The Champaign-Urbana Restaurant Scene: What Has Opened and Closed
The carousel ride that is the restaurant scene in Champaign-Urbana shows no signs of slowing down. But it seems as if new eateries are opening with regularity in C-U. So here’s our latest update on the comings and goings (mostly comings), minus Campustown.
Who: Marco’s Pizza
What happened: Pizza isn’t an easy market in C-U these days (see below). And the location isn’t a high-traffic area of Urbana. It faced an uphill climb from the beginning.
Who will miss it: Folks who want to grab a movie and a pizza for an evening at home. (Marco’s was located inside the Family Video building on Philo Road.)
Any hope for future: Not that we’re aware of.
What happened: This location — in the corner of the food court at Market Place Shopping Center — has been the spot where sit-down restaurants go to die. We’ve lost track of the number of restaurants that have failed in this very spot. The most recent two were very popular chains — Buca di Beppo and Giordano’s.
Who will miss it: Lovers of Chicago-style pizza.
Any hope for the future: Your best bet is to drive to the Bloomington-Normal location. There are also two locations in Indianapolis and dozens in the Chicago area.
Who: Rafters Draft and Dough
What happened: Have we mentioned that C-U has been a tough spot to make it in the pizza business? And, again, we’re partial to the idea that location plays a rather large role in this. Rafters, at 1906 W. Bradley Ave. in Champaign, was tucked away in the unique bi-level space without great visibility.
Who will miss it: The lunch crowd mostly, for its buffet.
Any hope for the future: Not that we’re aware of.
Who: Krekel’s Custard
What happened: The whispers about Krekel’s struggles began to circulate in the winter. Customers never warmed up to their signature burgers and fries, which is another increasingly tough gig in C-U. Krekel’s opened around or shortly after the openings of places like Freddy’s, That Burger Joint, Portillo’s and many others.
Who will miss it: A loyal following, including folks who became acquainted with Krekel’s from its Decatur-area roots.
Any hope for the future: Our advice: Drive to Decatur. Krekel’s is very popular in the Decatur/Mt. Zion area. One note: Niro’s Gyros will be opening another location in this building soon.
Who: My Thai
When: July 31
What happened: My Thai closed its doors after nine years, with little fanfare. Customers were notified a week earlier. My Thai was well known for its delivery service; but the dining room was often quiet as a result.
Who will miss it: West Champaign food lovers. When it comes to restaurants, West Champaign is pretty under-resourced.
Any hope for the future: My Thai was owned by the sweet folks who also own Siam Terrace in Urbana. Our recommendation: Go to Siam Terrace.
What happened: Bacaro was one of the establishments that jumpstarted the downtown Champaign food scene nearly two decades ago. But after 18 years, the restaurant decided to fold, and served up its last meal on New Year’s Eve, 2018.
Who will miss it: Foodies. People who enjoy fancy date nights. And those who value good service; there was nothing like Bacaro service in C-U.
Any hope for the future: Sadly, no. However, Bacaro’s original chef Thad Morrow has returned to Champaign-Urbana after a hiatus, to lead Naya’s kitchen as its executive chef.
Who: Radio Maria
What happened: As the folks at Smile Politely noted, “Radio Maria was a bold move that gave Downtown Champaign some much needed aesthetic and style at a time when it had anything but. In the mid-00s, it expanded into the building to the south, turning itself into one of the hottest spots for nightlife around, hosting myriad events for DJs, and for salsa dancing, and more.”
Who will miss it: Its brunch was especially popular.
Any hope for the future: None apparently. It has been reported that ownership relinquished the business in order to retire.
Who: Li’l Porgy’s Bar-B-Q (Urbana location only)
What happened: The owner decided to pull back on his responsibilities, closing the Urbana location while keeping the Champaign restaurant open.
Who will miss it: People who work near the University Avenue location, although they won’t be missing barbecue in that location (see below).
Any hope for the future: The Champaign location is going strong so if you like Li’l Porgy’s, there’s no harm, no foul.
Local openings (or coming soon):
Where: 119 N. Walnut St., Champaign
Description: So Farren’s closed its old location and moved into the old Radio Maria space.
Why we’re excited: Many reasons! First, there’s a LOT more space, which means more seating and fewer waits. Secondly, the kitchen is much bigger which means Farren’s has the ability to do many other things. Third: outdoor seating!
Who: Hank’s Table
Where: 122 N. Neil St., Champaign
Description: The old V Picasso closed for a makeover to become Hank’s Table, named for owner Traci Lipps’ late husband. It is old fashioned American comfort food, featuring sandwiches of various types, flatbreads and — get this — “build your own” horseshoes.
Kids menu? Not an obvious one but the menu does include chicken tenders, mac and cheese and sandwiches.
Why we’re excited: We liked V Picasso so we’re eager to try Hank’s Table.
Who: El Toro, Destihl, Hickory River Smokehouse and King Kuma Poke
When: El Toro is open; the others are expected in 2020
Where: Carle at the Fields, Champaign
Description: El Toro opened adjacent to the Carle complex in early spring, while Destihl will close its downtown Champaign restaurant and move to the Fields (expected opening: summer 2020). Hickory River, uber-popular in Urbana, will keep that location open while adding another restaurant at the Fields (expected opening: summer 2020). King Kuma Poke has been open in Broadway Food Hall in Urbana in 2017. Its new location will not be a full-service restaurant but a “carryout Poke counter.”
Why we’re excited: The Fields is expanding rapidly, which makes those who live in southwest Champaign reason to be excited.
Who: El Rancho Grande
When: Summer 2019
Where: Next to Industrial Donut (501 Commerce Drive) in Savoy
Description: El Rancho Grande has a location in Villa Grove. It serves “authentic Mexican” food.
Kids menu? Yes. The Villa Grove location has a “kids eat free all day on Mondays” deal.
Why we’re excited: Yea for Savoy! We’re thrilled to see more full-service places join the landscape, especially something other than the typical American fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Who: Top Food Restaurant
When: Spring 2019
Where: 103 W. Kirby Ave., Champaign
Description: Located in what used to be a Monical’s Pizza, Top Food serves traditional Chinese food. Specialties range from $13.95 for Curry Chicken to $24.95 for the Seafood Delight.
Why we’re excited: If no other reason, then this: Another place that will be open on Christmas.
Who: Wood N’ Hog
Where: 101 W. University Ave., Urbana (the old L’il Porgy’s)
Description: Wood N’ Hog made a name for itself at its Champaign location, and its second restaurant will introduce it to an even larger audience. This is true homemade barbecue; use the bread to soak up the sauce.
Why we’re excited: C-U loves barbecue; we’re glad Wood N’ Hog is expanding, especially in a location already known for good ‘cue.