Another chain fast casual restaurant is opening May 3 in Champaign’s North Prospect shopping district.
Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill serves falafel, chicken shawarma, hummus, Israeli chopped salad, tahini, pita and other similar cuisine, what it describes as “authentic Middle Eastern cuisine in an Americanized format.”
The Champaign restaurant will live in the same building that also holds Blaze Pizza and a T-Mobile store, in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The chain’s website already has the Champaign location on its website.
It is sometimes called the Chipotle of Middle Eastern food, as it is known for customizable bowls. Protein options include slow roasted steak or chicken Shawarma, are offered in a pita-based sandwich format, as well as in a rice or salad bowl. Pita is fresh baked on site. Customers can customize their pita or bowl with salads and sauces.
Naf Naf, which has its origins in Illinois but now has expanded into 10 other states, is still a relatively small chain. Most of its stores are located in the greater Chicagoland metro.
The first Naf opened in Naperville, Illinois, in 2009 as a small business. According to lore, many of the recipes used in that store “have been adapted” by the chain for continued use today.
The Naf Naf Champaign project has been in the works for at least a year. The first building permits were filed with the City of Champaign in early April 2020. But the project slowed during the pandemic, and then started in motion again in December.
With signs on the building, Naf Naf has been actively hiring with an opening date advertised for May 3, 2021.
Naf Naf at Truck Stops?
It may be surprising to many to find that there is a Naf Naf embedded within a Love’s truck stop in Greenup, Illinois, right off of Interstate 70 (east of the Interstate 57 junction), and not far from Casey (home of the Big Things). That location opened in November 2020.
A news release from Love’s says the company plans to open an additional 10 Naf Naf locations in the next five years.
Want to find Middle Eastern food sold by locally owned businesses in Champaign and Urbana?
If you want to explore this cuisine with locally owned restaurants, here are a few to try:
– Strawberry Fields and World Harvest, located in downtown Urbana. In our mind, the best falafel and hummus in town. And many other delicacies including baba ghanouj, an eggplant dip.
– A new restaurant called Shawarma Joints recently opened (early March?) on Green Street in Campustown, in the old Zorba’s space. We haven’t tried it yet, but our friends on the Champaign County Rallies Around Small Businesses Facebook group confirm it is delicious.
– We look forward to Crane Alley reopening in downtown Urbana. Its mezze plate, which includes falafel and hummus, is amazing.
– Niro’s Gyros, with multiple locations in Champaign, has some overlapping menu items, but not all. Gyros are a bit different.
Other New Businesses Coming to North Prospect in Champaign:
Earlier this month, we broke the news that Five Below, the discount retailer that features items less than $10 geared toward teens and tweens, will be opening its first location this spring.
Last fall, we broke the news about Burlington, the discount clothing chain, opening a store. The two are co-located.
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