To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the restaurant scene in Champaign-Urbana would be an understatement. Remarkably some restaurants have managed to thrive, and a few new ones have opened. Sadly many more have been lost. So let’s take another look at what has happened with C-U restaurants recently, with an eye toward the future. (As always, our look focuses most prominently on the C-U community outside of campus, with exceptions.)
Who: Alexander’s Steakhouse
When: October, though it had planned to reopen at some point until making an announcement earlier this month that it would be closed permanently.
What happened: A shortage of workers created by a new employment landscape created difficulty.
Who will miss it: Alexander’s was a longstanding favorite in the community; its fans have already made it known how much they’ll miss it.
Any hope for the future: Alexander’s locations in Springfield, Normal and Peoria remain open.
Who: El Patio Mexican Restaurant
What happened: Ownership posted on social media that the struggles during COVID were the tipping point. A sign on the door of the restaurant recently thanked customers for a six-year run and urged them to look forward to the “next adventure.”
Who will miss it: Lovers of Mexican food. Fortunately for C-U, we have no shortage of solid Mexican restaurants.
Any hope for the future: See below, re: Black Bull.
Who: Rumberger’s Wings
What happened: According to various media reports, the health department cited repeatedly violations in forcing a –at minimum, temporary — closure. That closure apparently became permanent because the restaurant has not reopened at its location at The Crossing in Champaign.
Who will miss it: Rumberger’s has fans, as it has locations in other spots such as Peoria.
Any hope for the future: None that we’re aware of.
Who: Black Bull Mexican Restaurant
When: “Soon,” according to a sign on the door.
Where: 2506 Village Green Place, Champaign. This is the space previously occupied by El Patio (see above).
Description: No public info is available on the menu. We’re guessing, given the name, that it will offer Mexican food.
Why we’re excited: We are big fans of The Crossing, which has had more than its fair share of restaurants come and go. It would be great for the folks who live nearby for a restaurant to make a successful run in that spot.
Who: Homegrown Restaurant
Where: 2600 S. Stone Creek Blvd., Urbana. This is the space most recently occupied by Attie’s, which closed when Stone Creek Golf Club shut down. (Stone Creek is now Atkins Golf Club and is operated by the University of Illinois.)
Description: Partaking in the farm-to-table concept, Homegrown features an interesting menu with items like spicy cheese rigatoni, chicken Stroganoff and blackened shrimp fettuccine.
Why we’re excited: We visited recently and had a good experience. Chances are good you’ll find something appetizing on the menu. We saw a few kids in the restaurant, though it might work best for a relaxing parents’ night out, along the lines of Big Grove Tavern.
Who: La Bahia Grill
Where: 132 W. Church St., Champaign. This is the space formerly occupied by Sushi Kame.
Description: Mexican favorites with an emphasis on seafood (Nayarit style). It features a large menu, not uncommon for Mexican restaurants, but this one presents it with its own flair.
Why we’re excited: Downtown took a significant hit from COVID, so it’s nice to see an addition rather than a subtraction. Downtown — which includes Maize, Cowboy Monkey (now serving Southwest and Mexican cuisine) and a food truck or two — could use another addition to the Mexican food scene.
Who: The Literary
Where: 122 N. Neil St., Champaign
Description: You might know The Literary as a place for books, but like many establishments, it has multiple purposes. (It also offers some sidewalk seating when the weather cooperates.) Enjoy reading with some tasty things from the same folks who brought you Hopscotch. Food is available from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., along with wine, cocktails and single malts. Check out the menu here.
Why we’re excited: “The Lit” has a great vibe. Relaxed, pleasant, easy. You’ll want to spend hours here; reading, eating, drinking, socializing.
Who: Weird Meat Boyz
Where: 340 N. Neil St., #101, Champaign. This is inside of Collective Pour.
Description: So, here’s the deal. If you go to the Collective Pour website, it will tell you that its kitchen is closed. However, Weird Meat Boyz is producing food there on a limited basis. Weird Meat Boyz began by making an acclaimed hot sauce and has expanded into food, starting with burgers, hot dogs and a few other items.
Why we’re excited: Collective Pour is a popular spot to drink, and who doesn’t love to have some good “drinking food” for accompaniment? We’ve heard good things, which is intriguing, and any kind of hot sauce is appealing for many of us.
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