By Emily Harrington
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in May 2017.
Champaign-Urbana never ceases to amaze me. We are consistently on target for big-city trends, and we are early adopters of what’s current and relevant. What does surprise me, however, is the consistent popularity of food trucks. When I started writing this article in 2014, I had no idea I would be updating it years later. The food truck concept is still going strong. Each year a few hang up their keys as soon as another truck comes on the scene. Even more incredible is the amount of trucks that have added storefronts to their repertoire! It’s a sign of the dedication and talent behind the steering wheels and flat tops in these mobile restaurants.
Also, the City of Urbana is hosting a food truck rally series over the lunch hour (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) the last Tuesday in April, May, June, July, August, September and October outside the Urbana Civic Center—108 E. Water St. Check out seven to eight of our local trucks in one spot— each time!
The C-U area is home to some great ones. In our area there are a few mobile hotspots: events/festivals/markets, Urbana’s Market at the Square (Lincoln Square Mall parking lot at 301 S. Vine), Urbana Food Truck Rally at 108 E. Water St., Research Park at 60 Hazelwood Dr. in Champaign, Riggs Beer Company at 1901 S. High Cross Rd. in Urbana, downtown Champaign and Springfield/Mathews Avenues on Urbana’s University of Illinois campus. Find these places and events to check out what cuisine is rolling around our towns. Don’t forget, most of the trucks are available for private events and/or catering. Some are even available for fundraising.
First, check the linked truck names to see where they are regularly located. Most of these trucks are social media savvy and update often.
The Hendrick House campus dining/housing facility created a food truck a few years ago. The intention was to give their talented staff year-round employment. This is not typical dorm food. This summer, however, the truck will take on a new name and look—Betsy’s Bistro will continue the tradition of fresh ingredients from local businesses and farms. This revamped truck, however, will work long after the summer has ended. They intend to change to a fall menu right along with the harvest of fall crops. Some of the produce will even come from the Hendrick House plot on the University of Illinois Sustainable Student Farm. Look for the same popular jalapeño bacon to be offered. The truck will feature a menu of different sandwiches, two salads and a few sides. Currently, the truck totes foodie delights to the patrons at our area farmers markets. Catch them consistently participating at The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market on Tuesday afternoons at Neil/Main Streets in downtown Champaign. Contact: (217) 607-5904 OR [email protected]
There’s nothing like beans, meat and cheese wrapped in a handy tortilla. You’ll find these portable creations in the Burrito King Food Truck. The truck was born from the popular Green Street establishment. Find the truck at Urbana’s Market at the Square. Contact: (217) 766-1060 OR [email protected]
Caribbean Grill has been busy. With a catering business, thriving food truck and now storefront—there’s no excuses not to try their soulful menu. The food is filled with flavor and freshness. Try the food truck’s jerk chicken or jerk chicken meatballs. They are both $9, and each come with rice and peas, another small side and plantain. The jerk chicken burritos are a meal in themselves for $6. The truck runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday at Goodwin Avenue and Oregon Street. If you want to try the full menu, visit the new Caribbean Grill restaurant (grand opening is May 30) in the Shoppes of Knollwood at 2135 S. Neil St. in Champaign. Contact: (217) 960-5375 OR [email protected]
Try the popular applewood-pulled-pork sandwich with a side for $8. Add the pulled-pork-BBQ nachos for $8. The pig-faced truck travels to area fairs and festivals, and it caters large and small events with its rotisserie smoker. You can also find this popular late-night fare in the parking lot of Tumble Inn Tavern at 302 S. Neil St. in Champaign. Check it out on Thursday and Friday nights from 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Try the popular pork dishes at the new restaurant—Project 47 Smokehouse Pub & Patio in Mahomet. Contact: (217) 417-6985 OR [email protected]
