Champaign-Urbana (C-U) has become a foodie paradise over the last decade. I chalk it up to a number of factors: a constant influx of new people because of the university, the developed palettes of the silicon prairie peeps, but mostly because there really isn’t much else to do but eat, drink, and shop. Food is big in this town and the selection of incredible eats is a reflection of that. As we pack our bags and say goodbye, we took the time to savor our favorite dishes. This is our culinary bucket list.
In no particular order:
Palak Paneer and Chicken Tikka Masala. We get these off of the dinner menu. We order one with rice and the other with naan and we share. We are regulars at this restaurant more than anyplace else. They know us when we walk in the door. I only hope that someday I can make Palak Paneer that comes close.
Salmon pizza. This was introduced to me at a girl’s night as “grown up pizza”. I think we ended up getting it twice that week. It’s what everyone wants for their birthday dinner. Smoked salmon, white sauce, fresh dill, and that crust…it is perfect in every way. Orion found three places in PDX that serve salmon pizza but I doubt any others can come close.
Smoked Catfish and potato casserole. Black Dog has become nationally known for their bbq. While I like their burnt ends well enough, I think their smoked catfish is the best thing they offer. It’s so good it doesn’t need sauce.
Huevos Rancheros from the brunch menu. It’s hard to describe. Crispy tortillas, rice and corn salad with just a touch of orange, cilantro pesto, topped with a fried egg. Brunch doesn’t get much better than this.
Motherload Burger and truffle chips. This place makes the best burger in town. Throw on some swiss cheese, grilled mushrooms, and their own special blue cheese dressing and it’s unforgettable. The truffle chips are a new addition and pair perfectly. This is not the kind of thing you eat on a regular basis, but so good when you do have it.
Lobster Dragon Roll. We have been big sushi fans over the years and Yellow Fin is the best in town. The lobster dragon roll was our special treat. We get this for our anniversary and one year on Christmas. it’s a non-traditional sushi roll and super rich. It always comes with little extras.
Drunken Noodle Pad Thai with extra Thai basil
I get mine with tofu and one spice and Husband gets his with chicken and two spice. This dish replaced all Pad Thai for us in town. I love the atmosphere of this little mom and pop place, too.
Asian Sliders. These little sliders changed the way I viewed fusion. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be exceptional. Little spiced pork burgers with slaw, wasabi aoli, and a crunch of noodles. So good. The atmosphere reminds me of old time downtown, both lush and casual at the same time.
Hotcakes. These are epic. They have some crazy history of the recipe being developed over decades in the wee hours of the morning after nights of drinking. They are really the perfect pancake. The line is always long, so be prepared. it’s worth the wait.
Wild Mushroom Stuffed Ravioli. This is my personal contribution to the list. Milo’s opened right after I moved to C-U from NY. The ravioli reminded me of being in Manhattan or Nyack. It’s a simple dish with an amazing flavor profile. I don’t know if it’s the beurre blanc or the pecans or the perfectly cooked veggies. I get weepy when I eat this.
This is Husband’s contribution. Monical’s is a regional chain and the pizza he grew up on. Around here we eat it with french dressing. I know it sounds odd, but that’s how we do it.
I have to mention two dished that are gone but not forgotten. They both would have been on the list:
Seaboat Fish sandwich and collards. I’m still mourning the closing of Seaboat and probably always will. It was old Champaign. Before all of the other restaurants opened, Seaboat was here. Best fish sandwish for more than a dacade.
Desthil’s Berries Napoleon. This is the only dessert on our list. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but this treat hooked me with the bright lemon curd and tart berries. It will live on in my dreams.
These dishes represent the best food in C-U to us. They are the foods you crave on a regular basis. You never know what’s going to happen in the food scene here. Recipes change and places close so get out there and try these dishes while you can. Thanks for the yum, C-U.