13 Great Campustown Places To Eat
Every time the University of Illinois goes on hiatus — and the students check out of town (for the most part) — it’s a great time to venture to the culinary adventure that is Campustown.
In summer I think to myself, “It’s summer! That’s so great! We can go to Campustown all the time!” and then by August I’m thinking “What happened to the summer?” Then in December I remember “It’s winter break! They’re not back until late January.” Spring break is a shorter window of time, both for the students and for my brain (“Break? Has spring break started yet? Wait, is break over already?”) Regardless of the timing, it’s a wonder to go to campus and explore.
First things first, some tips on going to Campustown if you drive:
—Be prepared to pay for parking if you go during a weekday. There’s not much in the way of free parking in Campustown, at least near restaurants. Bring change or use the Mobile Meter parking app. Doublecheck your meter to see if it requires payment in the evening or on Saturdays. Another option is the parking garage behind the Marriott TownPlace Suites hotel; enter off Healey Street. If you know you need more than two hours, this is the best option. (The parking garage at 6th and John St. is closer to the Main Quad and not much farther from the Green St. restaurants; it has some metered parking available.)
—If you go after 5 p.m. or on weekends, you can park in campus lots for free — but be sure to read the signs. Campus lots are typically filled with faculty and staff commuters during the day but empty at night. At 5 p.m. (and actually 4 p.m. during most of the winter months) individuals can park for free in these lots. The lot at the corner of John and Sixth Street can be convenient for Champaign locations. In Urbana, you can park in the Krannert Center lot. Read the signs.
—Go slow and be patient, even if it’s not that crowded with students. There is a bounty of construction all over campus, and some areas have been closed off. And while we would love to say this is temporary, there is no end in sight. It’s an adventure, but not one that is an impossible task.
Whether you have the family, or some time to yourself, or it’s date night, we present some fun ideas on where to eat in Campustown (and we use that term broadly here, as we have picked restaurants in both Champaign and Urbana). Some of these are places to get a full meal, while others are great for a treat or a snack.
- Sakanaya, Champaign (Green Street). We mentioned Sakanaya in our list of eight great date night restaurants. If you like sushi, run — don’t walk — to Sakanaya. Delicious, fresh, innovative. Just be warned, it’s not very large and hard to bring a big group there. See our Mom Review of Sakanaya here.
- Caffe Bene, Urbana (Gregory Street) and Champaign (Green Street). Caffe Bene is a Korean chain, and the Urbana location was its first in Illinois. This place is your typical college cafe with folks studying and pecking at laptops. But it’s also a child-friendly place with a Korean-influenced menu, although it skews heavily toward dessert — which range from gelato to frappes to waffles to parfaits. The portions are HUGE, so bring a crowd. The menu changes seasonally.
- Bread Company, Urbana (Goodwin Avenue, near Krannert Center). A community staple for many years, it’s always a good decision to go to Bread Company for lunch or dinner. Lunch is casual with a diverse menu of both hot and cold sandwiches all put on homemade bread; soups and salads are also popular. In the evening, Swiss fondue is the main attraction, with a great wine selection.
- NAYA, Champaign (Green Street). We recently published a review of Naya which declared the upscale Italian-Asian fusion restaurant to be a great place for date night. We do know some foodie kids who love it, but for the most part, it’s really a grownup destination. Our tip: get a reservation. This place is POPULAR.
- Murphy’s Pub, Champaign (Green Street). We really, really, really don’t want to like Murphy’s, but we can’t help ourselves: we love it. And yes, we’ve even brought our kids there. Hidden talent: they make a mean turkey burger. Classic college pub fare at a decent price; order at the counter.
- Cocomero, Champaign (Wright Street). We love this joint, which brought self-serve fro-yo to Champaign-Urbana. It’s never a disappointment.
- Cracked on Green, Champaign (um, Green Street). While there are a lot of places to get coffee shop pastries and drinks in Campustown, there aren’t a lot of breakfast places. Cracked is where you can get that egg burrito you’ve been craving; the parmesan truffle tots are nirvana. Cracked is the outgrowth of one of the most successful food truck operations to start in Champaign-Urbana. (The trucks are still in operation too, and hang out mainly in Urbana.)
- Mid Summer Lounge, Champaign (Green Street). The depth and breadth of ethnic cuisine – especially Asian – in Campustown is one of its biggest assets. Dumplings and noodles are the star attraction here. A fan favorite: shiitake and chicken thigh noodle soup. If you have a picky kid or adult eater, this might not be the place for them.
- Maize, Champaign (Green and First Street). I’ve gone back and forth about including Maize on this list, since you can go to the downtown Champaign location and it’s pretty much the same menu. But there’s something about going to the original hole-in-the-wall Maize location that just seems more authentic (but no amazing avocado margarita). My order: chicken flautas. Of course, they are best known for outstanding pastor burritos. And hey, it was on my kids’ favorite show — Campus Eats.
- Insomnia Cookies, Champaign (John Street). The Cookie Jar might be gone, but there’s still a place to get warm cookies on demand. They also have a bevy of other treats, including ice cream. If you’re lucky to be in their delivery zone, you can get Insomnia Cookies delivered to you – complete with MILK! The ultimate late night college student food is great for families, too.
- Rosati’s Pizza, Urbana (Gregory Street). Rosati’s offers a selection of traditional Chicago style deep-dish pizza, pastas and sandwiches. I love their lunch deal of a slice and a drink — and yes, you will use silverware to eat that slice — and was pleasantly surprised by the spaciousness of their interior. Bonus for families: they recently started a weekend Kids Eat Free deal! (Check out other special deals for eating out with your kids at Kids Eat Free or Cheap in C-U.)
- Signature Grill, Champaign (Green Street). I’ll be honest, I was really surprised by all the love for this place. Most people describe it as an Indian version of Chipotle, where you can customize your “burrito.” If you like dosas (rice crepe), this is one of the top places for them in C-U. This is a fast casual joint, and relatively easy on the budget.
- Potbelly, Champaign (Green Street). You’re probably thinking POTBELLY? REALLY??? Yes, it’s a chain. Yes, it’s ubiquitous in bigger cities. But around here, Potbelly on Green Street is the only location in town. Three reasons we go: the kids like it, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it’s not fast food.
After you’re done eating, we have a few ideas for more fun (depending on time of day and with/without family, of course):
- Take a family walk around the quad, visit the Alma Mater, check out our friends at the Illini Union. This is classic and never gets old. Every time I walk around the Quad (which is so awesome it has its own article) I see something I didn’t see before.
- Go bowling! Yes, you can take the family bowling at the Illini Union Rec Room. You can also play arcade games or video games there, or billiards. Check out their specials when planning your visit.
- Go shopping. If you’re with friends or have a few minutes to yourself, check out some Campustown boutiques. We’re big fans of women’s clothing shops Fira (at Gregory Place in Urbana) and Apricot Lane (at Wright and Green in Champaign). Great accessories too.
Where do you like to eat in Campustown? Email us — firstname.lastname@example.org — or join the conversation on Facebook.