Cool Bliss Popped Bliss
For nine years this candy-colored truck has been sitting in front of Li’l Porgy’s at 1917 W. Springfield Ave. in Champaign. Popped Bliss sells 250 flavors of shaved ice and handmade popcorn in caramel, cheese, kettle and mixed flavors. The popcorn is made the old-fashioned way with no machines. You may have seen the larger identical truck at events throughout Champaign and the Midwest. The smaller truck remains on Springfield Avenue this summer. Stop by Wednesday through Saturday from noon-9 p.m. and Sunday from noon-6 p.m. You can also visit the storefront at 22 E. Springfield Ave. in Champaign. The storefront has 17 flavors of popcorn, tons of shaved ice flavors and handmade confections for purchase. The store is closed Mondays, opened Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact: (217) 317-0548
A few self-proclaimed foodies brought this egg-themed food truck to campus. When you catch them, try the popular “Morning Bender” sandwich with a fried egg, hash browns, cheddar and cream cheese on crusty bread. Cracked on Green is now serving a grilled cheese menu, tomato soup and freshly brewed coffee drinks at their brick-and-mortar location—619 E. Green St. in Champaign. During the summer, the TWO trucks can be seen at state-wide festivals. You can also spot the yellow trucks regularly at Urbana’s Market at the Square. They are most often parked, however, on their home turf—campus on Mathews Avenue in Urbana and on Goodwin Avenue and Oregon Street. Contact: (847) 501-1357 OR [email protected]
This simple concept is a slam dunk. All-beef hot dogs are served with all the goodies that make a Chicago dog (minus the tomato) from a hot dog cart. These condiments are included in the $3 per dog price, or you can get two dogs for $5. In addition, Dave serves nachos, brats and pulled pork from a food trailer. During the summer months, however, you will most likely catch Dave with his portable cart. The cart will allow him to serve dogs, chips and drinks. Find the simple concept during lunch starting in June, or you can find him on late weekend nights roaming campus or a downtown location. Dave will also be at Riggs Beer Company on High Cross Road in Urbana on Sundays in June and July. Contact: (815) 694-6494 OR [email protected]
Derald’s Food Truck
This truck is nothing if not consistent. Since 1979, Derald’s Food Truck has parked in front of Noyes Laboratory of Chemistry (right off the quad) at 505 S. Mathews Ave. in Urbana. This longevity has earned the truck the longest standing campus food truck in the U.S. designation and original food truck of Champaign. Before food trucks were “in,” Derald (and now Derald’s nephew) served popular items like the “Daily Double” (double sausage, double egg and cheese sandwich) for breakfast, or they fried up the famous fish sandwich for Friday lunch. Most items range from $4.50 to $6. Catch the all-American truck in the summer from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Contact: (217) 637-0144
Dragon Fire Pizza
Dragon Fire is handcrafting individual cooked-to-order artisan pizzas with as many local ingredients as possible. This truck is the first wood-fired pizza oven in C-U, and it’s mobile! Dragon Fire makes its own dough and sauce. Combining precise preparation and a 1,000-degree oven means Dragon Fire can cook a pizza in 90 seconds! Try the signature “Dragon Fire” pizza with fiery green dragon sauce, sausage, locally grown peppers, onions, cheese and jalapeños. Individual, 10-inch pizzas range in price from $8 to $10. This rolling pizza place is ALL over our area. Try to find it at Research Park, Springfield/Mathews Avenues in Urbana, Urbana’s Market at the Square, The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market and Triptych Brewing in Savoy on Thursday nights from 5 to 7:30 p.m. They are also serving lunch at the Urbana Food Truck Rally! Contact: (217) 649-2433 OR [email protected]
Who wouldn’t like dough stuffed with a variety of meats, cheeses and vegetables? Yes, please! Try specialty combinations like the ham and cheese, spinach and feta or potato and cheddar. Find the truck on campus and at Urbana’s Market at the Square and food truck rally.
