Champaign-Urbana may be the Midwest’s best food town, but there’s plenty of good food outside C-U “proper”
One thing we know: If you didn’t grow up in the Champaign-Urbana area, you might not be aware of the wonderful smaller towns that surround the community.
We are the type of folks who love to explore our community, and that includes the surrounding areas. And many of these great small towns have unique assets — shops, restaurants and features that make them worth a visit.
In this article, we have listed some of our favorite eateries in small towns surrounding Champaign-Urbana.
Some we go back to again and again. Some of these you may know well; some might be new to you.
The requirement for this list is that they had to be locally owned and in a smaller town within easy driving distance of Champaign-Urbana. And of course, there are plenty more we could add – so stay tuned.
(Please note that these reviews were compiled mainly before the Covid-19 pandemic. We have noted where possible of any Covid-related restrictions or changes in procedure, as well as options for inside/outside seating.)
In no particular order:
Fillipo’s, Mahomet. Making the short drive to the east side of Mahomet is completely worth it for delicious Italian dishes from family-owned Fillipo’s. Fillipo’s thin crust pizza is a best-seller, but plan ahead; weekend orders need a two-hour lead time for pick-up. Pasta helpings topped with their sweet marinara sauce are large (half orders are available for most). Don’t forget to add an Italian Beef sandwich or two for the larger appetites. Cash only, small dining room (about 10-12 tables) but well worth the wait. Dinner only Wednesday through Sunday and open late. (During COVID, open for takeout only.) MAP IT.
The Wheelhouse, St. Joseph. Some will be surprised to know that one of the best and most innovative restaurants in Champaign-Urbana is not located in Champaign-Urbana at all, but about 15 minutes away. The team at The Wheelhouse pride themselves on fresh, local ingredients and creating an experience for its guests. A great place for foodies – try it for date night, or head over with the kids; it’s a pretty flexible place. Outside seating is available. Head to Facebook for menu updates. (Speaking of St. Joseph, we’ve heard raves about Geschenk’s sweets and coffee drinks; and we’ve heard good things about Scratch’s homemade pub fare.) MAP IT.
The Pink Pig, Ogden. Fun for kids and grown-ups alike, Pink Pig takes a twist on classics such as pulled pork grilled cheese, giant pretzels with dip, loaded nachos, and more. Try their pink Moscow mule -it’s delicious! Make sure the kids save room for dessert as their cotton candy is noteworthy. They offer indoor and outdoor seating; the outdoor seating area is spacious and enjoyable. Ogden is located just east of St. Joseph. MAP IT HERE.
Sidney Dairy Barn, Sidney. A person who happens to run this website is addicted to Sidney Dairy Barn. Not that that’s a reason for you to go. You can read the review yourself. Open April to November. Outdoor seating and a drive-thru available. MAP IT.
Philo Tavern, Philo. If you’re headed to the Sidney Dairy Barn and want somewhere to eat before …. well, this is likely the place. Known for being super friendly, Philo Tavern is just a hop skip and a jump from Urbana. Check out the specials; fish is served many different ways every Friday. And Saturday nights are famous for prime rib and prime rib sliders. During the pandemic, Philo Tavern has been offering family style takeout at very family-friendly prices – and curbside pickup. MAP IT HERE.
Ott’s Drive-In, Rantoul. This place is a step back in time. Old-fashioned diner food awaits and is affordable for almost any budget. The bill for our family of five was less than $25. Known for a dish called the haystack which is “toast, hash browns, choice of bacon, sausage or ham, an egg any way you like it, topped with two ladles of homemade sausage gravy.” Only open for breakfast and lunch, but breakfast is served all day. Closed Mondays, bring cash. 400 N Century Blvd, Rantoul . (Covid-related note: added outside seating – which we hear remains, even after opening for indoor dining; call to check.) MAP IT.
The Brown Bag, Monticello. YUM. YUM. YUM! I wish I could get to the Brown Bag more often. Located right off the main square in downtown Monticello. Good, homemade, fresh food at a decent price — and healthy options as well as gluten-free breads. Known for sandwiches – but don’t miss the soup. Very kid friendly. If you’re headed to Allerton Park and didn’t have time to pack a picnic, stop here. One last tip: don’t miss Inge’s pie. See our Mom review of the Brown Bag. 212 W. Washington Ave., Monticello. (Closed Sunday and Monday; outside seating now available, we hear.)
Just Hamburgers, Paxton: “Super good, fast, cheap.” We put this local favorite on our burger trail because we hear it offers one of the best burgers around. Spoiler alert: don’t be fooled by the name: they serve other things besides hamburgers. We hear the fried shrimp is pretty delicious. This is a carry out ONLY with outside seating available. (This makes it the perfect place to go during a pandemic!) Tips: Bring cash; closed on Sundays. Located in downtown Paxton, about 30-35 minutes from Champaign-Urbana. MAP IT.
Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, Tuscola. Another chambanamoms favorite, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Flesor’s, whether you want a full meal or a sweet treat. If you want some true comfort food, this is definitely the place. Enjoy hand-dipped chocolate (turtles anyone?) as well as fudge from the candy counter. Or get some delicious ice cream, malts, milkshakes or other yumminess from the old-time soda fountain. Extremely kid friendly, although it is difficult to manage all the asks for delicious treats. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Inside seating and carry out. MAP IT.
Old Bank, LeRoy. This charming, low-key yet stylish restaurant is set in, well, an old bank. This is actually true farm to table – connected to the famous “Epiphany Farms” group out of Bloomington – but lacks the pretentiousness that sometimes comes along with that label. Although they serve many classics (burgers, fried chicken, nachos and some more surprising items like stir fry), the menu is relatively small. Our recommendation: if you have picky eaters make sure they pick something – perhaps before you go. Inside and outside seating available, along with curbside pick-up. Closed Monday and Tuesday. MAP IT.
Beef House, Covington, Ind. There is nothing pretentious about the Beef House, except for maybe the prime cuts of beef they serve. Yes, it’s totally worth driving 45 minutes (just over the state line) to the Beef House. It’s good food in a homey, casual atmosphere; and if you’ve got a big appetite — this is the place for you. GO HUNGRY. It’s a family favorite too — if nothing else, they will eat the rolls. (Carry out is available; no outside seating.) MAP IT.
Did we miss a small town food gem? I’m sure we did. Let us know and send us an email.
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