming back for more.
3. Farren’s Pub & Eatery- You may have to search a little for this underground pub, opened in 2000, but the burgers are completely worth it. They were recently voted “Best Burger in Town” by local online outlet Buzz Magazine. You should give the Vegetarian Black Bean Burger a try. Even you meat lover’s will find this hearty burger satisfying. Another go-to for me would be the Spicoli Burger. It’s got crispy bacon, melted gooey cheese, and sweet sautéed onions…heaven!
4. Sam’s Cafe- This family owned diner has been open for 28 years and counting! If you're looking for simple diner food that’s quick and delicious look no further. Sam is frying up his budget friendly breakfast special and the best french toast in town 7 days a week.
5. Papa Del’s- Authentic Chicago-Style pizza has found a new home at the old Coca-Cola bottling company building in Champaign. Their thick sweet crust covered in oozy mozzarella and topped with fresh tangy red sauce, has had the locals coming back for more since 1970. Make sure to try The Original Sicilian Pan Pizza.
6. Watson’s Shack & Rail- The owners of Watson’s, opened in February 2016, have created a relaxed hangout that pays homage to local food, materials and bands. The environment they’ve created is filled with energy and fun. The grub isn’t too shabby either. My favorite dish so far has been Chelsea’s Shameless Plea, which is a platter of chicken and waffles served with greens and boozy syrup. Wash down it all down with one of their ice cold adult slushies. My pick has to be the spicy and sweet Gorky Park Mule.
7. Black Dog Ale & Smoke House- Voted one of America’s 5 best barbecue restaurants by Maxim Magazine in 2013, this local hot spot cooks up mouth-watering barbecue on their custom made smokers. I urge you to try the burnt ends (while they last) and the pulled pork sandwich slathered in your choice of house-made sauce.
8. Desthil Brewery- Desthil is not only a consistently tasty restaurant, it’s also a working micro-brewery. They serve up American-style pub food with bold flavors and seasonal ingredients, The atmosphere is relaxed and family friendly. I recommend the pork-confit nachos washed down with a refreshing hefeweizen.
9. Apple Dumplin’- The story behind this community staple is as heart-warming as the food. A local couple who wanted to share their love of fresh home-made cooking. They set up shop in an old farm house and opened in 1985. The scrumptious food and midwestern hospitality has made this a local meeting place and destination for many. Swing by and dive into a plate of hearty beef and noodles, or if you stop by around breakfast be sure to order the famous biscuits and gravy.
10. Brown Bag Deli & Restaurant- Situated in the middle of historic Downtown Monticello, this restaurant offers a seasonal menu along with deli classics. The ambiance is laid back and friendly with an air of hometown charm. When I was a little girl I adored the luscious chicken salad, and I still relish it to this day. The desserts are also made fresh, and the fruit pie is heavenly.
This concludes the taste tour of my handpicked top ten local hangouts. My hope is that you’ll savor these tasty destinations and uncover even more on your visit to Champaign County.
-By food blogger, Rebecca Wells, Prairie Palate
Did you hear that Champaign-Urbana was nominated as the Greatest Midwestern Food Town by Midwest Living Magazine? Feel free to vote for C-U here everyday for the entire month of May, to be crowned as the winner!