Contact: (217) 390-9294 OR [email protected]
Fernando’s Food Truck
Burritos, quesadillas, nachos, tacos—Mexican style. For $2 even you can try an authentic taco on a soft-corn shell. The boss is committed to serving authentic Mexican street food because he has strong roots in Mexico City. Find him at Riggs Beer Company on High Cross Road in Urbana. Contact: [email protected]
Fusilli Tony’s Italian Food
It’s hard to miss this red and green Italian stallion. Try their Italian version of the sloppy joe. The “Sloppy Giuseppe Sandwich” is topped with parmesan and mozzarella on a 6-inch French roll with chips for $6. Find this truck regularly at the Urbana Food Truck Rally. The truck will be other places in town all summer long—check the link for real-time updates. Contact: (217) 649-4219 OR [email protected]
This truck brings high-quality, freshly prepared dining hall food to the streets. Find this truck rolling around campus. Visit the website’s connected Twitter feed for exact times/locations and menu items. Contact: (217) 333-7111 OR [email protected]
Hickory River Smokehouse
This trailer is used for special events only. Hickory River’s soulful food is based from the popular Urbana restaurant. If you do catch it at an event, try the beef brisket, pulled pork (nachos), turkey, macaroni and cheese, ranch beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Wash it all down with a lemon shake-up! Contact: (217) 337-1656
You may spot the Nebraska-based food truck in our area this fall at a few festivals. But, watch for the Vegan/Cajun/BBQ food truck to make C-U its permanent home soon! When they do arrive, try the Jacked Up burger—smoked brisket, spicy pickles, onions, jalapeños, smoked gouda with chips for $8. Most items range from $5-$8. Contact: here.
Grab a taco bowl with shredded lettuce, cheese, beans, sour cream and avocado. Or, whatever you want, says the owner of the new authentic Mexican food truck. Choose from four choices types of meat: chorizo, chicken, beef or pork. All fresh and cooked to order. You can also try a $2 taco, $7.75 burrito or quesadilla. They are located at 1600 N. Market St. in Champaign on the weekends or around lunch time at Springfield/Mathews Avenues in Urbana. They will also be premiering at the Champaign County Fair this summer! Contact: (217) 621-1394 OR [email protected]
Kona Ice of Champaign
A refreshing twist on the food truck, or rather a modern version of the old-school ice cream truck, Kona Ice is a rolling shaved-ice Kona Entertainment Vehicle (KEV). You may have seen (or heard) the colorful vehicle rolling through your neighborhood this summer playing tropical tunes. Now there are two identical trucks serving our area. This Kosher, gluten-, dairy- and peanut-free product is a good option for kids and adults alike. Parents can alleviate any guilt knowing the company switched to using Vita-Blend in all their products. Vita-Blend contains Vitamin C & D with 40 percent less sugar! Choose from dozens of flavors like strawberry daiquiri or banana-colada. An attendant inside the truck can help you, or you can make your own creation from the “Flavorwave” system on the side of the truck. The most popular do-it-yourself concoctions are “Tiger’s Blood,” made from strawberry and coconut flavoring; Blue Raspberry, made from blueberry and raspberry flavoring; and “Island Rush,” made from tropical-punch flavoring. Prices range from $2 for a kid’s cup to $5 for a color-changing cup. KEV rolls around town all through the week and is available for special events. Contact: (217) 974-KONA (5662) OR [email protected]
Mamma D’s Smokehouse
Oklahoma native, Sharon Davis-Devine created a mobile, condensed version of her popular Weldon, IL restaurant. It serves bison, chicken, turkey, pork and beef jerky. Her version doesn’t have all the salt and preservatives as store bought jerky. She will also sell beef brisket, pulled pork, turkey and chicken in packages. These packages amount to about four sandwiches, and they are sold frozen. All you have to do is microwave them before serving. If you are wanting a hot meal, you can order the beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches for $6, gourmet macaroni and cheese for $3 or Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings for $3. The dumplings are crescent-wrapped apples baked with sugar, cinnamon, butter, two secret ingredients and Mountain Dew! She serves with whipped cream. Mamma D’s signature sauces are also available to purchase. While the truck mostly sticks to the Dewitt-Piatt area, you can find it at Urbana’s Market at the Square. Contact: (309) 928-2416 OR [email protected]
The Mas Amigos Taco Truck
Catch a taste of the former Urbana-based Mexican restaurant in an abbreviated form around town. This truck recently was sold, and the owner bought a new truck with the Mas Amigos name still attached. Watch for this truck when it officially finds its new home. Contact: (217) 202-9940
The aforementioned Mas Amigos truck sold to the new Moe’s Burritos. This truck will be at the former location of the Mas Amigos truck on the corner of Prospect and Bradley Avenues. Watch for the brand new truck coming soon!
