13+ great Campustown places to eat
If you are looking for somewhere to eat on the campus of the University of Illinois, you are going to find a wide range of delicious options
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. If you’re headed to visit Champaign-Urbana, Campustown is a likely destination. Perhaps you have a high school student looking at attending in the future. Or maybe you are visiting for an Illini game or other special event.
Or maybe you’re a local. 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.
This article focuses on the footprint directly on campus; we have other articles with ideas for where to eat off campus.
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. Double check 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 Street is closer to the Main Quad and not much farther from the Green Street 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. 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.
Our list of great places to eat while in Campustown
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 (pear/walnut is my favorite) are also popular. In the evening, Swiss fondue is the main attraction, with a great wine selection. Did you know they also have gelato?
Manolo’s Pizza and Empanadas, Urbana (Oregon and Goodwin)
One of Campustown’s best kept secrets, this New York style pizza place is a veritable hole in the wall that offers both slices and full pizzas. Unique combinations, such as potato bacon pizza, dot the menu. Of course, you can always get the standards too. If you want a full pizza for home, we recommend doing the frozen option. There’s a huge variety of empanadas, but not all are always available.
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.
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.
Cocomero, Champaign (Wright Street)
We love this joint, which brought self-serve fro-yo to Champaign-Urbana. It’s never a disappointment. A great variety of toppings. Cocomero also has boba (see more on boba below).
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 true 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, although the trucks have moved to other places.
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)
There’s something about going to the original hole-in-the-wall Maize location that just seems more authentic (but no amazing margaritas). Standard Mexican street food here, with some extras. 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.
Oozu Ramen, Champaign (Sixth Street)
Oozu Ramen is a place where everyone in our family is happy when we eat there. We all have our own favorites ranging from the spicy chicken ramen for the grown ups to the pork buns and classic tonkotsu for the kids. The servings are very generous, and the kids love attempting to use chopsticks to eat their ramen bowls.
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.
If you like boba, Campustown is the place to be. But we can’t pick just one. Check out our Boba Trail for more in-depth info on the various boba spots in Campustown.
Sakanaya, Champaign (Green Street)
We mentioned Sakanaya in our list of 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 it’s hard to bring a big group there.
Signature Grill, Champaign (Green Street)
Most people describe Signature Grill 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.
Shawarma Joint, Champaign (Green Street)
This fast casual restaurant features delicious Middle Eastern fare, with options for sandwiches, build-your-own-bowls, or more traditional plates. It has fresh pita, a great selection of Middle Eastern salads, and more. Despite the name (shawarma is typically meat), there are plenty of options for vegetarians. Great hummus too. Warning: super popular. Fortunately, another location on University Avenue in Urbana just opened.
Just Bee Acai, Illini Union
Count us among the fangirls of the first and only acai bowl shop in Central Illinois. We have long cheered on this woman-owned business — once only a food truck — as it evolved into a brick-and-mortar business with a permanent location. But it’s the great food, fresh ingredients and high quality that keeps us coming back again and again (below) even though the original truck has headed westwards.
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.
Where do you like to eat in Campustown? Email us — firstname.lastname@example.org — or join the conversation on Facebook.