Changes in the Champaign-Urbana restaurant scene have been fast and furious in recent months. As always, we’re doing our best to keep track. Our look focuses most prominently on the C-U community outside of campus:
Who: Blaze Pizza
What happened: Blaze consistently struggled with finding enough workers. Many days, service was limited to online orders only; in-store orders were not accepted. No word if that had a role in the owners’ decision but it probably didn’t help.
Who will miss it: Anyone who wanted quality pizza quickly.
Any hope for the future: The Blaze location remains open in the Illini Union (except during the summer) for lunch.
Who: Crane Alley
What happened: Crane Alley was, like many, seriously impacted by the pandemic. When it re-opened, it was only serving during limited evening hours on certain days.
Who will miss it: Pretty much everyone who ever ate there. Crane Alley was a massively underrated place to enjoy a consistently good meal. To say we’re saddened by its closing would be an understatement.
Any hope for the future: None that we’re aware of but the space would seem to be a good spot for a replacement bar/eatery.
Who: Applebee’s (Prospect Avenue location)
What happened: Maybe it’s just us, but our dining experiences at the Applebee’s on Prospect were not nearly as good as the Applebee’s in Savoy. Again, that’s a limited sample, but given what happened, perhaps we weren’t the only ones who were partial to the other Applebee’s.
Who will miss it: Some people hate Applebee’s, others like it. To each his/her own.
Any hope for the future: The Applebee’s in Savoy remains open and seems to be doing good business.
Who: Dancing Dog
What happened: According to its Facebook post, owners announced that it was “the right decision for us at this time.”
Who will miss it: Lovers of vegan food. Dancing Dog filled an important niche in the market, with its vegan offerings, including Pizza Nights and Burrito Nights.
Any hope for the future: Yes, in a way. Its Facebook post closed by noting, “We are hoping to compile our most popular recipes into a Dancing Dog cookbook — stay tuned!” (As an aside, El Paraiso — which previously served its food in Broadway Food Hall — is moving into Dancing Dog’s old space.)
Who: Hickory River Smokehouse
When: Aug. 29
Where: Carle at the Fields (3514 Fields South Drive, Champaign; next to Rugged Outdoors)
Description: Hickory River’s newest location offers the same menu favorites that you’ve enjoyed at the Urbana location for years. Plus, there’s patio seating, and there are plans to eventually include live entertainment.
Why we’re excited: If you’ve ever visited Hickory River at noon on a weekday, you’re acutely aware of how popular this place is among C-U diners. (We’re partial to the smoked turkey sandwich, if case you’re curious. It is scrumptious.) In fact, we visited the very day it opened in Champaign. It has a modern, airy look with a half-dozen large flat-screen TVs.
Who: I ♥ Mac & Cheese
Where: 202 E. University Ave., Urbana
Description: The name says it all. If you love mac and cheese, chances are, you’ll like this chain, which has dozens of locations across the country. As you’d expect, there are several varieties of mac and cheese, but also grilled cheese, sides (broccoli, tater tots, tomato soup, etc.) and desserts.
Why we’re excited: Because kids love mac and cheese, and when you’re searching for dining options for kids, a place that specializes in mac and cheese seems like an ideal spot.
Who: 83 Vietnamese Cuisine
Where: 2502 Village Green Place (The Crossing in Champaign)
Description: 83 Vietnamese Cuisine bills itself as “C-U’s first all traditional Vietnamese menu.” It had served C-U customers prior to the pandemic but moved into the new digs at The Crossing this summer.
Why we’re excited: As mentioned above, Vietnamese food isn’t common in C-U. Anything that offers something different and unique to C-U is more than welcomed by us.
Who: Sweet Basil Cafe
Where: 103 W. Marketview Dr., Champaign (the former TGI Friday’s)
Description: Another restaurant that has been in the works for some time after being pandemic-delayed, Sweet Basil — which has five other locations in Illinois — offers a menu so expansive it would put The Cheesecake Factory to shame. It’s so large we won’t even try to mention what’s on it; take a look for yourself.
Why we’re excited: Let’s face it: If you and your family can’t find something to eat at Sweet Basil, you don’t like food. Seriously. The menu is LARGE. It will take you longer to read the menu than it will to eat the meal.
Who: Stango Cuisine
Where: 500 N. Walnut St., Champaign (in the same space as Wood N Hog Barbecue)
Description: Stango previously operated out of Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana; this is just a move from one C-U location to another. Stango serves Zambian food and bills itself as “the first and only Zambian restaurant in North America.”
Why we’re excited: We’re happy that Stango is trying to hang in there amid a difficult environment for restaurants. Its Facebook post from earlier this summer referenced the previous location as being “unmanageable” so we’re hopeful that a new spot will create more success for ownership.
Who: Shawarma Joint
Where: 102 E. University Ave., Urbana (near Po’ Boys)
Description: This is the second Shawarma Joint location, joining the one on Green Street in Campustown. It features traditional Middle Eastern cuisine such as falafel, baba ganoush and, of course, shawarma.
Why we’re excited: We don’t have to drive to campus!