This doughy delight is perpetually sold out—everywhere. Get in line first and fast to grab these unique flavors. Pandamonium bakes both cake and yeast style using fresh, real (organic if at all possible) ingredients with vegan and gluten-free options available. Try the cookie dough, banana split, orange creamsicle or the popular strawberry slider. The flavors vary and they bake small batches in limited numbers. Find them this summer on Wednesdays at Research Park, Thursdays at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at 500 S. Goodwin Ave. and Fridays in downtown Champaign at Neil Street and University Avenue at 7:30 a.m. At 7 a.m. on Saturdays, Pandamonium will be at Urbana’s Market at the Square. The truck stays wherever it is until selling out—and it will sell out. This sweet panda is getting a permanent home in the Windsor Galleria—the same strip mall as Sun Singer Wine and Spirits. Check their linked Facebook page for the store’s progress. Contact: (630) 946-4306 OR [email protected]
Piato To Go
The popular Urbana-based, Lincoln Square eatery, Piato, does not shy away from change and reinvention. Offering catering and a food nanny service—they do it all. Try the Hawaiian nachos topped with Modelo chicken, pineapple salsa and Hawaiian BBQ sauce for $8. All sauces are handmade. Their food truck steps out at Urbana’s Market at the Square. Contact: (217) 344-9015 OR [email protected]
The Pop Stop, Inc.
The Pop Stop, Inc. sold their big truck and simply uses their ADORABLE “Icicle Tricycle.” They no longer sell soda anymore, too. All their efforts have been poured into their artisan-made popsicles and creamy gelato bars. Their products are made with primarily local fruits and organic products. You can feel good about eating the sweet treats. Catch the trike at farmer’s markets, parks and other local events. Also, order their products through their linked website. Contact: (217) 714-0587 OR [email protected]
Sidney Dairy Barn
If you can’t make it to Sidney to visit the Sidney Dairy Barn, a Chambanamoms C-U Essential, you can stop by the “Moo Mobile.” Try a cup for $3, a tornado (ice cream with candy mixed in, usually cookie dough) for $4, an ice cream sandwich for $2.50 and on occasion they serve Italian Ice. These rotating flavors are relatively traditional: orange, lemon, mint and many more. The “Moo Mobile” carries around five flavors of ice cream for Urbana’s Market at the Square on the second and third Saturdays of each month until August. Contact: (217) 688-3700 OR [email protected]
The Snack Shack
The Snack Shack’s specialties include no-churn ice cream, cake pops, cream cheese cake cups and warm cookies. That’s just the dessert. They have an eclectic savory menu that changes often. You may see Italian Beef, sloppy joes, bacon macaroni and cheese or walking tacos—to name a few. You’ll often see the Snack Shack at various festivals in the area and at Research Park. Contact: (217) 232-1103 OR [email protected]
This one is easy to catch as it stays put! The owner is, however, looking to acquire another truck to travel around. Look at OrderUp for their menu. Find the authentic taco truck on Bloomington Road in front of El Progresso at 1001 W. Bloomington Rd. in Champaign from 1 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact: (217) 363-3069
This family-owned truck specializes in delivering fresh-to-order Mexican food right to your door. But, you can find them sitting outside of La Morenita Mexican store at 607 N. Cunningham in Urbana, too, right by the McDonalds. Try traditional tortas (sandwiches), nachos, tacos and burritos from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Contact: (217) 637-1974 OR [email protected]
Tang Dynasty Express
If you like Urbana’s Tang Dynasty at Lincoln Square, you will like their Chinese food truck. They offer combo meals and the popular Chinese dim-sum. The combo meal consists of rice, two meat/vegetables or just vegetables. The price is affordable for a student’s tight budget. During the spring and fall the truck cruises campus to N. Mathews Avenue. Here dedicated staff serves food from 10:40 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact: (217) 344-0888 OR [email protected]
Some of these trucks are gleaming and shiny while some are older and faded. However, one thing is consistent—passion. Each of the drivers shows undying commitment and love for the product, and it shows in the end result. Any of these trucks are going to provide you something special and unique. So, be daring! Forget sit-down dining and eat from a rolling restaurant.
Did we miss any other food-on-wheels in the area? Tell us about your local experience with food trucks in the comments below.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.